We have seen this verse before. A string of victories, casting forth visions of greatness not seen in years, only to be brought down abruptly, ignominiously. It's a story we know all too well.
We all have our predictions: 10-2, 9-3, 8-4, 7-5, 6-6, DOOM. At this this point last year, on the metaphorical rest break exit taken in some Iowan wilderness, DOOM was a far-flung impossibility; no, that can't--won't--happen. But, it did. It could happen again, too. Will it? Your guess is as good as mine. I would like to say no (even my head says no), but the chance exists, and that is enough to wonder.
As I watched the Iowa football team run to greet their boisterous fans across the way, I stood and waited for the final seconds to tick off before turning away. If we're going to stay for the good times, the Beat the Irish chants and the chance to walk down a few rows to get closer to the field, we might as well stay for the bad. The logic is flawed and perhaps inherently irrational. The outcome was decided many minutes ago, many plays ago. Empires had risen and they had fallen in that span, hopes revived and summarily crushed. Expectations bloated, then popped, like a helium balloon spinning off wildly to who knows where. Yet, as I stood there, looking at everything happening before me and seeing nothing at all, I wondered how things would go this time.
I remember watching the 2002 Michigan-Ohio State game as a naive youngin'. I didn't cry; no, it was worse than that. Not only had we just been beaten in excruciating fashion, losing to a very good team that we had a legitimate chance at beating on the road, but we wouldn't get the chance to beat them again for a whole year. It seemed like an eternity. Even now, when weeks and months and years seem to come and go in an instant, it remains the same way, the only thing that retains the ability to leave its unnaturally disproportional mark on the fabric of time, like a dam that lets all the bad things through. Losing to Ohio State then (and now) was a thing that could stretch its influence in such a way that time was no longer a thing measurable by scientific standards, by the rise and fall of the Sun. No, it was only measured then by each individual labored breath that brought us all to the next time.
After the game had ended, I went back into my frozen backyard to think about what had happened to Michigan. My ways of dealing with losses were different then. Now, I tend to sit around, listless and tired, perhaps a product of the times. Then, it was much different. I picked up a football, a tangible reminder of the loss, and played catch with my Dad; rather, I thought about next year, and played catch while I thought. The ball was unusually heavy, and it stung my hands when I tried to catch it. It was cold, and the ball felt like it would shatter if I put a particularly offensive case of stone hands on display. My Dad tried to tell me it was okay, but even then I knew that the following year would be difficult, simply because of what had just happened. Even then, I knew it was senseless to carry on that way. Unfortunately, as I have learned, that is often the only way to carry on, the only way to stay sharp.
He tossed the ball back to me. My hands were red and my breath pushed through the air in front of my face like a ghost, as was each breath that followed; a series of assembly-line manufactured ghosts, sent out from a factory powered entirely by combustion of next year.
Wait till next year, I said, avoiding an imaginary defensive end, pretending to be John Navarre.
And here is where I include my own break in the stream of my own personal history; where does next year stop? Sometimes next year can last forever; I've been saying next year since 2003. Next year is nice, until next year actually comes along and takes your lunch and doesn't even have the courtesy to say thank you. Next year is nice because it hasn't happened yet, and, by virtue, anything could happen. Michigan could go 12-0 next year. They could. Right now, however, that only exists in some strange alternate realm of existence, where linebackers make tackles and people don't jingle their keys.
And therein lies the crux of the matter; at what point does next year transform from embattled, rallying cry to a sad display of hopelessness? We may be treading that line as we speak. If the future is uncertain, and the past is unpleasant, that leaves us only with the ceaseless Present. Whatever happens, we have that.
I saw Martavious Odoms the other day in Mason Hall. He was in a large, cumbersome boot, and crutches supported his slight frame. He stood in front of a vending machine, trying to make a decision; a trivial one, in the Grand Scheme of Things, but an important one to him nonetheless. After I had purchased an overpriced Coke and walked by him on my way to class, I stopped for a brief moment. I wanted to say something, anything. We'll get 'em next week, or something to that effect. It sounds contrived and perhaps a little bit cheesy (and probably is, in retrospect) but I thought that such a small comment might've made a difference to him. I had followed his recruitment, watched his high school highlight tapes, and even saw him around campus many times before then. I have never felt compelled to say anything to football players that I see around campus, out of respect, mostly. They don't need another person telling them something they don't know, and I'm sure they appreciate the gesture. Yet, for some reason, seeing him broken like that, a physical manifestation of the state of things, left me thinking maybe I should.
But, the moment passed, and I didn't. The Present became the Past, and it was over. The only bad part about the Present is that it happens so fast.
As I walked to class, I wondered if I should, in fact, have said something to him, no matter how trivial or inane. It was fruitless, almost as fruitless as next year was and is.
Whatever happens, we still have things to be thankful for. Wins will come, I'm sure. In the Grand Scheme of Things, however, people remember people. I remember 1997, not because we did not lose, but because Charles Woodson, Glen Steele, Tai Streets, Brian Griese, Chris Howard, and so on and so on and so on, brought us to a final and unadulerated state of perfection on New Year's Day in 1998. I'm sure the same line of thinking applies to other generations.
27-21. But who remembers the numbers before the names that made them happen?
Remember the names, then worry about the rest, or you might be left...wondering.