Monday, August 11, 2014

Looking good, Billy Ray

It started simply, from Jane's Michigan preview for EDSBS, which most of you have probably already read.  But, the important quote is:
"If Notre Dame fans are noted for their eternal (and quixotic) optimism, Michigan fans are noted for boundless, unceasing pessimism."
I agreed with this, but one of my friends argued that it is classic Michigan arrogance to feel like we lead the world in pessimism.  I agreed that this is fair, but went on to make this argument:

Michigan fans, at least in the last decade, have lived waiting for the other shoe to drop and knowing it's not if but when. The history, as it recedes further and further into the past, becomes harder to hold on to. Impossible to please, absolutely. But it's a brand of pessimism born of having tasted success and wanting it again, Pat Riley's "Disease of More" if you will. 
Michigan went from 1969-2007 without a losing season and just one .500 season caused by a freak injury to Jim Harbaugh in 1984. So the last six years have been about a massive re-calibration of expectations in a new world and not knowing what this world is like. It's like Michigan has become the college football version of Louis Winthorpe III and we have not yet figured out how to exact our revenge on the Dukes. (Hell, even Duke is good now.) 

Billy Ray Valentine: [watches Louis clean his shotgun] "You know, you can't just go around and shoot people in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun 'cause you pissed at 'em."

Louis Winthorpe III:
 "Why not?"

Billy Ray Valentine:
 "'Cause it's called assault with a deadly weapon, you get 20 years for that..."

There was a time, and I can tell you, it was 2007, I was standing in Pancheros in Livonia, waiting in line, and I was plotting out the schedule and figuring out how a team that featured seniors Chad Henne and Mike Hart and Jake Long and junior Mario Manningham and was looking and figuring out where the ten wins were in the schedule.  I remember particularly fretting over the Illinois game, since ABC had announced it was going to be a night game and going to Illinois always screws Michigan up somehow.  Bad things.  But the key is, I never, for a moment, considered that Michigan could lose to a MAC team, like Eastern Michigan, let alone Appalachian State, I mean, sure, they were the defending I-AA champs, but well, this is Michigan and such.

If you want to say that the aura of invincibility was shattered forever that day, I wouldn't blame you.  Michigan had lost games before.  Michigan was actually on a two game losing streak and if you're here, I probably don't need to recap this because you're reading a Michigan football and you remember all too well what happened that day.

And yet, we could, and would, sink lower.  We did sink lower.  Toledo.  Northwestern and the Class III Fandom Endurance Badge, four tries from the one at Illinois, at Purdue 2009, Wisconsin 2010, that Gator Bowl.  We came to expect that losses were as likely as wins.  For a Michigan fan from the late 1960s on, this was a brave new world, and we had no idea how to function in it.

As fans, we found new ways though.  We savored the wins a little more, but I also think we came to appreciate the players a little more.  One could argue that Denard Robinson is the most beloved Michigan athlete in half a generation because he visibly loved Michigan as much as we did.  He was a fan like we were, except he just happened to be able to do amazing things on the football field.  An 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl win didn't hurt that either.  But you can only sate yourself for so long on individual performances.  If you love Michigan, you love the team, and if you love the team, you want the team to win.  So when he doesn't win, and it looks not so great in some of the ones it does win, doubt creeps in.  And doubt is one of the hardest things to fight, because the only thing that conquers doubt is results to the contrary.

One of the hardest things about being a college football fans is that the season only lasts for a few short months.  For those glorious months of September (well, late August, but you know) through early January, there are results, measurements, data, to process and calculate and understand.  But from the end of the season until the beginning of fall camp, all you have is the inverse sentiments of doubt and hope.  Doubt and hope exist as the opposite sides of the same coin.  Hope is "Well, sure." Doubt is "Well, no."  Prior to 2007, Michigan fans lived in a world of hope with a small vein of doubt.  You wouldn't look at the schedule and say oh, sure, undefeated.  You knew there was a loss in there somewhere, you just didn't know where.  Post 2007, every view of the schedule is looking where the losses are and worrying that the wins won't materialize.  This is our eighth year of this and we still don't know how to function in this new world.

Here's to hope.  Here's to looking good.

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