Friday, August 29

Welcome Back, Jack!

Last year, I gambled with my own fandom, seeing if I could handle the season without catching every minute of every Michigan game. I'd never done that before, but I was still getting plenty of football, obviously. This season is a lot more, well, arrrgggghhhh. Nobody can seem to tell me where I can watch college football here, and that is likely because there simply isn't a place for it. Not even on a satellite dish. In sum, I'm out over my skis like Sarah Palin.

To be totally honest, that has tempered my usual excitement a bit. At this time last year, I was ready to holler my brains out. Now, I am going to scouring the internet for live feeds, trying desperately to get in touch with my Slingbox buddy back in Chicago and mainly hoping Michigan pulls out a win tomorrow when they officially beta test Rodriguez Version 1.0. I have no idea if that will happen and neither do you. Ah, college football. This is exactly why it's the greatest game on the planet.

Other people who are excited out there, too:

Jason (OSU)
Cory (UT)
Johnny (UM)
Jonathan (USC)
Doug (Georgia)
Dave (UM)
Brian (UM)

Go Blue!

Tuesday, August 12

Wake Up Paul. Don't Believe You're All Alone.

There’s nothing like the tail end of summer. The beastly heat that torments us through July and most of August begins to subside. Some of the trees start shedding their leaves. And at long last, football season is just days away. For some of us, we’ve known this feeling ever since our fathers took us to those first games – back when we paid as much attention to the hot dogs and marching bands as we did the touchdowns. For others, we didn’t catch the bug until we arrived on campus and fully embraced school spirit, forever connecting ourselves to our university. No matter how you came to adore college football, you know the feeling so well. While many Americans lament the end of summer and dread the autumn, concerned about winter lurking just around the corner, we feel differently. Though summer offers the opportunity to be outside and enjoy life, we keep one eye fixed on Labor Day weekend. The first kickoff can’t come fast enough.

Every year around this time, I always think back to my sophomore year of college. It was the welcome end of a summer spent back in the old bedroom at my parents’ house, working at a grocery store, finding myself living a life I thought I’d grown out of. I arrived back on campus with breeze pushing me. It was time to start living again. And the first kickoff of a new season was inherently intertwined in that feeling. It didn’t even matter that Boston College completed an 80 yard bomb on the first play of the game. Football reminded me what it was to be a Michigan student more quickly than any of the other endearing aspects in Ann Arbor. It was immediate.This past season I was privileged to experience college football in a way that nobody ever had before. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know all about it. I met so many incredible people across the country. I think I must have interviewed over 1000 fans. This was after most of those fans had fed me hand-crafted eats and more regional beers and bourbon-laden cocktails than I could possibly remember, particularly after some of those cocktails – you know what you did, Knoxville. Not that I’m complaining. But it wasn’t just crashing parties week after week. I got in touch with regional cultures and attitudes. I heard most of the great fight songs ever put to stepping. I made friends all across the country. For all of these things, I feel blessed. Over the last decade, I always claimed that going to college was the time of my life – that nothing will ever compare to it. The statement had always remained true until my trip last autumn. It was a journey I will always hold close to my heart. Lucky for me “going to college” is just ambiguous enough that I can say I wasn’t lying.The crazy thing is, as big a fan as I was before last season began (my friends who don’t follow the game naively assumed I was among the most extreme outliers), after the trip, I’m more obsessed than ever – more appreciative of the fact that there is no better game. And even though we all have our differences, there’s far more that binds us than separates us. From the first Notre Dame fans I talked to all the way through a sit-down with Lloyd Carr last week, every single person I met smiled with an eager sparkle when they started talking football. This game means a lot to us, and we can't help but get excited when we get the chance to explain as much.

