Thursday, September 22, 2011

There I Go, Turn The Page

Martavious Odoms came to us in 2008 at the tail end of Rich Rodriguez's first recruiting class at Michigan. He represented an ushering in of a new era, a new kind of player. He was from Pahokee, which in the span of a year or two burst into the door of Michigan's consciousness like Kramer before a particularly hare-brained scheme but removed of all its levity. It wasn't a place so much as it was an exotic source of football players, endowed with speed and strength that players outside of that little piece of the country were not privy to by birth or upbringing. He was borne of a place suffused with a sort of idealized poverty (as idealized as poverty can be, of course) that somehow became endearing to Michigan fans, a place where people chase rabbits for fun, for food, for rite of passage. He was given three and four stars by Scout and Rivals respectively, but for all anybody cared they were mere formalities. The philosophy of that ephemeral zeitgeist said better a three star from Pahokee than a four star from Michigan. He snuck into Rodriguez's first class and was far from an after-thought; the fact that he was an 11th hour commit infused his person with a hope and an excitement that perhaps exceeded the reality on the ground. The reality, that is, that he was, is, tough but limited: limited in size, limited in speed, limited in NFL potential. In short, the perfect RR slot receiver. He projected an image that exceeded himself, like a haunting Brobdingnagian shadow cast on the thin gritty walls of a dimly lit Pahokee bedroom. 

It's 2011 now and Odoms is a senior, and somehow the time in between seems completely lost, non-existent even. Odoms came in as a freshman and played right away, doing things that made us excited for the future and the new era. There was a new way of doing things, and even though it wasn't perfect yet we had living, breathing reasons to be optimistic.

Martavious Odoms and Denard Robinson are both from Florida, both inspired great excitement when they committed, both fit into The Spread perfectly, and yet their careers took starkly divergent paths. Denard's has lead to an eight-lane highway of possibility, Odoms's to a gravel road off the side of the highway leading to a tucked away swamp, a small anonymous pond where the fish have to fight through the detritus like hail. 

It's easy to write about Denard or to praise Denard because he's so many things in one form. He's an idea, a hope, and a philosophy in one 6 foot, 190 pound being, and we praise him for that and the things that he does with humble aplomb and a purity of character every week. Denard is the lovable protagonist, but he might not even be the most interesting character in every scene because he is so free from the imperfections that normal human beings have. It's not that Denard necessarily is perfect--whether on the football field or otherwise--but through a period of time he has gotten to the point where the masses of people that watch him play every Saturday believe that he is. People cringe at every hit he takes and wring their hands at the mere possibility of unrealized potential, a feeling that is not unlike a father's for a son. Denard has entered our homes and our families and he's been accepted wholesale and without reservation. Whether he wins any more games or not, this will be his crowning achievement, the Great Thesis of his life. His universal acceptance, flaws and all, is his crowning achievement. We love him for that; we love him because we are able to love him so much without thinking twice about it. 

Junior Hemingway420250.5771
Jeremy Gallon713519.3641
Kevin Koger5489.6121
Kelvin Grady24221.0270
Roy Roundtree3299.716 (TD)1
Vincent Smith22613.021 (TD)1
Drew Dileo22211.019 (TD)1
John McColgan11515.0150
Jeremy Jackson11212.0120

Martavious Odoms, on the other hand, is a different story. His humility is equally remarkable, but it takes an entirely different form. We have pictures of Denard smiling widely, chest-bumping with Tate Forcier, and kneeling to have an aside with God, but Odoms has almost been invisible, a ghost living among us, the rearranged chairs and pictures on the wall--the result of a world-shattering block, I'm sure--the only proof of his existence. 

The rare footage of him saying anything is of him speaking in a nearly inaudible cadence of Floridian twang. His words chop through the air in front of him rapidly, each utterance ticking against the chasm between interviewer and interviewee, a beat like a furious broken metronome, eyes searching for something past the interviewer, something in the background or maybe nothing at all: an escape? Possibly, but it was something you had to do so he did it and smiled as best he could. 

His career has a strange, Loch Ness monster feel to it, as grainy and ethereal as the above highlight video. When I think of Denard Robinson, when I think of him a year from now when he graduates, he'll have a career of achievement and a cult of personality so great that it will be hard not to smile at the thought of it. I'll remember Denard running past everyone and not Denard getting hurt or having to painfully suffer questions about transferring. In short, I'll remember all the good things because I won't be able to remember anything but those things. 


