Saturday, November 30, 2013

Perfidious Vindication

In September, we wrote:

To avoid any further confusion, there are at least three feats of co-ordinating derring-do that will permit Al Borges to reach the pinnacle that is Tlön. Those three feats are [include]:

  • Repeat what just happened against Notre Dame on November 30. 

41 points. Same as Notre Dame. 143 more yards. One less turnover. So we go from -10 to 10. Positive Tlön was achieved. But still. Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The First Question

First of all, David is right, I should have switched over at 2:50 to the "Day of the Doctor" and it would have been a much better decision.

Fundamentally, the question of this season is not about disappointment, or frustration, or youth.  The first question of this season is more fundamental than this season, it's the core of all consumed culture: "For whom does this thing exist?"

When an author writes a book, for whom are they writing it?  Are they writing it for themselves? For the potential audience? For the money? For the fame?

When a television show is created, for whom is it created? For the network? For the audience? For the advertisers?

When a team plays a sport, for whom are they playing? For themselves? For the fans? For the ownership? For the paycheck?

That we have never fully answered these questions speak to the fact that there are no right answers, there are no good answers.  This is what leads to our frustration.

Disappointment can only come with expectations.  If you expect nothing, you have a much more difficult time being disappointed.  If you expect something, anything that fails to reach that expectation inevitably becomes a disappointment.  But this leads to an even greater paradox, as it is virtually impossible to live your life in such a way to expect nothing, because as things happen, human nature is to ask for more, to want more, to expect more.

Think about it.  After Notre Dame, in spite of the 0-yard pick six, the trajectory was upwards, the hopes were seemingly limitless.  And then Akron happened, and as we sat in disbelief, we talked ourselves into the hiccup.  But then Connecticut happened and hey, we're not that good, maybe, but we're 4-0 and there's a bye coming up, we'll get it fixed.  And we did, hey, the Jug is saved.

Then Penn State, which was its own nightmare, we suck, wait, we're coming back, wait, we got this, wait, what the hell is this drive, wait we got this, wait Gibbons no, wait, we got this, wait Gibbons no again, wait, we lost it.  But hey, four overtimes, could happen to anyone.  Then Indiana and the record setting offense, and we'll get it sorted out by the time we head to East Lansing.

Then November came, and it mostly comes up blank in my mind.  Part of it simply is that I have been moving, and weekends have been committed to unpacking, slipping the games in when I can. But even then, you just knew, it wasn't going to work, it wasn't going to be right.  Somewhere, Michigan forgot how to play offense, and the madness has set in.

So now we're looking at The Game, and well, five years ago, I spoke of that season as a scar, well-won, but the years since have left us with more scars, achieved in uglier fashion, to the point where as much as you want to ignore the scars, it takes tremendous effort to do so.  We're spoiled, and yes, we should know it, and yes, we do, but when you long for something that may be long gone, that will likely never come back, and even if it does, it will certainly not be the same, it makes the absence so much harder.

But again, it's back to the fundamental question: What if this isn't for us?  What if we really, in the end, don't matter in the equation?  What if we tell ourselves a collective lie because we want to believe that we matter, when the reality is we don't? If we don't, it makes all of the shaming, the ranting, the fan credentials presentations, well, that doesn't matter either, does it?  We're just revenue streams to be tapped, background ambiance to be thrown into a game telecast.  We don't have an impact, and yet, it is possible that these things can mean more to some of us than they do to the players because they're part of the thread that connects our days.

So where does this leave us?  What is the answer?  Well, there isn't one, except to say that we're all going to choose our own paths to the answer, and hopefully we shouldn't judge too harshly the paths chosen by others.

The best we can hope for right now is something of a football miracle, but they've happened before.  It is perhaps a bridge too far to ask for a miracle, but it is certainly not beneath any of us to hope for one.  Because as always, hope dies last.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Web of Fear

I switched over to "The Day of the Doctor" at 2:50. YOU SHOULD HAVE TOO AND I DON'T CARE HOW BIG OF A NOT-NERD YOU ARE. The Borges-O-Meter is back to -10.

In spoiler-preventing white text after the jump, some things that happened in "The Day of the Doctor" that could be used to explain the offensive performance. Highlight to see.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

I don't know Davey

This photoshop is as realistic as expecting a successful
Michigan run out of the I-formation.
There are times for rational analysis and there are times for STRONG TAEKS: The only person who has less understanding than Al Borges of what an offensive lineman can and cannot handle is Richie Incognito, no offense. OK then, carrying on.

Bill Barnwell writes at Grantland about David strategies and Goliath strategies. The purpose of David strategies is to increase the variance in the outcome when you clearly are at a disadvantage: a recent example of this is Jacksonville's risk-taking against Denver, which kept the game close for about a half. Spread offenses developed as David strategies - smaller teams developed ways to neutralize their size disadvantage through speed and misdirection.

MANBALL is essentially a synonym for Goliath strategy. Alabama can execute MANBALL. Stanford can execute MANBALL (provided they're not playing Utah). If you have superior athletes, you don't have to make clever play calls. If everyone executes the plays properly, you'll end up ahead. Low variance is what you want if you have the initial advantage.