On several occasions toward the end of last season, emotion struck me suddenly. Not just when the Michigan players raised Carr upon their shoulders in Orlando, but on the field at the Iron Bowl when I heard the fight songs and realized this was about to come to an end. When I hit Los Angeles, all alone and tired, but with the knowledge that I at least had one more day in the sun to meet, eat, and enjoy my last game. And of course when I got to see some new old friends at the Stagg Bowl. I can easily say I care more about this game than I ever have before. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen at age 33 or not.So why am I so sentimentally reflective today? The season is nearly upon us. My team is starting a new era. Based on how unsure everyone seems about who’s #1, we could have every bit the exciting season we had last year. But unfortunately for me, it’s going to be a lot harder to follow. After spending ten years working the same job here in Chicago, I had the ultimate adventure last season. But I’m not done roaming. This week, I will be moving to Argentina. I’ll be living there for two years. Maybe longer. They are bonkers for futbol there, but I am told by my new coworkers that Futbol Americano de Universidad is extremely hard to come by. I am holding out hope that I can find a sports bar to serve as my Saturday home, a place where I can continue to mingle and debate with fans of all the schools across America. If that fails, perhaps the internet can be my savior, but watching alone will be especially difficult after last season.Senator John McCain has said on several occasions that he never really loved America until he was deprived of her company. While I’ve always considered myself a good citizen who cares about my homeland, I understand what he was saying, albeit in a slightly different way. I never truly loved the land until I got to see nearly the whole thing last fall. As much fun and excitement as the football season gave me, I often find myself thinking about bounding over rolling hills in western Idaho or following the Mississippi River to find my way home from Baton Rouge. I recall recharging my batteries in Charleston, South Carolina and a lazy, hung over afternoon in Sausalito. I go back to three brisk days in Manhattan or cruising across the Bonneville Salt Flats at dusk. Maybe I always loved America, but I never really appreciated it like I do today. And now I’m leaving. It’s a strange fate I've given myself.Of course, I couldn’t be more excited about the trip. My Spanish is improving daily and the job will be full of challenges and interesting work. Now is the time of year when we all start rationalizing our team’s prospects, convincing ourselves that the season will work out just fine after all. No matter the departure of experience or problems from the year before. Maybe the kids will grow or improve. With college football, you never know for sure. I've certainly been doing that with regards to Michigan. I have to since right now, we don’t even have a quarterback. But I may also be doing it with regards to this trip, too. There will be struggles, but for now, I still believe in BCS dreams (¿Buena Comunidad y Suerte?).No matter what happens, I plan to continue blogging this year. Obviously the topics and approach will change a bit, but I definitely want to keep this site a place for all the teams, not just mine. We’ll just have to see how well I can cover everything from the southern half of the globe. I’m not any less excited for the season, even if I end up going to 17 fewer games than last year. And if disaster strikes and Michigan has their worst season in history, at least it'll already be spring for me. Those autumn memories can remain pristine as ever.

Sunday, August 10

I'm Kind of Tired 'Cause You Wouldn't Let Me Sleep Last Night

Odometer: 22,131
Location: Chicago, IL
States Visited: Indiana, Michigan, Illinois

I'm extremely short on time right now for reasons I will explain very soon. But despite my current busyness, I was able to fit in one last road trip. This was the culmination of a year's worth of research and a pilgrimage on various levels. I headed back to Ann Arbor, likely my last chance to do so for quite a while (again, I'll explain soon). Of all the driving I've done, this trip is the most familiar. I think I could do the Chicago to A2 jaunt in my sleep at this point. But I wasn't just going up there for the hell of it. I had been fortunate enough to set up an interview with Lloyd Carr. After getting all charged up reading Dave's heartfelt posting, I tried to make the most of the meeting.

We spent an hour in his office, talking about the state of the game and taking a few minutes to reminisce about that glorious 1997 season. The focus of my questions were primarily for my book, so certain curiosities such as, "What do you really think of Urban Meyer?" went unasked (though he briefly dropped the subtlest of hints at that particular topic). I hope to get an excerpt up here soon, time permitting. But I will say this, the man is sharp as a tack. Not only did he remember the name of my high school coach from his days on the recruiting trail while coaching at Illinois (1978-79), when I was unsure of which season Washington had played Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, '60 or '62, he knew it was 1960 immediately. We found ourselves agreeing on so many areas, I had to wonder if it was solely because he was my team's head coach and had therefore informed my sensibilities. I'm sure that must be at least partially the case. In sum, it was a fantastic hour for me, and I think he enjoyed our chat a little bit, too.
Yeah. This'n'll be framed.

After leaving Carr's office on a bit of a high, I poked around campus just a bit before going south to take a look at the progress on Michigan Stadium. The way things look right now, I question how ready they will be for that Utah game in three weeks.
They have begun to put the bricks on, though.

Gate 9 on the north end is "done", though it looks as plain as a prison entrance. I assume there are forthcoming additions to spruce things up a bit.
Near the Indiana/Michigan border on my way home, I stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand across the street from a Panera Bread. Over the course of the season, I rarely had time to hit any side-of-the-road, family-run joints. I picked up some corn, blueberries, and tomatoes. They were about the same price as the local chain grocery store would have charged, but my goodness could you taste the difference. The tomatoes were so ripe they were practically bursting. They hadn't been carted halfway across the earth to arrive on my plate. It was nice to know that at the end of this trip, I'm still able to get a bit of the local flavor, even if I ended up savoring it in my own kitchen.

As I referenced above, I'll have a big update in the next day or two.

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