The Story 2016: No Dress Rehearsal Comment Count

Brian August 29th, 2016 at 11:03 AM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008. Preview 2015.


DARK HELMET: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
SANDURZ: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening, now.
DH: What happened to then?
S: We passed it.
DH: When?
S: Just now. We're at now, now.

When? Now.

Here is a reasonable person, who says "but what about all these problems?" Here is combinatorial mathematics, which in combination with advanced stats says exactly zero college football teams have a better than even chance of winning 11 regular season games this year. Here is Ohio State, nemesis. Here is Gawker, which has nothing do with any of this but thinks it does. Here is a slightly off ham sandwich that we'll call Penn State. Here is everything that doesn't fit and says "no" and says "but what about before" and says "let's not let ourselves get too disappointed."

Fuck 'em. All of 'em. Year two is the year.

Year two is the year when the elite coach can build on what he did in year one. The first year isn't great because there's a reason the previous guy got fired, but if he could recruit—as Mike Shula and John Blake and Jim Tressel and Brady Hoke could—then the second year, when a lot of talent can build upon a foundation of elite coaching, results in fireworks. Year two is when the anchor that is learning a new system loosens its hold on your forward progress. If you have the dudes, year two is when you strap Denard Robinson in rocket boots to your Ford Pinto and see what happens.

In year one, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe and went 7-6. The next year they were 12-2; the year after they were national champs. In year one, Bob Stoops was 7-5. In year two they were national champs. Pete Carroll was 6-6 in year one; the next year they were 11-2 Pac-12 champs and won the Orange Bowl. Urban Meyer… eh, nevermind. Same thing, except unimpressive and immoral. I draw dildoes on it! Something something murder tight end!

Anyway. Now.


[Bryan Fuller]

Now is now.


"We've always thought Detroit—Hockeytown, USA—was sort of Canadian"

-Ron MacLean

Because I am from metro Detroit I am 100% American and 30% Canadian. I know that CBC coverage of the Olympics kicks ass. I vowed I would not get a cell phone until I could get the Hockey Night In Canada theme on it—the right HNIC theme—and kept that vow. One time I counted the number of Tim Hortons between the border and the Windsor airport less than 10km from said border; it was 9, 10 if you count the one in the airport itself. I know a truth about the countries' national anthems that I can only repeat in polite company within about 50 miles of the border, which is that O Canada is far superior. (Don't @ me.) Hell, the 2014 Story is based on hilariously-named Canadian margarine.

And because when I was in high school the most alternative station in Detroit was actually in Windsor, I got a steady dose of the coolest things in Canada. I will admit to you now that I own an Our Lady Peace album. Many times the coolest things in Canada are Nickelback. (I do not have a Nickelback album.) It happens. It's not that big a country.

The Tragically Hip were not Nickelback. They don't actually resemble anything but themselves. If you caught the recent spate of Tragically Hip explainers you probably saw a forced comparison along the lines of

imagine New Jersey is a country
yes, its own country
no we can't declare war on it

Fine. Fine? Fine.

Okay. New Jersey, the country.

New Jersey : Bruce Springsteen :: Canada : The Tragically Hip

And that's kind of right but also completely wrong for a thousand reasons. The Tragically Hip once wrote a song about emperor penguins. I mean.

I digress. I liked the Tragically Hip, a lot. When Napster was a thing I spent most of my time on it downloading various Hip concert bootlegs during which Gordon Downie, the lead singer, went on tangential rants about having your arm eaten by an orca and the like. There were too many to actually listen to.


I still have them

I went to a number of their shows. At one the female friend who went with me said "I forgot how sexy Gordon Downie is" midway through the show, and I looked upon a spear-bald pug-faced mid-30s Canadian dude kicking the living shit out of the Cobo Center.

This was an ugly sexy man. I can do this, I thought. I can be competent enough to attract a live human female. Several years later I successfully engaged in voluntary sexual congress with a live human female. Thanks, Gord!

And then you drift away. Like Nickelback, it happens. I barely listened to the last Hip album I bought, in 2006, and hadn't given them much thought in the intervening decade until I stumbled across a Slate article explaining that Downie had incurable brain cancer and that their current tour would be their last. There was a concert. The last one.



DARK HELMET: Go back to then!
DH: Now!
S: Now?
DH: Now!
S: I can't.
DH: Why?
S: We missed it.
DH: When?
S: Just now.
DH: …
DH: When will then be now?

I was old before I was old and am now superold, so let's talk about "now." Now is really important. I ain't got time for a lot of things any more. My wife and I fail to remember this periodically and end up at a show, like a show-for-young-persons show, and grumble about how old we are and how stupid is that there are no chairs and that this band isn't going to go on for probably hours, hours that now cost us fifteen dollars a pop.

So when the thing happens, hoo boy is it chugging uphill. And that thinking infects many things. I'm about to die! Interest me. SOON.

Sometimes it does, and the things that manage it come to take on an outsized import. While this Last Concert didn't come with a commute and people bumping into you constantly and eight dollar beers, it did come with my wife in the room. You see: 1) we were watching CBC's Olympic coverage for previously explained reasons, 2) they kept talking about this upcoming Hip concert by cutting to Ron MacLean in a Hip t-shirt that he looked utterly ridiculous in, and 3) when I told her that I both knew about this concert and would cut her if anything happened to prevent me from watching it, she giggled and pointedly did not judge me.

