Monday, August 8, 2011

2,815 Days

It's been a long, long time since we've beaten that team down south. 2,815 days, to be exact. A lot has happened since then, then being the last time we managed to beat them. I was 14 years-old, essentially a third of my life ago. Times were much simpler. Losing two in a row was a cause for concern back then. Everything was straightforward and decidedly more comfortable, even in defeat. Michigan was usually going to have a good--but not great--season, and beating Ohio State was, for quite some time, a near birthright. Then things changed. Jim Tressel came along, and somewhere along the line Lloyd had lost a certain something; his raison d'etre had been compromised.

It's hard to tell when these types of things really begin and end. The Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, and most people will tell you this if you ask. Of course, that empire did not just collapse at one moment like a physical manifestation of the past perfect tense, like a sand castle crumbling feebly under the ocean's mindless will. It was gradual, slow, and excruciating. Deep down, they knew it was coming, and when it finally did they had become numb to all external stimuli that didn't flatly tell them this is going down. 

Next year became next year became please just make it respectable.

UM vs. Ohio State

UM vs. Ohio State


The "days since" doesn't mean a thing anymore. It honestly hurt more when we had lost three, four in a row. The "scUM" comments and general insanity of the Buckeye fanbase (re: Kyle Kalis) exist now as they did then in equal measure, like one derpy scientific constant; they've become a part of the normalized perception of them, and as a result they mean nothing. The pain receptors of a sports fan can only take so much; after a while, you're only flooding the synapses with wasted refuse, drowning neurotransmitters speaking Mandarin Chinese to a receptor that only understands Old English. Michigan fandom between 2004 and now, vis a vis Ohio State, has been like one long, extended third degree burn; a pain so great that our nerve endings have been burnt off, leaving the pain unfelt, although we know its there. Things are bubbling up again now, a fresh start has excited us once again. Still, I can't help but imagine the innumerable peasant revolts throughout history that began with such lofty goals and were relentlessly quelled without any hoopla or lasting historical imprint. The again, it's better than the alternative. Every once in a while things work out, and I think our chances are a little bit better.

The worst part of all of this is not even the fact that Michigan has lost so many times in a row, it's that Ohio State has become the undeniable definition of success in the Big Ten throughout the last decade, and that we have come to measure ourselves against them. Lesser programs than ours have beaten Ohio State since 2003. They can be beaten, especially now. The question is, when? An entire era of Michigan football passed without answering that question. Rich Rodriguez nominally close for a half in 2008, approaching closeness if not for wholesale self-destruction in 2009, and quite frankly, never close at all in 2010.

This offseason has intensified my distaste for Ohio State in a way that I previously thought was not possible. I thought my hatred had plateaued long ago, that I had maxed out my hating potential and that it would probably begin to decline ever so slightly once Michigan got that elusive next win. I was so wrong. I hate Notre Dame with the intensity of a thousand suns, and the Spartans and their Sith Lord of a head coach are slowly starting to gain traction on my hatred power rankings. Yet, all I can think about is Ohio State. Every offseason, I painstakingly count down the days to kickoff. No matter how good or bad Michigan was expected to be in a given season, the chance to watch Michigan play was sacred and inviolable. Despite all the Hoke-speak about taking it one game at a time, I can't do that. I would honestly fast forward through the entire season like I would the offseason if it would take me to just before high noon on the 26th of November. This sounds like desperation, and maybe it is, but if I could isolate and distill the endocrinal secretions that come about from my thinking about Ohio State in early August, you'd have a thriving black market for a on-FDA approved energy drink. This burgeoning hatred must be what MSU fans want us to think about them (i.e., that that rivalry has been rekindled, that we hate them), only I don't feel that about Michigan State and probably still won't even if we lose to them this year. That type of hatred is reserved for one team; there can only be one.

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The number itself, 2,815, is surprisingly meaningless. It is, however, beyond absurd when you write it down or say it aloud. I'm still getting over the fact that Denard racked up 502 total yards against Notre Dame last season. The numbers don't mean anything, in and of themselves; they're just markers of failure and success, of triumph and defeat. When Michigan finally wins The Game again, that number will be twisted about, and we will begin flinging the days back at Columbus like rotten fruit, in bushels of 365 at a time. And while that may sound absurd, the fact of not having beaten our most hated foe in that many days is perhaps even more so.

The consoling part of hitting rock bottom is that everyone tells you the only place to go is up. Sometimes, though, you just stay down.



And that is what concerns me the most. Losing again would hurt, and it'd put me in a funk for the next week or so like it always does. But, after all, what's the difference between 7 and 8 really? In the end, it won't amount to much. I just want to beat them again, if only to know that we still can. To beat them once, now, is to beat them a thousand times, and it goes without saying that it would infuse the Michigan program with a vitality that Coach Rod's lacked at all times except  perhaps September of 2009 and 2010. Only 110 days remain until we find out if we still can. This isn't the time for real predictions, but I think we can. At the very least, we'll have our best chance in a long time, and a chance is more than we've had in many of the last several contests against the Buckeyes.

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