At around 3:00 on November 18th, 2006, I sat in the student section of Ohio Stadium and barely succeeded in not dissolving into a heap of tears worthy of Tammy Faye Baker as various bands and people paid tribute to Bo Schembechler. At that moment, the game that was about to unfold was quite literally the most important thing that ever had or ever would happen in my life. Michigan had to win.
Or what? Or I don't know what.
Five hours later I stood outside a Columbus 7-11 as the city, red-lit and ominous, exploded in hedonistic joy for their demon-coach and his demon-team. I waited for a man named Skeeter who would never come and silently decided that the true essence of adulthood was the realization that horrible things just happen and keep happening and they are unfair and there is no redemption at the end of things, ever, just more horrible things to have happen to you and the people you care about. And that "realization" is the right word there, not acceptance, because the things that are horrible are just unacceptable but they are real and you have to deal with them anyway.
I was a little melodramatic, maybe.
Or at least, that's what I thought. In September when I watched Chad Henne loft a prayer to Mario Manningham from the exit of section 44 -- I, wishing to flee the disaster scene as fast as possible, had bolted from my seat as soon as Appalachian State drew within chip-shot field goal range, content to watch the final throes from up above -- only for Shawn Crable to violate a basic principle of football 101 ("don't let that asshole block the field goal"), I revised my previous theory to something simpler: God is bored, and we are the ants under the magnifying glass.
Going into this year I had simple desires. I wanted to beat Ohio State, I wanted to win a BCS bowl, and I wanted Lloyd Carr to sail off into the sunset a respected, though probably not exactly revered, old jedi, Obi-Wan-style. And I wanted to see Mike Hart run. Shockingly, all these things remain on the table for Michigan if they can beat Ohio State, which -- as detailed earlier today -- the old brain thinks is pretty damn unlikely. And to fail one last time when everything is on the line... well... just fuck, man.
So I'm tired, and I'm sad, and I don't think any of us is going to get what we want. Maybe that's just detachment and preparing myself for defeat so it's easier when it actually comes but I don't think so. Because it's not easy to consider Mike Hart walking off that field a final time, head down, as Ohio State players clench roses in their teeth. It's not easy to envision Henne and Hart and Long and Manningham resigned to a dusky corner of Michigan history revisited only by force when economics professors go "WOOO 0-4 Mike Hart" in your face when they present their stupid studies about the AP poll at academic conference "WOOO 6-1 Jim Tressel".
But then there's Hart. Yesterday a Syracuse-area radio host called me for some quotes on Hart yesterday, and I obliged, objecting to the idea of "swagger" and describing Hart's career-in-microcosm eight-yarder against Penn State in 2005. A final question brought me short, though, something about the feelings of Michigan fans as Hart takes the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. I don't recall the exact phrasing.
I stopped, and when I continued after a moment the words were halting, wavering, on the edge of collapse. What they were didn't matter. I can't encapsulate four years of glory and pain in three sentences. But a catch in the throat after an innocuous question can.
I am done thinking. Michigan is listless in the last days of a dying empire, but Mike Hart will run out of the tunnel and I will believe until I can't or I don't have to anymore. Go Blue.