Wednesday, January 04, 2012

You have to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?

First off, gentle readers, I'm sorry I couldn't get the post title to appear in small caps. Blogger's not cool like that.

Sometimes things don't go your way. I was going to spend a lovely Christmas with my wife and enjoy a relaxing new year, but fate, a.k.a. staphylococcus aureus, stepped in and I spent Christmas hacking up my lungs and New Year's Eve at the University of Maryland hospital in Baltimore. Tuesday was my first full day at home, and the only reason I was able to stay up to watch the Sugar Bowl is because I slept from 2:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon. The silver lining of all this in the short term is I got to watch a lot of bowl games. Capital One Bowl Week is best experienced while being hospitalized for pneumonia.
(If any of you ever say anything bad about the Belk Bowl, I will tell you what the Belk Bowl distracted me from in the emergency ward. You will regret having said anything bad about the Belk Bowl and will never do such a thing again.)

Sometimes things do go your way. I don't think there's a single thinking Michigan fan on the planet who isn't saying, "Oh yeah, the horseshoe up Brady Hoke's butt must have had a horseshoe up its butt that was transmitting signals to the horseshoe up Jareth Glanda's butt." Sometimes the broken fake field goal somehow works. Sometimes the pass that should have been intercepted goes through the defender's hands and becomes a touchdown. Sometimes it's like winning the lottery. It just happens.

Horseshoe not shown.
In a football game, if something goes your way, it means it didn't go someone else's way. Poor Danny Coale. The man has the greatest moment of his life, and two minutes later, some man in a booth tells him, "Sorry, didn't count. The ball jiggled." It was the right call, but can you imagine having the best thing you ever did taken away? Poor Justin Myer. He steps out on the field in an emergency and kicks  four field goals, only to have the fifth one go wide. Fortunate Brendan Gibbons gets his chance, and he becomes a hero to brunettes all over the nation.

Hail to the victors valiant. Hail to the vanquished valiant. It's no less of a victory because our team got some lucky bounces. Somehow, by a millimeter, by a millisecond, Michigan kept its promise to Team 132 and those who stayed were finally champions.

I've always looked at Michigan sporting traditions as something as an outsider. Maybe it comes from having attended Michigan for graduate school. Maybe it comes from being a foreigner. Maybe it comes from being the sort of natural cynic who would go to graduate school in a foreign country. Maybe it comes from having been in Ann Arbor at the end of the Carr era, but the term "Michigan Man" never made much sense to me. It seemed to be a linguistic velvet rope. On the one side were Lloyd Carr, Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and the people who were "in." On the other side were Rich Rodriguez, Les Miles, Jim Harbaugh, or whoever was being denied entrance to the club that day or said the wrong thing.

I can be depressingly literal-minded, and it seems to me that a Michigan Man is someone who was at some point associated with the University of Michigan. Every one of us gets to hold his or her head high because Raoul Wallenberg was a Michigan Man, and every one of us has to lower his or her head in shame because Ted Kaczynski was a Michigan Man. This is real. This is part of what it means.

But there's also a mythical level. A Michigan Man (or Woman) is infused with strength, pride, dedication, perseverance, loyalty. Belief in this mythical person is what makes Michigan Michigan. And let's face it, for 5-6 years, the mythopoeic Michigan Man was missing in action. Rich Rodriguez looked for him and couldn't find him and couldn't be him. Lloyd Carr might have forgotten how to be him. Braylon Edwards and a lot of the alumni demonstrated that they weren't him.

One of the reasons the Michigan Man got lost is that from the day Bo Schembechler arrived until the day some team from Boone, North Carolina, arrived in the Big House, it wasn't hard for a football player to be a Michigan Man. Pride was easy. Strength was easy. Lapses of dedication and loyalty weren't very noticeable. And then suddenly, and far faster than any of us expected, it all went to shit.

One of the things I like to do each Christmas is read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, by far the deepest popular investigation into the meaning of Christmas and the nature of belief. (If you haven't read it, there's a 4 hour miniseries version available on Netflix Instant. The downside of the miniseries is that it probably doesn't make much sense if you haven't read the book. The upside is that it stars Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey.)

What Brendan Gibbons was thinking about, 11:45 Eastern Time, January 3, 2012.

The basic plot is that someone is trying to kill the Hogfather (Santa Claus) and that Death, the grim reaper, has taken over his role to prevent the Hogfather from dying. Near the climax, Death gives a speech about believing in the little lies like the Tooth Fairy and the Hogfather so that we can learn to believe the big lies, like justice and fairness and mercy. But surely justice and mercy are real, you say? Not so, says Death:
Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy.
Grind Angell Hall down to dust. Tear down the Big House. Raze the Duderstadt Center. You won't find a particle of loyalty, a fermion of perseverance, a boson of pride. What Team 132 has taught me is the mythopoeic Michigan Men doesn't exist and can't exist. David Molk, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Junior Hemingway, and all the rest have shown me the truth of what Death says at the end of his speech:
You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?
There are no Michigan Men, no Michigan Woman, that can ever live up to the standard we set for ourselves. We can never be perfectly loyal. We can never always be as strong as we need to be. We can never persevere enough. We can never hold on to our dedication indefinitely. We can let our pride become arrogance. But for Michigan to be Michigan, we have to believe in Michigan Men, in Michigan Women. How else can we become them?

The seniors of Team 132, who have gone through more shit in 4-5 years that most of us will have to go through in our lives, believed in Michigan Men. And now they are them, as much as it is possible. It's easy to think you're a Michigan Man when everything's going right, when you're winning 9-10 games every year. To go from winning 3 games, to 5, to 7, to 11, they had to prove they are. And now the rest of us have a new set of leaders and best to believe in.

I'm sorry to end this post on a sour note, but we also got to see what the opposite of a Michigan Man is yesterday. They hang out over on MSU Team 115. The mythopoeic Michigan Man concentrates on being the best person he/she can be, and doesn't worry about disrespect or mistreatment or others' arrogance. He/she just gets down to business and strives for excellence.

Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez (failings and all), and Brady Hoke worked to mold Michigan Men. Mark Dantonio works to produce Michigan State Boys. Sorry, Mike Hart, MSU isn't Little Brother.  MSU football isn't related to Michigan at all. Little brothers eventually grow up and become men in their own right. MSU football isn't about making proud men, it's about making whiners and bullies. Let's hope Team 133 can take care of Team 132's main piece of unfinished business, and give Mr. Teatime Gholston and the rest of them a long overdue visit from the inner baby-sitter.

Those last two paragraphs were kind of a downer. Here's another picture of Michelle Dockery to make up for them.

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