It was September 5th, 2009.
It was 7-0. Tate Forcier had driven Michigan down the field for an early score; the Big House was buzzing. In vintage Tate circa September 2009 fashion, he scrambled as he so often did, physically obfuscating and delaying until the moment in which he saw fit to point: Junior Hemingway was open down the sideline.
Imagine a funeral, and then imagine its antithesis.
The early September Michigan heat was a detail, beside the point, in the background. The heat wasn't meteorological or natural, it was atomic; the raw physics of unadulterated emotions crashing against each other, unseen and powerful, unleashing untold amounts of that feeling, happiness, which in its nascent construction is known as hope. The sun bore down, seemingly cauterizing the wounds that had been opened the year before.
Later on in the quarter, something happened. Legend became reality. The myth which we had been told for many months before--he's from Florida, you see, people whispered in exasperated, hushed tones, as if it was a secret so great that its obvious meaning merited its telling with restraint--was no myth, but a man.
Denard Robinson, who was the avatar of the Rich Rodriguez's offensive raison d'etre even before it had all gone down, stepped onto the field.
A bell, when struck to indicate the hour or some spectacular happening, rings. After some time, its reverberation weakens, and the sound recedes into the time-space of the recent past. Slowly but surely, it rings and rings, each passing moment becoming less and less and less, only to eventually and somewhat abruptly stop, the molecules of its genesis resigned to staticity.
Hemingway scored, and the bell was rung. The roar was unimaginable; cathartic, even. In a moment of physical improbability, the ringing did not decline, and when Denard stepped onto the field, it only surged. The bell hadn't been rung again, and so it seemed that such a curious happening was a harbinger.
Michigan took the field in the shotgun formation. Denard Robinson's first play--the preface, the rising action, the climax, and the denouement--was one moment of aesthetic and philosophical achievement. In retrospect, its consideration invokes the past perfect, a recollection of a singular action at a singular junction in history: hemos visto el futuro.
Nobody could have predicted what came next. The sun continued to bear down on everything, and all the while the crowd began to sense, not know, but sense. Nobody could have known, after all. It was, in a way, a perfect summation of life.
Life as we know it is a probing venture, fraught with pitfalls and mistakes and non-linear progression against the backwind yielded by the present's ceaseless advancement into the future. Its parts are incongruous. It often goes wrong. It usually proceeds without a plan, no matter how hard we try to impose upon it the notion of premeditation (a folly, really).
The crowd waited, practically aching for something to happen. The great mass of 109,000 people focused their collective 218,000 eyes--give or take--on one spot. Sight lines converged like so many lasers on the Western Michigan 48 yard line, their trajectories bent under the weight of expectation. Denard took the snap, and dropped it: oooh.
He picked it up and looked, spurred on by the nearly instantaneous reactions of the adrenal glands, which worked in order to signal go go go go go go go. For us, this works when we are about to knock a cup of coffee off of our desk, catching it right before it falls over the precipice into the valley of Commonplace Disaster. For Denard, this mainstay of our physiology means something else entirely.
An opening, a chance. Or, what appears to be one. Maybe taking some time "off" wouldn't be such a bad thing nobody would fault me for it oh who needs law school anyway but here I am and I suppose that I might as well do something shouldn't I yes I should and I believe that I will.
Broken plays are very dangerous. A man without a plan strikes at that which the man with a plan cannot even see or imagine. Denard left the past in the past, obviating the future by becoming the future: touchdown.
The body of witnesses formed a rollicking crescendo, a feedback loop of wow and did you see and wow. It was six points, yes, but it was so much more. There are turning points in history, in football, that are self-contained. When I said that this was the past perfect, a moment contained in hardened amber--we have seen, we have witnessed, we have been--I was partly right and partly wrong, because the moment was marked, in truth, by duality. It was surely a moment in and of itself, but it was also something else. We were seeing, and witnessing, and being. The moment, like an excitable subatomic particle, could not be held in place. It spilled over and over, conquering the vast fields of Midwestern memory-space that exist in each of us, waiting to be claimed.
That play, the first play, lingers on. Each play that Denard made thereafter, and each play he will make in 2012, is a subtle nod to that original antecedent. Even today, we are still, in a way, experiencing it. It is the present, and the past perfect, and the past imperfect. It was the beginning of something, a something which became its continuation and its current state.
The unfortunate cruelty of it all is that all of this, in one way, must end. After this season, Denard will graduate, and he will no longer wear the winged helmet in the Big House, the venue in which his atypically typical actions have escaped traditional notions of time and space. The play took place on September 5th of 2009, but saying it this way strips it of its meaning. It happened in a specific time and a specific place and a specific atmosphere with specific circumstances, a multi-veined convergence which will never be replicated for as long as this world continues to exist. It is an idea rarer and more worthy of praise than any championship or trophy or accolade. It is important to remember that, in spite of all the college football topics of the day, this is in fact what it is "all about." To see history--not just happenings, but history--and to recognize when things are happening because to recognize is to canonize is to understand.
Denard's first touchdown was the beginning of everything that came after it, and those of us who saw it unfold--whether in the heated, exalted Big House or elsewhere--knew without knowing that something was happening. Even after this chapter of constant wonder and amazement is over, the moment and what it was live on. The past makes the present and the future, but, in reality, they are all one and the same.