Denard Robinson went down in the second quarter against Nebraska. We all held our breath, this time under far different circumstances.
Minnesota week went along, with the general expectation that Denard would likely play. He didn't, and the next week leading up to the Northwestern game was marked by conjecture and worry. Denard once again dressed but didn't take the field.
And so here we stand. With Michigan's last home game on Saturday, the last of Denard Robinson's career, conjecture with a tinge of hope has devolved into resignation and a sense of loss. Of all the times for Denard to miss a start, two starts, his last home game as a Wolverine, of course it had to be now.
After the Minnesota game, I expressed the concern that maybe we had seen the last of Denard Robinson during this regular season. After the Northwestern game, that concern grew roots and entrenched itself in the fertile soils of Michigan fan pessimism.
Denard is day-to-day, says Brady Hoke (aren't we all?). However, deep down, I am preparing for a Senior Day in which Denard Robinson does not take the field, that same field that he had taken many times before. The same field that he used to burn his aura onto our collective consciouness during the 2009 Western Michigan game; The Broken Play was only the beginning:
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.
Of course, all is not quite lost. Michigan still has a trip to Columbus to go, as well as a bowl game, by which Denard should be ready to take the field again. This is not the final word, nor should it be.
I've said this many times before (almost to the point that even having to include this disclamatory preface makes me sit and wonder if its worth mentioning over and over again), but this sport exists beyond the plane of the field itself. Above it, around it, and deep below the turf itself, exists a mode of remembrance. Things do not simply happen and disappear into the cold, airless vacuum of the past. They linger.
Try and recall a spectacular run or one of many downfield heaves to Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, and others. You can even seek the help of video if your memory is failing, and you seek a tighter verisimilitude.
You can even turn to one of many moments off the field: the speech at the Big Ten Media Day, his post-Under the Lights interview with Chris Fowler, general do-gooding, the shots of him behaving like one of us at Michigan basketball games, and so on.
Take those memories, the product of the literal mental reconstruction of those events, and cast them aside. You build a table and throw away the instructions, because you don't need them anymore.
Especially in a case like this, it is emotional memory that counts. I sit here, thinking of the times I got to watch Denard as a student--in 2009 and 2010--and thereafter, and the memory of the events themselves are good yet somewhat lacking in certain respects.
Denard went out and set the world on fire in 2010 after a transitional 2009 season as a backup. I remember the "shoelaces flopping in the wind"--Beckmann's call, that is--and the fact that it was an enormous play in an important game. Denard scored, six went up on the board
But it was far more than that. It exists in its own bubble, carefully archived like old, grainy film strips, coated in dust and threatening dissolution; emotional memory, manifested.
As I've grown older, more capable of deciding for myself what is what, a single overarching premise has come to dominate my fandom: it is people, not numbers, that matter. Of course, I will remember everything that Denard did on the field. I will remember the thrilling touchdown runs, each standing further in defiance of the laws of space and time than the last. I will remember the statistical milestones, the records broken, the wins accumulated and everything else that can be neatly written on a page like a curriculum vitae.
I will remember the way I felt when I watched him do something, I will remember where I was when I saw these things, I will remember how Denard changed the face of Michigan football for a short time, streaking across the sky like a magnificent comet, ineffably talented yet grounded, decidedly mortal, unceasingly likable.
Denard has given many such as myself ample material to write interesting --I hope-- about Michigan football. Most writers will tell you that a narrative cannot exist without conflict, without flaws, without tribulation. While it is beyond me to say that Denard's career has escaped all of those thing, I would say that Denard, the person, bucks the trend of the traditionally interesting written character. There is a reason for this: he is a man, a football player and an idea, all at once.
On Tuesday, Zach wrote, emphasis mine:
This is why, when Michigan kicks off at noon Saturday, I won't worry about the fact that, at some point that morning, an inevitable bit of news will come down and mar the day for a short time, kind of like if FDR added a "p.s. I would also like to add spiders to the list of things to fear" to his "the only things we have to fear" 1933 inauguration speech. All of us wish the circumstances were otherwise, but if you begin to wonder how things should be, you risk forgetting how they have been and how they are.Our memory is made up of a lot of little moments that have stood the test of time. Things that through the years grow larger and take on added importance as layers of context and circumstance are laid down to amplify things previously overlooked, as narratives are assembled from those moments and they take on meaning and significance not just because of how this or that led to something else, but more importantly how the whole thing makes us feel as we look back on it.
Michigan's 23 seniors will take the field to be honored on Saturday. Denard would likely tell you that he is no more important to Michigan than his fellow seniors.
When Denard takes the field to be honored, a tinge of sadness will wash over hundreds of thousands of people, in the Big House and elsewhere. Fortunately, we have not yet reached the end. I suspect that we never will. A light burns, forever, its fuel inexhaustible.
The sadness will subside, giving way to the ultimate tribute: everyone will smile.