Monday, August 27, 2012


(HT: Mike DeSimone

They expect again. It had not been a while since that had been so. Blood rushes back to the extremities, the warming elixir of life; they thought that you weren't going to make it there for a while. For a short while, perhaps you were gone. Although, as we know, no one or no thing is ever truly gone. An essence, a thought,  an underlying code: these persist.

Life goes in swings, some will argue. "You take the good with the bad," they tidily note. Maybe. But that's too easy, and it's not very interesting. It's the TBS (or CBS, NBC, ABC...homogenous) of life philosophies: it's like walking through a cemetery and saying "well, sometimes people die." Oh, okay.

That's not to say that the aforementioned is untrue. Yes, a football program's lifespan is a combination of good and bad, but that is obvious. Results are absolutes, things which we can seize upon for comfort, each a starry signpost in the sky: here and here and then you went there and that was not good at all. Either you're recovered or saved, waiting to return or or departed. Or maybe you're somewhere in between, a stateless nomad wandering in between these defined territories.

These are great, insofar as you immediately stop thinking about the thing in question--the after, when the result has come in and solidified itself into your consciousness. Beating Ohio State this past season produced a bifurcated path of emotion, two feelings derived from the same well of subconscious fandom. There was the now, the emotion in the present. At that moment in time, happiness--and to a much lesser extent, relief--was the singular end point of years of a subdued but seething boil. A stew of reagents, of sadness, disillusion, disbelief, and frustration.

Then there was the future, the what if, what next. Can this last, will it continue? This is the time for you to take inventory, to prepare for the season to come, for expectations met or unmet. This is the time to decide what those expectations are. Once this thing gets going, there'll be no time for that.

You can talk about wins and losses, but that sort of misses the point. The 2011 season was something to behold, that much is obvious. What is less obvious but easily more important is the wholesale mindset shift that has taken place in the past 20 months. It was apparent early on, and the season only further emphasized the fact that something fundamental had been altered.

The wins only confirmed that. Each one was a step taken away from the specter of the previous three seasons, looming, waiting, anticipating the moment that things would fall apart in order to say "good job, idiot." When the Sugar Bowl ended and the confetti flitted to the ground like the last drops of rain after a violent storm, it was clear that the Michigan that we had all once known had returned, so to speak, even though it was never really gone.

However, homecoming is by no means an assurance of easier times ahead. Even Odysseus, after years of hardship and travels, came home only to find himself thinking "how am I going to get these dudes out of my house?" Now, a post comparing various Big Ten opponents to Odysseus's foes detailing win-loss predictions and other conjecture-based material is one for another day, but the point remains true: 2011 was a return to prominence, but it was not and cannot be an assurance that Michigan will stay there, indefinitely or in 2012 alone, even.

Of course, that is to say that Michigan could in fact take a "step back" this season. The reason I put that in scare quotes is because I'm going to continue being sarcastic about the "Team 133 will be better than 132 but have a worse record" pseudo-meme. It is true, though, and the last time expectations were this high, it was 2007, and I was a freshman at Michigan, walking to the the Big House in the early September heat to see Michigan play some team from North Carolina.

I made the basic, faulty assumption--one that many people make--coming into that season, that a senior Henne, Long, and Hart, along with almost universal acclaim, presaged monumental things for that team. As Eddie Izzard would say, that all collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. It was a lesson in the genesis of expectations: don't have them, and if you do, always imagine that somebody is waiting to say "I told you so" when your expectations, ones you hope to realize vicariously through 18-22 year-old athletes, go unmet.

Lost amid the gnashing of teeth and the wondering--why did this have to happen now, once I got here?--was the fact that several players who had meant much to me in seasons prior would be done after the end of that season. They would move on, never to take the field again except to be honored in some capacity, to receive a Big House cheer, to wave, and then to quietly walk back outside the white lines that had once been their domain.

Michigan may win 8, 9, or 10 games this season. They may win more...they may win less. I don't know. While the preseason hype now is not as substantial as it was back in 2007, it's still fairly lofty.

Expectations are good, in general, but for a fan they simply serve as a source of mental energy that shines light on the wrong things. That's not to say that going 6-6 and having likable players is enough for me, but I do feel that undue emphasis often placed on these sorts of predictions. These predictions, the domain of the fan, are a fuzzy confluence of conjecture, rampant extrapolation, the correlation of past and future results, and any other number of processes that lack meaning. They're fun and possibly even necessary, but let's remember to enjoy ourselves along the way. Let us also remember that it is just a game. (Yeah, it is. Trust me, it really, really is.)

Again, this is a good time to take stock of what you think to be the ultimate distilled essence of college football. Think about this game that we have, in a somewhat discomfiting sense, earmarked a not insignificant portion of our brief time on this earth toward following and collectively losing our minds over. Give that a second thought. Take the time that you spend each day on Michigan football alone right now and run through the arithmetic. What results is an almost grotesque sort of math. The number that emerges when you assume that you spend, say, an hour a day (an incredibly conservative figure), and extrapolate that over your remaining X number of years is fairly startling. We're talking years of accumulated F5ing, mindless message board thread clicking, and all the other things that go into being a Michigan fan in the Internet era. If you are literally spending multiple years of your life on one thing, you might as well enjoy it properly.

Don't be that person who spends an entire vacation pausing to take pictures, seeing through a lens and experiencing nothing. A record, for instance, is like a gravestone. It is nothing but an indicator that something was, and that such and such time was when it was. Here lies Team [insert number]. They won this many games and lost this many games.  That is the story because we only have so much time and so much space on which to tell it. There is so much more to this game than that.

You will go to bed on Friday with visions of Saturday night running through your head. It will be August 31st, and the coming stretch of four months will seem an interminable parade. Like it always does, you think that it will never end.

It isn't forever. Savor it. To do this, you will need to prepare. Set your expectations, rid yourself of petty, fleeting concerns. Before you know it, you'll wake up, look outside, and see the snows of an early January morning. Or, if you're lucky: palm trees.

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