9

Why Wolverines Left Michigan

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Background: When Michigan became a state in 1837, there were thousands of wolverines roaming the state. So when the day came to choose a state animal, the winner was the wolverine. When the University of Michigan began playing intercollegiate football in 1879, they were the Michigan Wolverines. By the middle of the 20th century, wolverines were scarce. By 1997 there were no wolverines in Michigan, and the white-tailed deer became the state animal.

Here is the real reason there are no wolverines in Michigan. (All narration is done by wolverines.)

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1879 (Ann Arbor)

Jimmy: Dad! Did you hear the great news? Some humans are going to play a game called football. And they named the team after us wolverines because we’re so tough.

Dad: That’s nice, Jimmy. Now help me catch something for dinner.

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1890 (Lower Michigan)

Walter: This meal is delicious. I never knew you were such a good hunter.

Emily: Thank you sweetie. I heard something terrible from Betty. Do you remember her nephew Benny?

Walter: Not really. She has about twenty nephews.

Emily: Anyway, some humans got him.

Walter: That’s awful. Did they turn him into stew?

Emily: No; that’s the strange part. They put him in a cage and said they were taking him to school as a mascot.

Walter: What’s a mascot?

Emily: Betty wasn’t really sure, but they said he’d be great on the sidelines.

Walter: How very odd.

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1900 (Lower Michigan)

Joe: You’ll never believe who we saw today!

Peggy: Who?

Joe: George! That guy that the humans trapped last year to take to school.

Peggy: Really? How’d he get out?

Joe: A few of the humans took him out of his cage. They wanted to paint him maize and blue. He didn’t know what it meant but he saw his chance, bit a guy, and raced out. Well, we don’t really race, but you know what I mean.

Peggy: So did he tell you what a mascot is?

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Joe: Apparently when these humans play a game, they like to have a tough animal to represent how tough they are. And if they actually have one of those animals, they show it off to intimidate the other team.

Peggy: Goodness! How awful for the animal.

Joe: George said it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. They fed him as much as he wanted and walked him and gave him a good place to live. But the games were really noisy. And they wouldn’t let him eat any of the injured players, even if they were on the other team.

Peggy: Humans are strange. You would think they would want to eliminate as many enemies as possible.

Joe: George said that they will look for a replacement. We all need to move.

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1910 (mid-Lower Peninsula)

Paul: It looks like it might be time to move north again.

Jan: But it’s so nice here. We have the lake, the sun spots, the children have lots of friends. And there’s plenty to eat.

Paul: It seems that some of those “football players” live around here. They took Jenny with them when they went to school.

Jan: Oh, no! They took a girl?

Paul: Yep. But humans are clueless. They probably can’t tell the difference.

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1920 (below the Straits of Mackinac)

Bill: We’re going to have to do something. Those humans can still find us up here.

Jack: And they want more than one of us now. “In case one dies or runs off.”

Pete: I heard that some of the other students want us as pets. It’s ridiculous. Don’t they know we’re vicious?

Bill: I heard that some of the girl humans think we’re cute.

Pete: Grrr

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1930 (far west of the Upper Peninsula)

Don: Hon, I don’t want to scare you, but the students found us again. They have some kind of contest to see who can capture the biggest, meanest wolverine as mascot. The rest are going to be pets down there.

Ann: I am frightened. You’re a big, mean guy. What if they take you?

Don: It’s OK. The guys and I have a plan. Tonight we’re all going to move over the border to Wisconsin.

Ann: Don’t they have mascots in Wisconsin?

Don: Yes, but they’re badgers. And the fewer of them the better.

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Bucky Badger is the mascot for the University of Wisconsin

Note: Cat is a Michigan alum and would never have a wolverine as a pet. Go Blue!

(All pictures are courtesy of Google Images)

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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.

 

11

I Don’t Remember it Like That

We dropped our daughter off at college last Sunday. I’d always heard that it would be like a flashback to my own college days. I guess you could call it that.

She is going to a much smaller place than I did. There was no mistaking where you were going at the University of Michigan. Or when you got there. Or the thousands of people around wherever you wanted to be.

This place is in a residential area not far from where I grew up. There is no real signage except on the freeway right below. The freeway that has been closed for construction for the summer and will be until November.

No problem, right? You grew up there. True enough. We found the school with no trouble. And a parking lot. Was it the right parking lot? It had to be – it was the only one near the dorm. Yep – one parking lot, one dorm. No rushing memories yet.

We went inside. While she registered, we sat on a sofa. There were a few other kids filling out paperwork. No pandemonium. No feeling of being lost in a crowd. Hmmmmm. I was channeling high school more than college.

But wait. Something did feel familiar. Ahhh – a large building in the late summer with no air conditioning. The strange mustiness of a building that has been unoccupied for several months and is now full of sweating people.

Paperwork done, we went to the third floor. Where she had to talk to another person. She got a checklist for the current room condition. Once she filled out the form, she could have her key. I just had to identify myself and get a key. One point for large bureaucracy.

We went down the hallway and found her room. The girl at the end of the hall said it was open. It was not. Luckily her roommate was on the other side of the closed door. As we waited at the door, I noticed the girls in the room across the hall watching us. Open doors, people watching. That’s familiar. A little creepy, but familiar.

The room looks a lot like the one I had. But smaller. Dorm rooms are not known for their spaciousness, but this was the smallest double I had seen at any school. I swear that the girls could lay on their beds, hold out their arms and touch each other. I thought private schools were supposed to be more luxurious than the public ones. I guess this is part of the reason hers isn’t particularly expensive.

The roommate did remind me of some of the girls I knew in the dorm. Very sweet. And very aware of the strategic advantages of being the first to the room. Her side of the room was totally decorated. She had two rugs which covered two-thirds of the room. (In her defense, I don’t think they make rugs for half a room that size.)

The closets are on her side of the room, next to each other. Next to her desk. She took the one that is closest to my daughter’s side. It’s more easily accessible. The sink is on my daughter’s side. She took all the jewelry hooks she needed.

Actually I understand all of that. Don’t appreciate it. But I understand. The girl has never shared space with a stranger before. She doesn’t realize that parents can turn feral in defense of their offspring.

But that wasn’t the strangest part. Trying to make conversation, I asked about pictures she had pinned up of a dog and a bunny. I knew the dog was her pet. What about the bunny? She said they owned a rabbit farm. Some rabbits were pets and some were for sale.

This one? He was for sale. You have a picture of a rabbit you ate? Yes. That’s strange. OK, he can be a pet. So you are a little sick putting up a picture of a meal-to-be or you think you can freak me out by telling me your family raises rabbits for sale. Either way, I’m glad I’m not your mother.

We finally brought the stuff up. In the hot, humid weather. They had handcarts, but most of the people didn’t bother to take them back down when they were done. So it was an obstacle course. Did I mention the hallways were also strangely narrow for a dorm?

Downstairs I held a door open for a couple of guys with a sofa. It was the second one they brought in. Some of the people in my dorm built lofts for their beds and used the room as social space. With the size of the rooms and the size of the sofas, I’m guessing these guys have a very intimate social circle.

Sweaty guys. Tired, frustrated parents. Embarrassed, nervous students. They were right. It was beginning to remind me of college.