Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lead us to victory

When I was four years old, my parents told me I could play any sport I want—except hockey and football. They were too violent. Baseball, soccer, basketball; I could play any of these. I had been playing tee-ball already and found it to be exceptionally fun but had only heard horror stories about soccer from my brother who, through his seven years of wisdom and existence, hated the sport. I was content.

Later that year, a family moved in down the street with a son named Tony who was my brother’s age. When they were moving in, Tony came rollerblading over to my brother and I who were playing catch in the front yard. It was, without a doubt, the coolest thing I had ever seen. I immediately went inside and tried convincing my parents to let me play hockey. I cried and complained and argued that they let me brother play every sport he wanted. After a few months of research, my parents caved. I haven’t missed a season of hockey since.

And as a son of Detroit, this was never a problem. The Detroit Red Wings were beginning their legendary streak of excellence that continues to today. Meanwhile, the Lions were a family joke. My uncles would come over on Thanksgiving and would turn the game on. We don’t watch the NFL in my house and my dad actively roots against the Lions.

College football was similarly vacant in our household. On a cold November Saturday morning in 1997, I was in a small ice rink called Devon Aire in Livonia, Michigan, waiting for a game to start. I was in the front lobby where a number of people had collected and were watching the small TV that was mounted in the corner. Michigan had just beaten Ohio State, much to the pleasure of everyone around me. I felt nothing and went back to the locker room to finish getting dressed for my game.


2001 was my brother’s freshman year at the University of Michigan. As a little brother tends to do, I paid attention to most of the things he did. Michigan football was starting to appear on my radar. There were, however, a number of Saturdays that I spent in my parents’ basement, watching Cartoon Network or playing Gamecube.

It wasn’t until 2004, my freshman year, that I really paid close attention to the Michigan football team (i.e., emotional investment). Before every game that season, I signed on to AIM and left an away message up: “Chad Henne, lead us to victory.” And though it worked a few times that year, it never did for the one that counted.

And for the last five years of my life, the week before Thanksgiving has been one of cautious anxiety. 2006 was devastating. At the time, I knew a number of people on the team and had a pretty large get together at my apartment. A few hours after the loss, and a few spirits later, someone told me it was only 9 p.m. Shocked by this revelation, I stopped everything in my apartment and felt it my duty to inform everyone that it was still early. We still had more time to try and forget.

Three years later, I’m still trying to forget. Everyone knows the story: Michigan has lost five straight to Ohio State and, by all outward appearances, it about to extend that streak to six. The ecstasy of beating Ohio State is completely alien to me.

After last year’s debacle against Ohio State, I told a few different people that it was an entirely cathartic experience. 2008 was finally over. I’d never have to see that team play again and that gave me hope.


After I graduated in 2008, I moved to Cleveland for a job where I currently live. My life here has afforded a marked lack interpersonal contact, so much so that the bartenders at my local bar are of a select few, outside of coworkers, that know me by name. For lack of any personal relationships and the hope inspired by the end of 2008, I immediate searched out season tickets for Michigan football, knowing full well that that meant I’d be spending countless hours in a car, driving back and forth between Ann Arbor—a place I still consider home—and where I reside now.

As time went on, the only real personal relationships I felt were with athletes. Watching sports, Michigan or otherwise, was a release, a way for me to connect with society in an otherwise insulated world. I spent countless hours analyzing the NBA, NFL, college basketball and football; anything I could get on television, I consumed. Frankly, it’s what drove me to finally start this blog.

After the beginning of the season, I fell in love with this team, something I’ve mentioned in this space before. It took a group of upstarts and freshmen mistakes to make a team that I enjoyed watching as much as my beloved Henne/Hart troupes. But this year and last have been trying. Watching not only your favorite hobby, but your most immediate connection to the world crumble, isn’t easy. And neither have been the constant cries of foul play, removal, and upheaval in the program.

Beating Ohio State on Saturday won’t cure all of that like the media has been saying. But it will give hope once again.

Unfortunately, it’s unfair to even expect a victory on Saturday. To hold this team to a standard of victory this season seems almost malicious and offensive. Even after the first four games of this season, holding Michigan in the esteem of Ohio State is irresponsible. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope.


Post a Comment