Friday, July 23, 2010

Sleeping Wake

After seeing Inception last night, I'm inclined to think that everything is a dream. Let's say it is. It might be. It certainly has the form of it. The contours and edges of what is happening now could be those of a dream only with inherent specificity.

I find myself on a couch, eating Skittles. The year is 1998, but only barely. It is a year to the day of the Alabama game. How did I get there?

The beginning of the campaign is vague, and if the path is tread, from the moment on the couch to the beginning, one would descend into increasingly muddied waters, like a plane rising into a city of clouds, the ground obscured so that the clouds are the ground and you don't know where you are. You could be anywhere. Let's try and think, just to see what comes up.

It all began with an upset. The last time they came to town, they came and almost left in defeat. Almost and yet they didn't, riding back from where they came into the blood red sunset. Shock and awe; a strike, and they're gone.

This time was different.

We won, and with such vigor and force that we redefined the meaning of victory, so that, having experienced it, truly knew what it meant again. In retrospect, from what I remember of it, it was something so great that it defies me now, as if it was too good to be true. Let's keep going further.

After a sacrificial lamb (i.e., Baylor), in come the Irish. We practically begged Notre Dame to win the game, pleaded. At least, it seemed that way. Three fumbles in our own territory in the 4th quarter, and yet the defense held each time. They were impenetrable, their will indomitable. More than anything that happened on the field, I remember Lloyd, flailing wildly, a smile on his face. It was a different time, a different Lloyd, like a strange stand-in stunt double projection, something fictional. The Lloyd we all know, the one I know, is the endearing, crotchety man who told reporters outright that their questions were stupid. So it goes.

Time moves on. Indiana, Northwestern; Iowa with a scare. Things then start to come together. Michigan State comes into the dream, insolent and loud, conscious of its own self in relation to Michigan; painfully conscious. In short:

Young Charles Woodson, the one I will remember (not the professional imposter wearing colors that were chosen for him), defied the Fundamental Theory of What Is Possible. I remember him soar into the air, as if climbing some invisible ladder of diaphanous threads, to pull that ball from the air as if he meant to pull the planets from their orbits in one omniscient swoop, leaving a wake of maize and blue photons and nonsensical light, the type you might see if you close your eyes and push against your lids with the tips of your fingers. It is a moment to what was, and what can be. Football, indeed, is a team sport, but individual brilliance cannot be denied.

The image grows stronger as we move forward through this dream world, this dream season.


Penn State; the memories become more vivid, more concrete. I still don't remember everything--the plays, formations, the bedlam--but I remember that we were going to a dark place where we were expected to come out bloodied and defeated, like the troops in Blood Meridian, entering a hellish valley of a macabre aspect, foreboding dripping out of every part of the landscape, waiting to be ambushed by the Apaches. I went to Happy Valley for the game in 2008, and can thus only imagine the circumstances. A cold, unwelcoming place, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The year is 1997, but it could've been any year, it could've been anywhere. If college football is a stage, then this was Shakespeare; somebody would emerge victorious, and somebody would not. Exeunt.

It was us who emerged from that strange valley, victorious; nay, triumphant. 34-8; destruction and sound and unadulterated painted the sky as we enforced our will on them, as Keith Jackson cracked jokes about Little Brian runnin' from Dad as a boy. Outback Bowl Brian was no more; a figment of the past.

We rode home with the spoils of war; a shiny new ranking. We geared up for another trip away from home, only this time we went West. Onward, to Madison. Again, we emerged the victor, only this time by ten. I remember, after the game, walking in some parking lot, somewhere. The rain coated the ground and the lights from the halogen lamps bounced off the blacktop like a hall of mirrors. I remember thinking how we only won by ten, worried, if we were going to win next week. There were more reasons than one for that worry. Next week was the week of The Game. Even then, having been alive only 8 years, I knew this game would be important, never mind the national championship implications.

And again, Young Woodson bursts out of our subconscious because he cannot be contained by mere abstractions. Woodson wasn't an exceptional punt returner...and before anyone had time to finish that thought:

The talk of the "priceless punter" only adds to the absurdity of it all. It was the second quarter, and although Ohio State eventually made it a game, the game was essentially over. Woodson had one last trick up his sleeve. The only games that even approach this one with regards to the number of times I have rewatched them at 3:40 in the morning with the lights turned off and my heart pumping like it was happening live, like it was really happening, are, maybe, the Alabama Orange Bowl--the emergence of #10--and the 2003 Ohio State game. Even so, the 1997 version of The Game still retains a kingly status in every part of my being, conscious or otherwise, that I cannot help but trace everything that has happened since to that point. Because, once you reach the apex, there is nowhere to go but back down, down amongst the normal, the mundane; the mediocre.

But look, we're back to where we started. The couch, and it is 1998 now. The sweetness of the Skittles. I distinctly remember the Skittles, but maybe that is just a metaphor for what was to come; the sweetness, that is. Or, maybe, I'm just imagining that. Anyway. The game raged on; we fell behind; we came back; we kept what we had regained; we struggled in the end; a final shot, but no; the time runs out. Two seconds, gone. In the world of Michigan football there exists a vortex of Lost and Gained seconds, from which we have drawn so sparingly to bring about our way of life. 2005; Lloyd asks for two seconds to be put back on the clock, and we win the game on a play with one second left. 1998; Ryan Leaf tries to spike the ball with two seconds left, but the clock runs out, and we escape yet another Kordell-ian tragedy. Where did those two seconds go? You know darn well where they went.

