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.

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