What happens if we have pinnepedian, Whitlockian, patience? Suppose Michigan's great recruiting classes keep coming in and the players are coached up properly and the line play becomes effective. (Possibly next year, possibly the year after that.) Will MANBALL be effective then? Sure, it'll get you to nine wins, but, at some point, you'll be in the hole against Ohio State or Michigan State or Rutgers or against an SEC team in a - God forbid! - national semifinal. What then? That's when it's time to use a David strategy, break a tendency, take a risk. Maybe you'll lose big, but you'll give yourself a chance to come back and win a game that you should have lost. It's better than trying the same thing that stopped working again and again and again.

What's the ceiling of a MANBALL team with a coaching staff that shows no inability to get creative when things aren't going well? Maybe Michigan gets all the breaks in every game one year and wins it all. Most likely, it's back to the bad old days of 9-3 or 10-2 and perennial trips to central Florida.

Goliath strategies work against Indiana's defense. They don't work against Michigan State's. They apparently don't work against Nebraska's either. MANBALL always hits a brick wall eventually.

The Borges-O-Meter has finally reached Tlön, though not in the way we hoped. Setting incredible offensive records one week, then following it up - after a bye - with two astoundingly crappy performances. That's otherworldly. A Stygian otherworld is still an otherworld.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Identity Crisis

Michigan fan, plane crash witness, and general good follow on Twitter stefanielaine tweeted this out after Michigan's weekly Monday press availability:

It occurred to me as I read this tweet that, sarcasm aside, I agree with Stefanie's assessment, and yet, I also believe that Brady is telling the truth as he understands it.

If you think about it, in Year 3 of the Hoke tenure, he is at a peculiar crossroads. He has two and a half classes of his guys, all young, and two and a half classes of guys who came to Michigan during Rich Rodriguez's tenure (I chose that phrasing carefully, there are Rich Rodriguez guys and guys who were coming to Michigan no matter who the coach was, which happened to be Rich Rodriguez.)  The veterans should be leading the team, and they are, in their own way, but they are also chasing phantoms.  They are chasing their departed captains who held them together during the roughest days of the transition.  They are chasing the idea of being Superman, of lifting the team on their shoulders and doing everything, because that is how you become a Michigan legend, that is how you become beloved by legions of Michigan fans.  They're chasing something that doesn't exist because it never existed last year.  They've told themselves if only, if just that one bad thing hadn't happened, ignoring the other things that did happen.

So Brady's in an odd spot.  He's kind of the nice guy stepfather here, he wants to reach out to the guys who didn't pick him as their coach, but he's also been here long enough that they should know who he is by now.  But does Michigan know who it is?  Hoke has classic "MANBALL" tendencies, but I think he also wants to win, so does he ignore what he prefers to win with what he has?  Does this willingness to be flexible and yet inflexible, and yet still flexible create scenarios like Michigan State 2011, Iowa 2011, Nebraska 2012, the second half of Ohio State 2012, Penn State 2013, and now Michigan State 2013 where the desire to be one way leads you to believe that you can do something well if you just believe hard enough, evidence to the contrary be damned.

But as I came back to this post, I also realized something else.  We hold athletes to an impossibly high standard, which is why it is so easy for them to seem like they are failing.  We want them to give their heart, body, soul, and mind every week to a game that is violent, unpredictable, and often times just plain unfair.  We want them to do this knowing the risks inherent in the game, the risk of injuries short and long-term, the risk of their physical and mental well-being, and we also want them to be model citizens, thoughtful, insightful, funny, and sincere.  We want them to want it more than we want them to win, which might well be an impossibility as fans are irrational and single minded.  So when they do not meet the impossibly high standards held out for them, they are disappointed in themselves, and we're disappointed in them, and that's unfair.  We demand answers, but not the truth.  We want fixes, but are usually unwilling to accept that they may take time.  We want hard questions asked without realizing that those kind of questions are not how the game works, taking game however you might like it to mean.

So yes, we're disappointed.  We're struggling to find answers.  As I have said before, the hardest part about college football is that it is the sport that most lives simultaneously in the past and in the future without being willing to live in the present.  I know understand why this is.  The present is usually disappointing.  The past can be gauzed over, shot with a soft filter, edited down and out the nastiest parts, smoothing the roughest edges.  The future holds unlimited promise, even when there appear to be clouds on the horizon, we tell ourselves it will blow over.  But what is right now is maddening because it's a riddle without a solution.  We don't know what the short term future holds because the immediate past is not as instructive as we hoped it might be.  We want a 1973 Michigan team in 2013 college football world, and that creates psychic tension.  It is not that much different than the people in the 1920s who wanted the fruits of modernity but also still wanted to be the way things were in the 1870s.  To quote "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."  Old systems have collapsed, the old ways of doing things don't exist anymore and as much as we want to lean on tradition and history and heritage, those things do not block, they do not tackle, and they do not adapt.  All of those things are tools.  In the hands of a capable craftsman, they can produce great works of art.  In the wrong hands, they can be used to destroy raw material.  In the hands of those who lack vision and foresight, they can be used to make something mediocre, leaving the viewer to wonder what might have been.

So one-third of the season left, time to make something of it.  What is made is a choice left in the hands of the craftsmen.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The end of "The Savage Detectives"

At the end of Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, the following picture appears with the question, "What's outside the window?"
I now know what could be outside the window and have gaps that massive in its line.

The Borges-O-Meter is now broken.