We writers at Off Tackle Empire have a Slack channel in which we plan hashtag content, muse on the politics, sports, and media of the day, and occasionally post pictures of our cats and dogs.
OK, it’s mostly the former. But we do other things, too.
This week our own LincolnParkWildcat has more than adequately prepared a number of thought-provoking potluck questions for us, from asking about Jim Harbaugh to giving our thoughts on the Michigan offense and defense.
I answered the first one. I just cannot bring myself to give a shit about the other two.
It was October 10, 2003, a crisp Saturday night, and I was watching my high school’s varsity soccer team. I went to a lot of their games, but the only reason I was there that night was that my dad had gotten rooked into working the gate. He was, to put it lightly, livid that he was there and not on the couch with a Mich Golden Light or five. Instead, he shut down the gate about 10 minutes into the first half, told the AD that he could take the money himself if he wanted to make any more, and stood outside the classroom nearest the gate, where a custodian had managed to run a cord to the room and put ESPN on the classroom TV.
I would periodically check in, and a group of others saddled with the unpleasantness of monitoring high school soccer on a fall Saturday had congregated. Thomas Tapeh—fresh off bullying opposing D-lines at St. Paul Johnson—was bullying the Wolverines in the trenches. Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III were bursting through gaping holes cut out by Glen Mason’s zone blocking offensive line. Asad Abdul-Khaliq (a name I have no business remembering how to spell, but hi, Doug Mientkiewicz) didn’t even need to throw—a good thing, since he turned in an abysmal passing performance.
And then the collapse. From 28-7 to 38-35. The dream dashed. The Jug would remain in Ann Arbor, just like it had been since before I was born. My dad looked mad, frustrated, finally resigned.
I’ve written, to the best of my recollection, two pieces about Michigan during my illustrious tenure at Off Tackle Empire: “A Story Not (Entirely) About Michigan,” in which I compared Dave Brandon’s regime to the Ottoman Empire, and “On Jim Harbaugh and Midwesternism,” in which I wondered if part of my simultaneous revulsion and fascination for Harbaugh was that he breaks the mold of what we expect from our “good old boys” version of Midwestern football.
The fact is, I don’t know what else to say about Michigan. I reveled in their loss to Appalachian State, sure. Like others, I enjoy a good “fuck Michigan” from time to time. I always want my team to beat Michigan, but that’s no different than Indiana or Penn State or Maryland.
Maryland. Jesus, that’s really a thing. And Northwestern will play them as much as Michigan.
It was November 2008, my first season actively rooting for Northwestern before Minnesota. I would pack my things and head to Evanston for band camp ten months later, but in the meantime I was in the south suburban Twin Cities, my soccer career having ended on the St. Thomas Academy turf a month prior and my
football punting/kicking career ending on the same turf—the same fucking holier-than-thou-blessed, elitist prick-bought turf—just two weeks before.
The Gophers would lose the Axe (again) later that day, mired in a 5-game slide that was begun by my Wildcats’ pick-six winner on Homecoming in the Metrodome, but I didn’t care about that. I was watching as my newfound love, the Purple and White, scrapped in the sleet, rain, snow, and whatever else was falling out of the sky in Ann Arbor that day. NUMB members would recount how cold that day was; how thrilled they were to beat Michigan in the Big House.
I smiled, then shrugged.
Michigan football is never something I’ve known, feared, or truly cared about. They’ve got the history, sure, but so did Minnesota. One of us was just on hard times, I told my childhood self. They’re a smart school, sure, but so was Northwestern. One of us was just beginning to tap into its football potential, I told my young adult self. Even if I was stretching logic and reason, Michigan was nothing special; just another team in the Big Ten that, for some reason, everyone really seemed to love or hate.
Michigan-Northwestern has, in my time, been a thing of comedy: the 9-9 tie decided by an illegal field goal, the Roy Roundtree Hail Mary-ish, the 37-0 drubbing when Northwestern might have been a thing but was really just an below-average 10-2 team, M00N. Fucking M00N. But it was a laugher. Stupid. A loss, sure, but a loss to a faceless, dead-or-dying giant.
The point is, I don’t care to know anything more—not even for my special teams previews, in which I rank punters and kickers with dead sincerity. Michigan is comedy; a punter .gif here, a fucked-up kicking race there, but nothing I regard with any more concern. Sure, Jabrill Peppers is a thing. Whatever; it’s all hype for hype’s sake.
Michigan football to me has collapsed inward on itself, a cold amalgamation of star dust emitting some infrared heat that makes everyone sit up and take notice, but that eventually leaves your cheeseburger cold and soggy. They’re a brown dwarf: large and kind of there, but with no layers, no complexity. It’s Michigan, yes, and that’s fine, but is there anything to fear besides a loss in football?
Maybe Friday isn’t the best place for this piece; maybe it’s meant for the weekend or a Thursday or a day where our collective revulsion toward the maize and blue is supposed to burn white hot. But is it worth our time? No (normal) kid grabs his telescope and says “Hey Dad, let’s see if we can spot a brown dwarf!”
And yet people fill the Big House. The infrared keeps them warm just a little longer, insulated from really needing to scratch the surface and realize there’s nothing else there but some occasional heat, followed by vast, never-ending comedy, then nothingness.
Just Michigan football.