Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of Football Faith, and Crises therein.

"For Michigan fans, football is a religion. And the Ohio State game is Easter."

--Paul Hennessy, Eight Simple Rules

I've always liked this quote from the moment I heard it because I know that it's true for a large number of people, whether they are willing to state this as such. (It's also how Geoff and I landed on calling the first weekend of the NCAA Hockey Tournament "Hockey Christmas", but I digress.)

But it calls to mind a crisis of "football faith" which I have been having this season.

I can accept the losses, not in a way that I am happy about them, but in the nature of "darkness must exist so that we can know what light looks like." You need a down season every now and then to appreciate the good ones (and the great ones) when they come along. It keeps you humble, honest, and hopefully reaffirms that which you believe in.

My problem with my "football faith", such as it is, lies in the fact that I know I love Michigan football. I believe in it as passionately as I do few other things (though my priorities are still in family, friends, faith, America, and the inherent goodness of mankind, I'm not out of balance on this), it is a constant, it is a means by which I measure time, and it can and has been an short hand version for all of the things which I do hold dear (team over individual, combining hard work with talent, honesty, integrity, tradition, and long term success.). Yet, in loving Michigan football, I also think that I don't hate Ohio State enough.

I realize that most Michigan fans do not obsess over Ohio State in the same way that many Ohio State fans obsess over Michigan. I shall not get in to the reasons for this disparity, because that's neither the reason I am writing this, nor am I sure enough in my reasons that I think that they could stand confidently (basically, they're opinions based on loosely gathered facts.) Yet, I feel like I am missing out on one of the key tenets of the "faith". If I believe in "the father, the son, and the Holy Yost" (OK, that was probably blasphemy, but I couldn't resist the pun), do I not also need to believe equally as passionately in hating the Buckeyes? I've tried, but I also know that in disliking the Buckeyes, I also don't exactly like Notre Dame, or Michigan State, or Penn State either. (This doesn't even count schools like Illinois or Minnesota which claim a rivalry with Michigan with which we are only faintly aware at times.) I absolutely love when Michigan beats Ohio State, and I die a little inside when the Buckeyes earn another pair of gold pants, but I just can't develop the level of negative feelings towards Ohio State that I have on the positive side for Michigan. Sure, losing to Ohio State lingers, because it's usually six weeks (this year, longer) before Michigan has a chance to win again. It hurts, and I know it hurts the players more than anyone else, on a level that we as fans can only vaguely and tangentially understand. But knowing that this pain lies there, and the joy of winning is so great, it still does not raise the level of passionate loathing in me.

Perhaps it's just the nature of who I am, in that I would rather view a Michigan win over Ohio State as a success for Michigan rather than a Buckeye failure. Maybe I would rather focus on the positives because I believe too much of sports has become about the negative. Maybe I just needed to talk it out with myself, to look within myself to understand that this is OK, that Michigan fans need not be the blue-clad reflections of the Ohio State self, that fandom can exist in many flavors and many shades and that the ontological arguments of one's "football faith" are open to debate and discussion and continued examination. That could be the biggest thing of all, when one's "football faith" is shaken, to ignore those questions is to follow blindly, but to confront the challenges, face the tough questions, and to hopefully come out the other side with stronger "football faith", renewed by the knowledge that herein lies greater depth than previously held. One can only hope.

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