I receive the occasional urgent message from and about University of Michigan sports, primarily alerting me to the importance of the next football, hockey, basketball, or volleyball game. I scan them all, which is odd in that I did not attend the University of Michigan, have not sent children to the University of Michigan, and have very few friends or acquaintances who are connected with the University of Michigan. And yet…. on game days I sit in my living room in Oregon wearing my lucky Wolverine cap and any one of my Michigan t-shirts or jerseys. I wear a less lucky, sweat stained Michigan cap out in the world, responding to those who recognize and share my fondness for the university with a hearty “Go Blue!”. Two of my children have grown up with my elaborate game day rituals and have become Michigan fans, slightly less likely to wear Michigan gear and much less likely to stop strangers on the street to talk Michigan football, but loyal to the Blue nonetheless.
I’m not entirely sure how it is that sports keep me sane, and my game day behavior certainly does not look like measured sanity, but for a few moments I’m not keeping track of global warming, the loss of species, political chicanery, inequality, injustice, and the looting of America. Thoughtful observers of my quasi-fanaticism will argue that we’re talking more than a few moments, as I do enjoy the four-day ramp up to the next game and allow myself a day or two of celebration or consolation after the last game. I enjoy those pick up conversations as well, some of which are with fans of other programs. I don’t have much in common with several acquaintances, but I do know that they are as captivated by sport as I am. I know who their team faces on Saturday and am more than willing to run through their lineup even if we never get around to my current favorite topic: Michigan’s chances in the opening game against Notre Dame.
I’m not stupid. I know that Michigan’s chances against Notre Dame aren’t great. Well, I know, but how can I? Who really knows? Hope springs eternal. One leg at a time. And so on.
I experience a second level of puzzling emotional instability even as I name Notre Dame or more frequently, Ohio State. I do have friends with attachments to those universities. They are good people; they have not poisoned my pets or stolen my identity. And yet I loathe their alma maters with unvarnished ferocity. This does seem marginally unreasonable. And yet …
I’ve lived in each quadrant of the United States and have found that with one exception, each asks a newcomer to commit. Duke or Carolina? Alabama or Auburn? Florida or Georgia? I grew up in New England where state universities served their constituents well but had not attached themselves to signature athletic programs at the national level. As I travelled through the greater world then, I had no ready rejoinder when put on the spot. I have significant memories of the years I lived and worked in Michigan. One of my children was born there. Ann Arbor was within easy driving distance and season ticket holders were generous, inviting me to Michigan’s stadium, The Big House. I sat with 107,601 rabid wolverines and gave my heart away.
It’s been a bleak summer here in Oregon; the heat is brutal and fires continue to funnel smoke into the Rogue Valley. The Red Sox are running away with the division title and LeBron is going to the Lakers. Bleak, I say, and unlikely to change, but when the “24 Days to Kickoff: alert hits my mailbox, the fog lifts, the clouds part, and for a moment, all is right with the world.
I do have a life outside of Michigan football, one in which I care for my family, consider the great questions and think long thoughts. I read a fair bit and write as well. There’s the grounds work to do and dogs to romp. After all, game day is just one day … except that I’ve just committed to writing for GBMWolverine again, bringing the older fan’s perspective to a young man’s game. I think that will be ok; an hour or so a day is relatively easy to grab, especially as I have followed the Marie Kondo’s advice and actively begin the art of tidying up, keeping only those things that “spark joy”. I’ve got another box of books in the car, mostly history books untouched since my college years. I remember them fondly but not a lot of joy sparking when I took them down from the shelf.
I’m a work in progress. Keep the flannel shirt? Time to admit that I really don’t need three sets of golf clubs? The Barbie Michigan Cheerleader set?
A work in progress.