Monday, September 15, 2008

If you can believe your eyes

As trite as it might be, this past weekend clearly showed me that you cannot always trust what you see, and that belief, built upon seeing, is, on occasion, fatally flawed.

This weekend marked the third annual Hoover Street Rag road trip. It was posited that if we were ever going to "do" Notre Dame, this year might be the year to do it. Of course, this was when Coach Carr was still the head coach, Ryan Mallett was still the once and future Michigan quarterback, and Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington were still going to be here to catch those artillery shells that Mallett would toss. But, things change, people change, situations change.

So we headed out to South Bend through a pretty large system of rain. Rain the entire way there. On the Indiana Toll Road, the Escape we were riding in got a toll ticket that told us our toll would be $12 for our trip. That was wrong. We presumed that because of the rain we were driving through, we would be soaking wet by the time we got to the game, and yet, we arrived in South Bend to discover overcast skies, but little rain. We attended the UMAA tailgate, meeting up with Jeremy wholly by accident (but marking the first time where all three of us have been in two meter radius, at least of which we were aware.) We walked down through campus, taking in the sights, particularly the close, campus feel of Notre Dame, nearly being run down by the Irish guard (thankfully they provided a proper verbal warning to us), seeing the Golden Dome and the Grotto and the Hesburgh Library. I think the first thing that struck me was that, for years, I have hated Notre Dame, because Notre Dame ruined my year for many years when I was first truly becoming a Michigan fan. Reggie Ho or Rocket Ismail, or various other shamrock shenanigans, it didn't matter, I hated them. I hated their arrogance, their singular belief that they were God's ordained team, and the fact that they kind of owned Michigan. But, on campus, there was little if any smack talked. Every Notre Dame person in an official capacity welcomed me to Notre Dame, and I genuinely felt like they meant it. How can you hate a place where everyone is being really nice to you. (By the way, just to throw this out, the most smack talked to the group during the day came from...Michigan State fans. Seriously. They took time to lob some lame, out of place verbal smack across a street from their tailgate. It was strange to say the least.)

I walked in to Notre Dame Stadium and the first thing that struck me is that all of the times I had been told about how it was a near replica of Michigan Stadium were true. Wider row areas, not as tall, built up rather than down, but I felt like I was at home, except Michigan was in white and a mural of Christ the Teacher was looming over the North End. (personal note: I have promised not to refer to the mural of Jesus on the Hesburgh Library any longer as "Touchdown Jesus" in the presence of my fiancee. She feels it's a little sacrilegious, and I can do that for her.) The parallel began to develop in my mind.

In the Scrubs episode "My New God", Cheryl Hines plays Paige Cox, Dr. Perry Cox's very pious sister. They're exceptionally similar in personality, world view, and attitude, except Perry is not a fervent believer and Paige is. It's Michigan and Notre Dame. In the football realm, we're like the Cox siblings, not many people may like us, they may find us arrogant, off-putting, obnoxious, and we may drive the other crazy, but that could be, in part, because we're more alike that we want to admit.

Also, I need to express some admiration for the Notre Dame student section. They clearly have their act together. The arm motions and the chanting was quite impressive, particularly from across the stadium. And, as I admitted to Geoff, I now understand why the dark blue student shirt doesn't work. While impressive on one level, it also just doesn't "wow" like the maize does.

I don't want to recount too much of the game itself. I don't do it well, my memory fails me a little too often on sequencing, and there are plenty of other places to get it. But there were some things that stand out, aside from turnovers. The offense looked more than competent, except for the holding on to the ball part. Sam McGuffie seemed like a man bound and determined to live up to his own hype (bouncing off your own player to pinball your way to a touchdown can help that cause.) Steven Threet seemed like someone who found a way to realign the gun sights. But at the end of the day, you must possess the ball, and you must make the most of your opportunities.

It was 28-17 at the half as the MMB took the field to revisit their boy band show, and I had already thrown up the hood on my raincoat and zipped up tight. But I knew Michigan was done. 11 points can be made up, particularly since the defense looked like it was stiffening (and had played better in the second half of each of the previous games), but when you're playing in a deluge, it's going to be difficult to hold on to the ball. And that's what happened. Notre Dame won the game because they made the most of what was given to them. Good teams do that.

So where are we now? Michigan is 1-2 and heading in to the bye week. I know that, like Coach Rod, I am disappointed, but not discouraged. I know that Michigan must be better if it does not want 2008 to become a lost season. I know that Michigan has looked better than it did in the first two games, in both senses of the word. But this is what I am seeing.

And appearances can be deceiving.

1 comment:

Greg Macklem said...

I am a former MMB member (from the early 90s) and currently a grad student at Notre Dame. I've never been a huge hater of ND (I save that for OSU, MSU, and USC), but I have to agree with your assessment (most) of the people at Notre Dame. Even the undergrads are very polite (generally, and the arrogance is not much different from U-M). Nobody even said anything about the game to me today in the class I T.A. for. Maybe the memories of ND Yakety Sax and 3-9 are a little too fresh for that. Anyways, I'm glad you found the experience pleasant. It's too bad you couldn't see the stadium before the expansion. It used to hold under 60000 and seemed almost intimate.