I was out on a lunch interview the other day. This being one of those get-to-know-potential-future-coworker lunches, collegiate affiliations were high on the list of things to discuss. When it was my turn to divulge my educational history, I dutifully mentioned my seven years in Ann Arbor as an undergrad and a law student. This evoked an anecdote from our candidate, who excitedly recounted a tale of her own experience with a Michigan alum who had spent some time overseas dragging a Michigan flag around to every landmark he visited and taking a picture with it.
“Yeah,” I said, utterly unsurprised. “We’ve got problems.”
For years I fought back against people who knocked the University of Michigan, its students, and alums. People who called us arrogant or irritating or annoying or whatever other adjective their inferior non-Michigan educated brains could conjure up (yes I’m being ironic – put down the kerosene and step away from the couch). And then I just…stopped. Because all that is absolutely true. There’s a photo of Yost behind me right now. There’s a picture of Michigan Stadium in the bathroom (this one, which is awesome btw). There’s a photo of the law library, sketches of Michigan Stadium and the law quad, and two Michigan Diplomas on the wall in my office. My dog (Brady) is running around with a Michigan collar and will be wearing a Michigan bandana on Saturday while he watches the game with his friend (Blue) who has a Michigan leash. None of the dogs are named “Lloyd” because another friend has called that name for his future dog and has threatened violence against any who would try to usurp it.
I don’t know that this is normal behavior. I suspect that it is not. Maybe other alums of other schools are like this en masse, but I also suspect that they are not. I don’t know of another school where, upon mentioning the name of a school, an interviewee would excitedly recount a story about another member of that school engaging in what is borderline psychotic behavior. And do so as if to say, “I’m telling you this story because I know you can relate to the psychopathology that results in dragging your school flag halfway around the world to take pictures with it.”
For a while, when I was fully engaged in my kill-or-be-killed battle with a group of mutated cells, thinking about Michigan Football was very difficult. Some of this had to do with cancer. Some of this had to do with the actual football being played.
But most of it had to do with the fact that for the first time in eight years, I wasn’t there. As a student, tailgating with my friends, getting irrationally invested in every single game, and having physical and emotional reactions to a sporting event that rivaled any I had during my battle with a life-threatening illness.
And even worse, I wasn’t entirely sure that I would be there again. I mean, I thought I would. But you never really know with these things, and the last thing I was going to do was start my end zone dance before I had reached the goal line. And so I spent an entire season going through withdrawal. I was in Ann Arbor, sure. I went to several games. But I was never fully there. No longer a student. No more consistent tailgate locales. And instead of a keg on ice, I was dragging around a bag of pills and gatorade. Damn did that hurt. Because you know things were going to be different, but you never realized you could be this different.
Sometimes, thinking about the past was even more difficult than worrying about the future. For me and many of my friends, weekends during fall semester are not weekends, they are games. Sometimes, they are even more than games – they are names. Early denizens of 436 will remember Iowa 2004. They’ll remember the 5am tailgate of OSU 2005. They’ll remember the look on the faces of our Michigan State friends after Braylon did to them what my cancer diagnosis did to my mother. I think my sister has been to one Michigan game in her life – it was the Manningham game. Or my first Michigan State game in East Lansing during Halloween, when my roommate bravely went as Jeff Smoker – complete with fake cocaine. The latter day 436 inhabitants will remember the insane 2006 season, crowded around the TV watching Shawn Crable dismantle Brady Quinn with delight…and then watching him dismantle Troy Smith with horror. Of course we remember when that happened. And, hard as we might fight it, we remember the last couple years.
Mention any of the above weekends to many Michigan grads of my era, and people will remember. They’ll remember where they were, what they were doing, the outcome of the game, things that happened, hell…they’ll remember the whole weekend. I’m not sure that other fan bases operate in the same fashion. Maybe Michigan State fans remember the Mike Valenti game.
I hesitate to say that being a Michigan fan – especially an alum – is just plain different. But that’s the conclusion I’ve reached after 7 years.
I also don’t know that I’ve ever been as excited for a season to start as I am this year. Really, this will be my first season as an alum with normal LDH levels. That, in and of itself, is thrilling. It’s part of that return to normalcy. For seven years, August was when you went back to school, football started, and you lived gameday to gameday for three months. I knew that would change in 2010. I never could have guessed how much. All of a sudden, August meant PET Scans and Pelvic Penetrations, and I lived treatment to treatment for four months. This is one major step in the ongoing process to become normal again.
There’s also this: knowing that so many people you know, or used to know, or used to hang out with back in the day, are doing the same thing at the same time every Saturday. In this sense, Michigan Football is the antithesis of cancer. As much as I wasn’t alone last fall, I really was. I just had to look around any oncology waiting room or treatment room to realize this. A quick beer-to-water comparison at a tailgate would remind me of this pretty quickly. Hell, even up in the Athletic Director’s suite, it was quite obvious that I didn’t make my way up there by playing football for Michigan. I was special, unique, rare, and all that jazz in the worst sense. Yeah, it made this blog quite interesting. But I’ve had about enough of that, thank you very much. I’m perfectly content to be just another one of a couple hundred thousand people like me watching a football game every Saturday. I’m looking forward to being one of the crowd.
And I suspect most Michigan fans are looking forward to beginning a new era. To just…forget about the past. Sometimes you don’t even want to reflect on what happened. You just want to move on. Or at least get back to where you were before things started getting terrible.
Either way, it’s time to move on. I have vivid memories of every football season since I’ve entered college, but I'm not terribly interested in rehashing the memories about the last three. Especially the last one. Hopefully this season will start to paint over those difficult times. For me, and for Michigan.