Martavious Odoms has been passed up on the depth chart, left behind. Martavious Odoms has slunk to the back of the class, and if he left early nobody would notice. He wouldn't do that, but if he did it would be quiet and dignified if not a little sad. I don't really know what he'd do in reality, but part of all of this is mythology, and mythology requires invention. 

In the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, he came in for a snap. His shirt was untucked in the way that infuriates Pop Warner coaches everywhere but is a likable inevitability, like closing your eyes when you sneeze. I'm sure he had been on the field before that point, but since it's hard to tell when you're watching in the stadium I couldn't have been sure. In any case, his name hadn't shown up on the stat sheet yet. The name "Martavious Odoms" hasn't rung through the stadium on the dignified train of Carl Grapentine's voice, undulating with each hill and scraggly Pahokian bluff in the sexisyllabic noise that is Odom's name, an abstraction from another world. 

There was confusion and Denard called a timeout. On the next play, Jeremy Gallon stood where Odoms had but a few minutes before; Denard threw him the ball and Gallon went up and got it as Gary Gray floated past as if he was floating on Apollo 11, unable to control his own momentum. I wondered if Odoms couldn't have done that very same thing himself. Is Jeremy Gallon just better than Martavious Odoms? Maybe. I don't really know. All I do know is that it's a little curious and extremely sad to see a guy give it his all for three years--coming all the way from Florida to play in the snow during three of the worst years in Michigan football history, an unfortunate occurrence that he couldn't have predicted--only to fade away so abruptly. It's entirely possible that Jeremy Gallon gives Michigan a better chance to succeed offensively than Odoms does (obviously the coaches feel as much), but I can't hide my own ambivalence of the fact. Odoms's usage has dropped each and every year; the numbers in and of themselves tell the story of a withering, dying dream that he can only suffer with quiet desperation. Odoms won't admit as much, but I get the feeling that he realizes now that this is the way things are. Sometimes thing just happen, sometimes you get left out in the cold. Sometimes you're just forgotten when you were once praised. Again, I have no way of knowing how he feels, but in a mythologized landscape, this is what I see.

Martavious Odoms's career at Michigan is marked by bad luck and the incomprehensible machinations of Fate. If Jeremy Gallon gets it together, say, next year, Odoms starts this year and probably does a lot of the same things that Gallon is currently doing. As desperately as you may try, you cannot run away from the ultimate kernel of truth that underlies everything, that maybe you are too small or too injury-prone or just not as good as somebody else. This is not me saying Odoms is all these things, this is just me trying to grapple with reality--a surreal concept that is paradoxical in nature and can possibly be termed an outright misnomer with a straight face--in a way that is rational, like trying to interpret a text written with a Russian perspective and Russian sensibilities with an English bent. The dots don't always connect, and forgotten unkept roads can lead to nowhere.

I think back to how I saw him once last year--back when I was still an undergrad in Ann Arbor and I didn't have time to think about these things--and how I didn't say anything to him when I saw him by the Mason Hall vending machines, which was a celebrity encounter as far as I'm concerned. I didn't say anything to him like I didn't say anything to Lloyd when I saw him on the stadium concourse before the Notre Dame game last week out of some strange moral code that I now regret ever imagining into existence. I said:

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.

I didn't realize how prescient that last part would come to be...and maybe that's my own fault. I should've known better. Maybe there's room for redemption, but even using that very word makes me shudder and wonder if that is even what is being fought for here. Can it be considered redemption if it just a continuance of the natural order of things? If someone is better than you, can you really complain? That is the blunt, discomfiting way to phrase the question of whether life is fair or not.

Whatever is happening here (or not happening)--whether you want to call it "redemption" or something far simpler, less grand but more accessible--I hope that it happens fast. Keeping up with Time is like keeping up with Denard Robinson; futile, but try.


  1. This, sir, is an outstanding entry. Your writing is tremendous (Hoke-level tremendous) and you captured many of the thoughts/feelings that I have had with respect tot Odoms so far this year. I feel very sad for him as far as football is concerned. And I hope that he has somehow found this article you have written. I bet your description of seeing him in Mason Hall will bring a smile to his face or at least warm his heart a bit.

  2. Amazing, genuine, and insightful. I loved this post. Are you Johnny's alter ego from RBUAS? Impressive writing.

  3. Anonymous 1: Thanks, either that or he'd be extremely weirded out...but hopefully what you said.

    Anonymous 2: Thanks for the compliment, but no alter-ego here...I'm just me.

  4. I fucking miss Odoms. He's my favorite player on the team and it absolutely kills me to see him riding pine. I really hope he finds a way to get healthy and get some snaps.