Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter's End

If you're a Michigander, you know that winter is miserable. As much as the first snow fall of the season might be entertaining and even maybe a little bit pretty, while snow days may be a nice respite from the daily grind, the reality is that it's cold, dark, wet, and miserable. You stay inside, you may get seasonal affective disorder, and you wait for spring. You may be so desperate for any sign of spring, you seize false hope, only to see the snow return with a vengeance, the darkness fall. No matter what the calendar says, the end of winter is a feeling and you know it when it happens.

Beginning in December 1776, Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer of the American Revolution and the world's first blogger, wrote a series of tracts called "The Crisis" in which he detailed the Continental Army's war efforts to that point and worked tirelessly to both raise the spirits of the common patriot and implored them to not give up the fight. The first volume begins with one of the most famous opening paragraphs in all of American history:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. 
Yesterday was not a perfect process, but it was a perfect ending. Michigan's defensive game plan was very likely "Fine, Braxton Miller, beat us with your arm." He very nearly did. Until I saw the replay that showed the misread on the coverage on Ohio State's first touchdown, I honestly thought Greg Mattison was channeling Greg Robinson, as if to remind us of what we had left behind before actually putting into play the defense we had come to know and love during the last two weeks. But it worked well enough. It worked well enough because everyone played within themselves. Denard played like the experienced junior quarterback we have believed he could be. Fitz ran like the Fitz we have come to know and love. The senior triple threat of Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, and Kevin Koger will all get touchdowns on Senior Day. Team 132 will have their moment: imperfect in the process, perfect in the ending, as perhaps is fitting of their legacy.

When Washington was encamped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River in late 1776, he needed a win, badly. He had fled through New Jersey after the disaster at Brooklyn Heights, basically saving the Continental Army only under the cover of massive fog. Everything that could be against Washington was. Enlistments were up at the end of the year, meaning that Washington would lose even more from his force, which was already down a full 90% from the men he had with him on Long Island, and he could not only see that the Continental Congress was losing faith in his ability to lead, but he himself was beginning to have doubts: "I think the game is pretty near up." But Washington came up with a plan, a bold, audacious gambit. He would attack the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey. The finest soldiers of fortune in all of the world, considered by the Pennsylvania Dutch in Washington's army to be the devil in the flesh of man, and the ragtag Continental Army was going to attack them, crossing on Christmas. With a password of "Victory or Death", they set to their task. But first, Washington had read to his men the first volume of The Crisis, seeing that it lifted his spirits, it might do the same for them.
Quitting this class of men, I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you. It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

Paine implored his readers to not just stand by the Army in the field, but to take action to help the cause, to keep the faith and know that things would get better, but that they could not get better without that faith. In many ways, it's Tinkerbell theory, something only continues to exist because you believe in it and woe be unto you if you want to find out if it's truly the case.

I stood there, as many of you did, I am sure, watching the last two minutes, whispering prayers to Providence that the massively frustrating sequence that saw the replay official continue a bizarre tack of deciding that anything that could go Michigan's way on a replay would not, even if it defied logic, only to see a double whammy penalty on a beautiful rollout by Denard to see Michigan face 3rd and 25 and kick a field goal, going up just six points rather than ten. The knot in the pit of my stomach was a constant reminder that I simply have seen too many shoes drop to believe that this was going to be something good until the clock read zeroes. I saw too many small things going wrong, a long throw that was just a touch too long, a thunderous hit that was just an inch too late. But in the end, Courtney Avery signed the document, settled the accounts, and put Michigan into victory formation. For the first time in seven long years, it was zero day, it was the vernal equinox, Winter was over because winters end. Those who had held fast against the currents, against the arctic chill that had blown through, and the first blooms of a new spring budded on the fake grass of Michigan Stadium. The winter of our discontent hath ended, made glorious summer by this son of Hoke. The dog days are over, and while there will be new challenges, new frustrations, new annoyances, those will come in a new season. Because winter does finally end, even if it was longer than you wanted it to be.

Ohio: Beat.

(edited at 1:00 PM on 11/28/11 to fix the formatting issues.  Sorry about that.)

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