The Story 2016: No Dress Rehearsal

Submitted by Brian on 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 1:14 PM ^

Stupid poutine CSB: I was on my way to Toronto to fly overseas (airfare was half what it was out of Metro, yay Canadian dollars being cheap again) and decided to stop at Wendy's for lunch.  Having never had poutine, I decided to have it as a side instead of regular fries.  The epic dump I had to take afterwards made me almost miss my flight.


August 29th, 2016 at 11:50 AM ^

Stopped listening to 89X years ago after returning from Wisconsin. They had better rock stations in America's Dairyland, and when I got back, 89X sounded like what I imagine a wet blanket sounds like. The new alternative just isn't as good as the old alternative, and new rock/metal is killing alternative IMO. Bad time to have 89X's format.


August 29th, 2016 at 11:55 AM ^

No, we want glorius success.  That's it.  I do not want crushing disappointment.  Season might as well no happen if the end is crushing disappointment.  Just like I don't get people who thing the 2006 OSU game is a 'classic'.  No it's not.  It is a loss that cost UM a win against it's rival, a championship, and a shot at a natty.  That game is dead to me.  And that season, in the end, gave us nothing.


August 29th, 2016 at 1:07 PM ^

Fine, but that part can't be controlled before the season.  He's talking about expectations, not results.  When your team is good, the outlook is "epic win or devastating failure."  Whenever expetations are high, likelihood of disaster is as well.  

We've had lots of seasons over the last decade where our predictions around here were "if we win 9 games I'll consider that a success" which means "if we lose 3 games I won't be devastated."  This year 3 losses will absolutely result in crushing disappointment. 

But that's the trade off.  No season is a guaranteed success.  But if there is high likelihood of glorious success, that means there is high likelihood of crushing disappointment.  You can't h ave one without the other.  

True Blue in CO

August 29th, 2016 at 11:27 AM ^

Brian always has the ability to create some interesting analogies from his life and translate them to our collective passion for Michigan football. I had to read it twice to follow it completely but totally agree that this year is a moment in time that we need to take advantage of and return to the place we have been away from for a long time.

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Yinka Double Dare

August 29th, 2016 at 11:27 AM ^

Michigan State is our little brother. Rutgers is our little brother's father's brother's uncle's cousin's neighbor's roommate.

Rutgers: "What does that make us?"

Michigan: "Absolutely nothing!"


August 29th, 2016 at 11:28 AM ^

This is probably equal parts the best music writing I'll read all year and the best sports writing I'll read all year. And all I read is music writing and sports writing. Well, and news about political shit. But fuck that noise.

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August 29th, 2016 at 11:28 AM ^

I'm so petrified by this season. Expectations are back. There is Opportunity. I have long waited for my emotional investment in the team to be paid off. This is one of those years it can pay dividends. Make it happen.

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August 29th, 2016 at 11:30 AM ^

Completely irrelevant fun fact: my middle school and high school principal is the step-father of the lead guiatrist from Our Lady Peace. Also, my house growing up was about 2 miles from the Canadian border and we had multiple Tim Horton's locations in my home town.

Nobody Likes a…

August 29th, 2016 at 11:31 AM ^

Growing up on the white suburban outskirts of Toronto I was exposed to the Hip, a lot. I had a very different reaction to them. By the age of 16 I had developed the opinion that they were a poor Canadian version of REM (there are many many parallels in how Downie shaped his image to be essentially a hockey loving hoser version of Michael Stipe). However, a couple of years ago I saw them play a christmas party and at the ripe old age of 27 decided to not care what the 16 year old me thought and just enjoy the show. There was a certain nobility to the hoser-ness of all of this. This conscious Canadianness, music tailored for listening to on docks in the  Muskokas. Sure this wasn’t the first or best of this genre, see Gordon Lightfoot, but it was pleasing and fine and I understood how if they got you at the right time you could love them in the same obsessive completeness that16 year old me loved REM. So while I don’t personally identify with the band much or the music, I get the pathos. I can’t imagine how desperate or heart brokenly I would have followed Bowie around the world had he done the same thing.


August 29th, 2016 at 11:31 AM ^

HNIC - the best intro of all time.  I'm moving back to MI this week and cannot wait to tune in to channel 9 when hockey season comes around.  Oh, and go to M football games of course. 


August 29th, 2016 at 11:37 AM ^

"This was an ugly sexy man. I can do this, I thought. I can be competent enough to attract a live human female."

A watershed intuition for any young man.

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The Man Down T…

August 29th, 2016 at 11:49 AM ^

when you said "It will look like football" and even in the first game against Utah, it looked like football.  It looked like better football than we had seen in a few years.  By the end of the season it looked near great football.  Against Florida it looked like championship football.  We have the talent.  We have the coaching.  This is our year.  Not just to end some bad dreams and horrid memories, but to crush those bad times into powder on our way through the conference and onto the playoff.  


Dammit this week can't end fast enough.  I get paid Friday so there will be a fully stocked beer fridge for Hawaii!!  :) :) :)

snarling wolverine

August 29th, 2016 at 12:33 PM ^

An executive summary:

1.  Weird shit comes from Canada (which Metro Detroiters already know about).

2.  Lead singer of Canadian band inspired Brian to pursue courtship of opposite sex.

3.  With said band calling it quits, we should live in the moment.