football: the agony and the somewhat less agony maybe (?)
BEHOLD THE END OF SUMMER!
I kid. It's a thousand degrees and it will never not be a thousand degrees, but August is more than halfway over which means, finally, it is time to think about football.
Of course if we're being honest I have been thinking about football since December. This is the burden of being a graduate of the University of Michigan, and being married to a graduate of the University of Michigan, and also of being a person who enjoys self-flagellation and having dreams crushed repeatedly.
Yes, I know they are better now. Yes, I know we have Harbaugh. But I am wary. I am so wary. I am excited for football, but I am also scared - for my liver, for my sanity, for my marriage.
This is the other burden of being a graduate of the University of Michigan, or at least one who's been paying attention to the football program for the past decade or so.
Just in case you are not familiar (what is your life like? Is it devoid of sadness and conciliatory binge-drinking?), here is a wee primer on the history of Michigan football.
ERA ONE, from the beginning of time - the beginning of 2007: Things were good, y'all! Michigan was a powerhouse! They didn't win national championships every year PER SE, but they beat up on other teams in the Big Ten, went to the Rose Bowl a lot, and gave students and alumni many reasons to be snobby and entitled about football success, both past and future! Success was a given! It was a given! A nine-win season was a failure! Sucks to be you, Illinois! Sorry 'bout your life, Northwestern!
During this time period I actually said to my father, "We don't rebuild, we reload." I said this to him more than once! I want to punch young me right in the face!
We were basically this:
Coupled with this:
It was a heady time to be alive, y'all. Everyone hated us but who even cared?! We were Michigan! Kiss the ring, peasants!
And then the 2007 season started.
It started like this.
(I trust that video will show enough to convey what happened, because even now, nine years later, I can't watch it.) That, friends, is the no. 5-ranked Wolverines losing, on opening weekend at home, to Appalachian State, a non-ranked FCS football team. In non-football terms, that loss is basically on par with David and Goliath.
It was as incomprehensible and icky as Heidi choosing Spencer over her friendship with LC (wtf, Heidi).
It was the football embodiment of taking a double shot of what you thought was chilled Patron, but turned out to be warm El Toro.
Not room temperature.
Look, it was just bad. The team would lose to Oregon the next week and would somewhat salvage the season by winning a bowl game against a Florida team coached by Urban Meyer and led by Tim Tebow, but the damage was done. Lloyd Carr retired, the brain trust at Michigan made the decision to replace him with Rich Rodriguez, and thus began the next era of Wolverine football. It lasted until the end of 2014. I like to call it The Saddening.
My self-preservation skills prevent me from recapping this era for you in detail - I survived it, that's enough - so let's just hit some of the key points. Rich Rodriguez was a terrible fit for Michigan and he probably never had a chance to succeed there due to a number of things that all suck, including the spread offense, a fan base that never warmed to him, administrators who never taught him how to approach said fan base and, potentially, a less-than-gracious reception by Lloyd Carr. The program faltered under his leadership; he was fired after three years. I'm skipping a lot but really, I'm also not, it was a tire fire and in my personal life it just looked a lot like this:
Enter Brady Hoke.
Ah, Hoke. He was a nice guy! He had worked for Bo Schembechler! He loved Michigan and wanted to coach at Michigan and would reassemble all the Michigan-y things that Rich Rodriguez just never understood! He likes hot dogs! Fergodsakes!
But Hoke also became a tire fire. Concussions were had. Coke promotions were offered. MISTAKES WERE MADE. Theories abound as to why - Hoke's a nice guy, but not a good coach; he was in way over his head; he was but a puppet controlled by the evil Dave Brandon - but really who cares. He tanked, and both he and the evil Dave Brandon got the boot at the end of 2014.
And then we got Jim Harbaugh.
And now everything is golden again.
Or so everyone would have you believe. Michigan heads into the 2016 season ranked in the top 10 in most national polls. Some have us as high as 4. Most people (minus Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich, bless) are comfortable with these rankings, due to the depth on the roster, the number of returning players and, of course, the almighty Harbaugh. But I have played this game before, y'all. And I have lost. Repeatedly. So I listen to the hype with my game face on. My game face, these days, looks mostly like this.
It's not that I'm a downer or a fairweather fan, it's just that I am older now and my liver can only take so much these days. I am cautious. I am nervous. I am confused why a team without a quarterback that won 10 games but didn't really DO much last year is now billed as the second coming of Charles Woodson and Fielding Yost. I have been cheerfully optimistic before, only to be proven oh-so-dreadfully wrong. I am Charlie Brown, and Michigan football is, well, the football.
So I officially have no expectations. I approach the season anticipating nothing. I will take it week by week. I will control my blood pressure. I will yell at the TV, but I will also live in the moment. I will encourage my husband to calm the hell down (he will respond by not calming down even a little). I will hide in the kitchen when I can't take the suspense. And then I will express my special snowflake feelings about all of it on the internet.
And I'll root for Michigan, obviously.
For better or worse, it's kind of our thing.