Monday, November 04, 2013

Identity Crisis

Michigan fan, plane crash witness, and general good follow on Twitter stefanielaine tweeted this out after Michigan's weekly Monday press availability:

It occurred to me as I read this tweet that, sarcasm aside, I agree with Stefanie's assessment, and yet, I also believe that Brady is telling the truth as he understands it.

If you think about it, in Year 3 of the Hoke tenure, he is at a peculiar crossroads. He has two and a half classes of his guys, all young, and two and a half classes of guys who came to Michigan during Rich Rodriguez's tenure (I chose that phrasing carefully, there are Rich Rodriguez guys and guys who were coming to Michigan no matter who the coach was, which happened to be Rich Rodriguez.)  The veterans should be leading the team, and they are, in their own way, but they are also chasing phantoms.  They are chasing their departed captains who held them together during the roughest days of the transition.  They are chasing the idea of being Superman, of lifting the team on their shoulders and doing everything, because that is how you become a Michigan legend, that is how you become beloved by legions of Michigan fans.  They're chasing something that doesn't exist because it never existed last year.  They've told themselves if only, if just that one bad thing hadn't happened, ignoring the other things that did happen.

So Brady's in an odd spot.  He's kind of the nice guy stepfather here, he wants to reach out to the guys who didn't pick him as their coach, but he's also been here long enough that they should know who he is by now.  But does Michigan know who it is?  Hoke has classic "MANBALL" tendencies, but I think he also wants to win, so does he ignore what he prefers to win with what he has?  Does this willingness to be flexible and yet inflexible, and yet still flexible create scenarios like Michigan State 2011, Iowa 2011, Nebraska 2012, the second half of Ohio State 2012, Penn State 2013, and now Michigan State 2013 where the desire to be one way leads you to believe that you can do something well if you just believe hard enough, evidence to the contrary be damned.

But as I came back to this post, I also realized something else.  We hold athletes to an impossibly high standard, which is why it is so easy for them to seem like they are failing.  We want them to give their heart, body, soul, and mind every week to a game that is violent, unpredictable, and often times just plain unfair.  We want them to do this knowing the risks inherent in the game, the risk of injuries short and long-term, the risk of their physical and mental well-being, and we also want them to be model citizens, thoughtful, insightful, funny, and sincere.  We want them to want it more than we want them to win, which might well be an impossibility as fans are irrational and single minded.  So when they do not meet the impossibly high standards held out for them, they are disappointed in themselves, and we're disappointed in them, and that's unfair.  We demand answers, but not the truth.  We want fixes, but are usually unwilling to accept that they may take time.  We want hard questions asked without realizing that those kind of questions are not how the game works, taking game however you might like it to mean.

So yes, we're disappointed.  We're struggling to find answers.  As I have said before, the hardest part about college football is that it is the sport that most lives simultaneously in the past and in the future without being willing to live in the present.  I know understand why this is.  The present is usually disappointing.  The past can be gauzed over, shot with a soft filter, edited down and out the nastiest parts, smoothing the roughest edges.  The future holds unlimited promise, even when there appear to be clouds on the horizon, we tell ourselves it will blow over.  But what is right now is maddening because it's a riddle without a solution.  We don't know what the short term future holds because the immediate past is not as instructive as we hoped it might be.  We want a 1973 Michigan team in 2013 college football world, and that creates psychic tension.  It is not that much different than the people in the 1920s who wanted the fruits of modernity but also still wanted to be the way things were in the 1870s.  To quote "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."  Old systems have collapsed, the old ways of doing things don't exist anymore and as much as we want to lean on tradition and history and heritage, those things do not block, they do not tackle, and they do not adapt.  All of those things are tools.  In the hands of a capable craftsman, they can produce great works of art.  In the wrong hands, they can be used to destroy raw material.  In the hands of those who lack vision and foresight, they can be used to make something mediocre, leaving the viewer to wonder what might have been.

So one-third of the season left, time to make something of it.  What is made is a choice left in the hands of the craftsmen.

No comments: