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.

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