Nonetheless, I felt judged.

The concert comes on, and for a while it's awkward. Gord has suffered. It's clear that there are monitors across the stage scrolling lyrics, and from time to time the damage done is apparent. Death stalks the room. Wife is still not judging me. I tell her I can see and feel the damage and it is infinitely depressing.

At some point I realize it is forty-five minutes later and I have just exhaled. The only thing I've done in the meantime is click on the relevant twitter hashtag and watch Canada rock/weep itself to sleep. Every time there's a mortality-relevant lyric, and there are many, the "new tweets" counter rockets upward. Downie at some point the cancer stops being relevant, and then at the end of one song he starts screaming. It is arresting. It is cancer-death screaming. It causes twitter to explode. He stops, winks… goddammit. Gordon Downie, you are a scoundrel, a dying asshole scoundrel. There is a reason he is a rockstar.

The concert was stunning because that was it. It was there and then it was over and gone. The Tragically Hip are no more. This band will self-destruct in ten seconds.


Usually I only get that feeling in fall. Every opportunity to win or lose is here and gone. Ask any Indiana fan about last year. Kyle Robbins of The Crimson Quarry probably did not think that college football could break him—what's the worst thing that can happen to an IU fan?—but it did.  There is no more NOW sport than college football, in which redemption is impossible. Once each year is locked in amber we amputate most of the people who actually played. Jerome Jackson had an entire career one Saturday against Iowa.

I know. I know you want to be like this thing and that thing and obviously it will collapse in on itself and we will hold ourselves aloof and wait to invest ourselves, or at least try to. Don't. Then is over. That is over. The period where Michigan is digging out from the crypt it built itself has passed. We're at now, now.

Here is the situation. Michigan has a metric ton of NFL talent. They have one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They have a mortal enemy at a historical peak, coached by one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They will either set fire to the world and rewrite the landscape of college football, or blow a golden opportunity and let the jackals feast again. This is the last rodeo for Butt and Lewis and Wormley and etc., etc. They are set for amputation. Talk about Michigan being a "year away" is only issued by people who haven't looked at a roster or, like, history.

You have to let it happen to your body. I'm an engineer, man. I believe those bastard numbers that say there is a 36% chance Michigan wins 11+ games this year. I mean, 36% isn't the chance but it's not 80% like we want it to be. There's going to be a moment. Possibly six moments. It is going to be towering and terrifying thing and all I can tell you is to say yes, this is happening.

Now. No dress rehearsal. No "they're a year away." Now. This year is the year, and yeah, to some extent every year is the year. But this year is the year. Death and graduation are coming anyway, might as well get some glory in the interim.



August 29th, 2016 at 11:15 AM ^

1/3 of the way into this article, I thought "Wow, this is going to be weird and shitty".

Then I finished it and felt better about everything (except being old).

But, yeah. It's INSANELY difficult to go undefeated. Next year is going to be youth. We need to do it now.


August 29th, 2016 at 11:29 AM ^

It was definitely weird, but weird and awesome in a way only Brian can be.  Few sports writers can discuss losing their virginity in a season preview-type post and have it not be weird (or at least, not weirder than you thought it would be or any weirder than the rest of the post).  

Everyone Murders

August 29th, 2016 at 11:23 AM ^

One of the greatest bands of all time.  While the Miller's Analogy format of NJ:Springsteen :: Canada:Tragically Hip is spot-on, I always explain it this way to the uninitiated.  The Tragically Hip are like R.E.M., if R.E.M. was a rock band.

That leaves out some other critical differences (such as you can understand Gord's lyrics in every song), but what a band.  I had a chance to see them once, in a club in the South where they failed to sell out a 500 seat club - and still gave a fantastic show.

Gord Downie is a Canadian national treasure, and rightly celebrated as so.  Canada pretty much shut down a couple of Saturdays ago for his final show, telecast throughout Canada.  And it seemed as though part of his (and The Tragically Hip in general's) appeal was that they never really did catch on in the U.S.

They were talented, their songs spoke to the soul, and they were Canada's own (even though the stray Michiganders caught the bug because Windsor Radio >> Detroit Radio back in the day).

Everyone Murders

August 29th, 2016 at 12:01 PM ^

It is more of a line to get those who dig R.E.M. to try The Tragically Hip on for size.  Certainly, as you note, the frontman for each group is the main similarity.  Including both frontmen having incredibly expressive voices.  There are other similarities too.  The songs both bands wrote were nearly always about (aboot) something, and the lyrics often oblique but evocative.  And the song structures were mostly similar, although the Hip generally rocked a bit harder IMO.

On my part, I don't think that R.E.M. ever did or could equal Nautical Disaster or It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken or many of the other great songs of the Hip.  Gord's lyrics often approached Bonnie "Prince" Billy levels of poetry, but with none of the condescension that slips out from BPB all too often.


Nobody Likes a…

August 29th, 2016 at 12:31 PM ^

I think for the most part you are right about the rock band thing. Green had its moments and Monster was a full ahead rock album but couched in the way REM always did things. Sure you can sing with something like Orange Crush or Whats the Frequency Kenneth but you always felt like Michael specifically was mocking you for it. It’s much the same in the differences in writing. I see it almost exactly like the differences between Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Downie, like Simon was more earnest and direct in his lyrics, where Stipe was more like Dylan. The lyrics are impenetrable in a lot of places and you feel like you’re never quite in on the joke.