Remember, always remember, that there always exists another side:

Often things are given and taken away. "This game was stolen from the Michigan Wolverines."

And so, for now, we take a break. The dream isn't over yet; much remains to be explored. The world of memory parallels the state of cartography in Medieval Times; both are defined by imprecision, and, quite frankly, confusion. Before September 4th--before we burn those boats--let's keep exploring. Sometimes it will be easy to mine the past for answers, for explanations (not even that, for nothing can be expected to explain the shape of memories, nothing can be reasonably expected to expertly reconcile memories, crypto-dreams, with reality, with the ever-moving Present and what it entails; that is, that there is never enough time to really sit and think about why everything has converged the way it has upon this locus in the continuum of history, and, put simply, that we can never really know), for sketches of sketches of explanations--shadows--of what was and what will be. Sometimes, it will not be so easy, when we realize our emotions and our understanding of the facts and history in general don't always meet.

But, we can always try.

Monday, July 19, 2010


One of my first memories from the primordial, untapped database of memory, a monoloithic entity filed away under the name "Michigan Pre-1997" in my brain is the Michigan-Alabama Outback Bowl played on the first day of 1997. I remember little of it. I don't remember who anyone was, specifically. I remember that there was a Michigan and an Alabama, and that they were playing each other in a game of which the importance I wasn't sure of. I vaguely remember Brian Griese, and even that is only a vague and fleeting memory, a substance that vanishes when exposed to the air, a thing that cannot subsist in and of itself and only by the progression of time and the happenings of the 1997 season does that game mean anything to me at this point in time. That game was the bridge between the vast Sahara of 8-4 and the incandescent, shining glory of pure, unadulerated--and dominant--winning.

I've seen videos, footage of the games that happened before I began to pay attention in the way that I do now. I've spent much of my life catching up, in a sense, because so much has indeed happened. I was born days after Bo's last bowl win, and yet everything I know about that win is after-the-fact and seemingly tenuous, the type of thing that, without having experienced it directly almost loses the very fact of its existence. It is the type of thing that results in crazy looks and curiosity as to why you care so dang much, when you talk about it years later as if the tire marks on the road of history's progress are still fresh from the trampling ruckus that occurred on that field--January 1st 1997.

Even as I try to flesh out that memory now, I can find very little. It seems that maybe it doesn't exist after all. Maybe it was all a dream; an odd, Kafkaesque notion of bumbling mediocrity, of flailing and gnashing in the dark and trying, trying so hard but failing. What I did find is plain and sadly historical in tone, set against a monotonous, droning white background, covered with words that ring hollow in retrospect.

"I don't know if the tight end got jammed on the line or what, but Brian made a mistake," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "We needed three points there and when they blitzed we expected them to blitz. Brian pumped a couple of times and made a bad throw."

Mistake. Expected. Bad throw. The relevant points. So simple and whittled away to the bare essence that it verges on the border of verisimilitude. And that's all I really remember. An interception and a return. A failure and another piled on top of it like a totem pole with vicious, frightening faces piled up so high and glaring down at you like a monster of epic proportions. That's all that game was; a pick 6. Sure, it was only 10-6 in Alabama's favor at that point with time to spare, but that doesn't matter because I didn't know that  at that time and don't remember that. It is different know because I know everything about Michigan football, generally, as it happens, and because my memory is stronger and more capable of concrete formations of memory, things become less quixotic in a way. Things now happen and they happen in a specific way; I see them happening. A miscommunicated call against Indiana leads to an 85-yard touchdown. Shoddy safety plays lets an Iowa tight end run rough shod through the middle of the field to the endzone, unimpeded. A blocker takes the outside rusher and not the inside. Those are not simply mistakes anymore. They are strategic failures, failures of talent, failures of whatever else one can reasonably fail at.

Brian's pick 6 was just a mistake and nothing more. The difference is, no matter how ultimately meaningless the game was, no matter how inconsequential the mistake with respect to the ultimate result and the mistake's impact on the probability of victory--no matter all that--it still means something. Because I remember it, it summarized the game as a whole, maybe even the season. Maybe even an era.

As we know, from that locus of memory, the Outback Bowl of 1997, sprung something else, similarly monolithic yet diametrically insistent upon being the other side of memory. On one end, encapsulated in amber like a Jurassic fly, exists Brian Griese, heaving a misguided pass to somebody in crimson. On the other:

I don't know what occured between the offseason following the 1996 season that produced the spectacular butterfly of 1997, but something did and it was good. Not knowing what that was, really, is perhaps better. And so, we can only ease ourselves by rocking in our chairs at night, thinking about other things. Sometimes to deny is the best modus operandi.

This is 2009. An outstretched hand, collective breathing halted for a brief, tumultuous moment, like the first crack of lightning in a dark sky, making you go oh. Perhaps the stare decisis of Michigan football, the precedent set by Brian Griese v. Everything (1997) bodes well for our man in Ann Arbor. History has proven this very supposition to be so.