Sometimes there's nothing to write, nothing to say. In the end it's all vanity, anyway, but if we're going to be vain than Michigan might as well be at the heart of the matter. That may be bargaining, it may be something else that doesn't have a name, kind of like a Denard Robinson run or a Mike Hart pass block aren't football plays but vague unknowable entities, like scientific constants that don't really mean anything to me or you in a general sense but you know are important; they hit us in certain times and certain places, when everything aligns to produce a certain situation that is greater than the situation itself. They are not players but reminders that maybe we don't know everything. They're each a universe unto themselves, their intricacies beyond our reach. The world was a scary, discomfiting place before the sciences began to take hold of the minds of human beings; monsters chomped voraciously at the edges of the world, threatening to consume those who fell of its edge, as if it were a piece of paper. They knew very little and we know more but we don't know a whole lot more. We've cured diseases and gone to the Moon and found ways to live longer than anyone ever has and developed the forward pass but I still can't figure out how a 5'8'' running back can stonewall linebackers Saturday after Saturday as if they were Ottoman Turks colliding against the very edges of Europe, encountering a far greater resistance than they had ever expected to.
He plays as well without the ball as he does with it. He’s an outstanding pass protector. And in pass protection, you watch him, game in, game out take some of these big linebackers and block them, and look at how many times he carries the ball, you get an appreciation.
Not that you needed any reasons to appreciate him besides what you saw with your eyes, and sometimes what you heard. The sound that I heard when Mike Hart met Dan Connor in 2007--a sound that I heard from my pitiful Row 93 seat as a freshman--is perhaps one of the most satisfactory sensory points of reference that I have ever experienced. It was something you could know instantly, without analyzing or even knowing a thing about anything, let alone football. The loud thwack that I heard as a wide-eyed freshman watching a guy shorter than me carry the ball 44 times with strep throat was all I needed to know that day. Forget about everything that happened throughout that bizarre, other-worldly season; that moment stuck out, ringing through the air, alerting everyone of its presence amid the expansive melange of pseudo-memory, of the type of football memory that becomes memory itself, a degraded version chipped away by time and old age and simple forgetfulness.
Memory is an ancient obelisk, a slab of rock that is perfect and will never decay in the moment of inception, littered with seemingly unintelligible symbols that once meant something but no longer do now that you've woken up and just like that it's 2011 and not 3000 BCE; degraded, dusty, and callous, rough and what is left is even more meaningful because it's what has survived the withering forces of time. It keeps coming back all the time, showing itself among all this like that one small part of your dream that you remember when everything else has receded into your the dark recesses of your brain to be lost forever or simply repressed, and everything is gone except for that one concentrated moment--good or bad--that becomes the dream itself in its entirety, a loud thump, a thwack. That was Mike in 2007 (or at least how I remember him): embattled, sometimes sick, sometimes injured, indomitable. I remember all the rest, too: the beginning (I remember a screaming caller on the radio as my Dad parked the car near where Williams hits State and I tried to ignore it), the middle (my heart rattled as I called my Dad asking if he believed that catch against State to put them ahead for good), and yes, the end (I watched it in Destin, FL with a friend and his family, all Auburn fans, wondering why Mike decided to start fumbling then but realizing that maybe he wanted to keep things interesting). But that one distinguishable noise, that moment, sticks out amongst the rest, a relic of a past that now seems long gone. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
Sometimes there's nothing to write because there's nothing you want to write. Sometimes you can't do a thing justice or maybe you don't have the right or the wherewithal to tell the story you want to tell just yet. We've seen Denard Robinson for two years now, and he has two more left to play. Denard has dazzled us with speed that we've never seen before. The first play was a peek into his brilliance, a taunting example of raw ability. We already know this story, even if it is half untold. This past year was but a chapter, a small sliver of the legacy; but legacy is something that means different things to different people. I've reached the point where I am no longer younger than those who I root for every Saturday, those dudes playing a game. I don't even know what a legacy is, so I'll just stick with memory. It's easier to deal with, even if less of it lasts and even less still matters to anyone other than you, the one with the memory. I don't know what Denard's legacy is or what it will or could be.
I remember watching Denard streak past everyone in South Bend as if he didn't have time to talk to anyone but God.
I remember saying "502" out loud to anyone that would listen, as if it were some strange incantation or I had gone crazy from what I, what all of us, had seen. He didn't even care.
The offensive line blocked, the receivers catching, everything was clicking. ... I'm a team player and I don't look at stats.
I remember Denard forcing the air out of Memorial Stadium, and the wretched glee it brought many to see him fall, which he did from time to time.
I remember Denard, broken and slowed, playing only the first half against the Buckeyes. He wasn't himself. He was back for a quarter in Jacksonville, but something was still wrong. We looked unprepared, yes, and the defense was the defense we had come to despairingly expect, but something about Denard--the same person who was canonized after only his second start, the guy who produced over 500 yards once like a magic trick--was wrong.
The thing with Denard is, unlike Mike, sometimes I think he's too fast; by the time my brain locks on to what is happening, he's gone, so that everything he's done is just a blur of interconnected dashes and glorified wind sprints on an early Ann Arbor morning in April, only it's Saturday in some autumnal month and people are trying to catch him or take off his shoes or hinder him in any way possible in the hope that help will come.
The block that Mike made on that September day in 2007 and the blunt accompanying sound that resonates as if it were fresh. I wonder if Dan Connor wakes up in hotel rooms now and then, awaking from some meandering dream that slides along like a rattlesnake along the desert dunes until it comes to meet him, and then he jolts up from his slumber so suddenly that he is not yet fully awake, clutching his chest in pain. I wonder if he still remembers that moment.
Mike always gave you time to admire the things that he did; even when he carried the ball, he got caught from behind time after time, and it was okay because we understood his limitations and that was that. Denard's limitations are different, mostly because I don't know what they are yet. He's still young, and I think his moment is yet to come. The moment that Denard does something so great that it forces itself into my mind--pushing everything else out as if to say forget about all that stuff, this is what matters--not knocking down the ramparts like Mike would've down in a series of quick, laboring efforts but swiftly, roundabout even, is the moment that memory is assured. In fact, it's really the only way any of us can be remembered.
I think that false start before was just the universe's way of giving us five more yards to watch him run. This is only the beginning, and memory has to be built up before it can be whittled away to what really matters. It might take time, too. It might be years until after Denard has graduated, even. You might be old, even. One day it will click and set in, appropriating a part of your brain for the purpose of its survival, perhaps in the form of a loud, synecdochical noise, a noise a part of and representative of a long and meaningful narrative; or, maybe, it will be something else. You'll know it when it happens.