12

Confessions of a Football Junkie

(Warning: If you are not American, this post will probably make very little sense. And almost certainly not be humorous.)

It is true. The pacifist kitten-hugger is also a fan of arguably the most violent mass-marketed sport in the United States. In my defense, I started to like it before field mikes let us hear all the crashing and crunching.

I blame my father – and the University of Michigan.

My father came from the tough male – delicate female mold that was really the only model available when he was growing up. So we didn’t have much in common.

I decided when I was in junior high school (roughly equivalent to middle school these days), that I would listen to football games with him on the radio. Yes, back in those days, there were only three major television stations.

Alas, every football game between every two schools in the nation was not available for public consumption. If it had been, I probably would have been overexposed to it (like Led Zeppelin) and never wanted to watch it again.

Because it was radio-centric, every team had its own dyed-in-the-wool announcer. Dad was a University of Michigan fan, so we had Bob Ufer. Bob Ufer bled maize and blue. They practically shut down Ann Arbor when he died.

When Michigan scored a touchdown, Bob would blow the horn from General Patton’s jeep. What more manly sound could there be?

So it became our Saturday ritual in the fall from that point forward. Bo Schembechler (the Michigan coach) came to my high school to recruit one of our players. Obviously it was a highlight – I still remember it.

Guess what? I went to the University of Michigan. So we didn’t even have to change teams. We could still enjoy Ohio State and Michigan State losing.

One problem. The team was really bad for a few years. During the glory years of “three years and a cloud of dust”, the rest of the country had adopted a new technique. It’s called the forward pass.

And Michigan had recruited quarterbacks who didn’t seem to realize that 1) you had to throw the ball far enough and accurately enough to reach the guy who’s supposed to catch it, and 2) you only throw it to guys wearing the same colors as you are. It was painful, but I was hooked by this time.

Finally Bo recruited a kid named Jim Harbaugh. You may have heard of him. If you watched any sports at all during the weeks around Christmas, you would have seen a never-ending crawl at the bottom of the screen showing the progress the University of Michigan was making in hiring him as the new head coach. (It even annoyed me.)

But long before he (or bottom-line crawls) became ubiquitous on TV, Harbaugh dragged University of Michigan football into the modern age.

It was scary at first. We had learned to (metaphorically) cover our eyes when a Michigan quarterback tried to pass. Luckily Harbaugh’s arrival coincided somewhat with Michigan football being chosen for TV coverage on a fairly regular basis. So the football looked pretty good when it went national.

Harbaugh ushered in a new era of Michigan quarterbacks. The ones that somebody actually wanted to draft into the NFL. You may have heard of one of them: Tom Brady.

Of course, they made Brady back up the brilliant Drew Henson for a while. The reason you haven’t heard of Drew is that he only lasted a few games before the coaches realized he wasn’t very good.

Time goes by. Life is good. I married a man who knew the difference between holding and interference. So we added him to our Saturday afternoon tradition.

Two coaches ago, Michigan decided they needed a change. A non-“Michigan Man”. As far as I can tell, a Michigan Man is a guy who has coached with/played for/been somehow associated with Bo Schembechler. At least that’s what I read in the press.

The first new coach forever antagonized the loyal by not understanding that there is a blood feud between Michigan and Ohio State. Seriously, how can you be a good college coach if you think your fans hate all opponents equally?

So after six or so years of bad coaching, bad recruiting, and bad games; the alumni have spoken. (Always follow the money.) We have a Michigan football hero with college and pro coaching experience. Successful coaching experience. (Except that time he lost to his brother in the Super Bowl.)

Obviously, Jim Harbaugh is going to usher in the new Golden Age of Michigan football. Or at least make it better than Michigan State football. That has been so embarrassing.

(Be grateful. When I started this post, I was going to overwhelm you with my technical knowledge.)

Pro football? I love the Lions. Have been following them for years. Think Stafford, Johnson, Bush, and Tate are pulling things together. But it’s hard to create a story arc around a team whose motto should be, “Wait until next year.”

But they were robbed in the Wild Card game last Sunday.

 

2

The Return of the Evil Tree Spirits

My love affair with the trees begins anew every spring. The buds arrive just in time to keep me from going crazy from the ice and snow (most years). All summer long, leaves sit on the ends of the tree branches, looking beautiful and giving shade. At the end of the summer, they are stunning in their different colors. Then the evil tree spirits arrive and turn them into nasty, spiteful dead leaves.

With some leaves, it starts while they are still on the trees. Those are the leaves that never turn a bright shade of yellow; they’re sickly yellow with brown spots. When the rain and high winds come, they attack the roads and cars. The roads get slippery. They hang onto the cars and need to be pulled off, one by one.

The others make it to the ground, still looking festive. If you rake them quickly, they even make attractive piles. They crunch under foot and remind us of cider and football. These leaves may be more evil than the others because they lull us into thinking that even on the ground, they are beautiful.

Then you try to rake them. You pull all of them into a pile, look around, and realize that you have missed a few. You rake those few and notice that another part of the lawn has leaves on it. You put those leaves out back for mulch or winter dens for the critters or whatever. You go in the house feeling satisfied at a job well done. Then look out the window and see more leaves. Some meticulous homeowners rake every day, generally during their first year of home ownership.

One year, you decide to wait until all the leaves are down before raking. This option does not work. They are never all down. Or by the time the rain takes down the last of them, you have lost all interest in going out into the cold to rake leaves. You are getting the snowblower ready. Besides, how much damage could they do if you leave them until spring? Hint: if you leave a lot of foliage on your grass over the winter, you may not need the mower in the spring. You may need sod.

We don’t have many neighbors here, but back when we lived in the city there was the problem of the mysterious appearance of leaves on the lawn after raking. A lot of leaves. More leaves than any of our trees could have possibly shed. We were left with unpleasant thoughts about our neighbors: they were dumping their leaves on us. In their defense, it was usually a case of raking on different days and the wind moving the leaves.

But I have heard stories of blower wars, with no one willing to actually rake up or mulch the leaves. More evil tree spirit mischief. I’m sure the spirits were laying the groundwork for the snow spirits that make snow appear on the walk after it has been shoveled.

The final indignity is the few leaves that remain on the tree, blowing in the wind all winter. They are reminders of the love affair gone sour. And I know they are laughing at me.