You know the hype over a college football game has gone completely out of control when the Nation bestirs itself to take a whack. I speak, of course, of this Saturday's Michigan-Ohio State showdown between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the country. The winner gets the girl, a chance to play for the national championship, and the right to bestride the universe as befits a mighty Titan. The loser gets zip. The similarities with the recent midterm elections are not to be ignored.
Anyway, as both a Michigan alumnus and a Nation subscriber, it is incumbent on me to respond to Dave Zirin's (online-only) screed. Noting that Ohio State is making extreme preparations for possible violence, Zirin writes,
The game should be an invitation to have some fun. Instead it becomes a backdrop for a raging bouillabaisse of testosterone and alienation. To the people of Columbus, and a university with a proud tradition of student organizing and solidarity, cheer yourselves hoarse for the Buckeyes on Saturday. But save your anger for the people who deserve it: the administrators who hiked your tuition while spending hundreds of thousands on stadium upkeep; the politicians who interfered with your right to vote in 2004 and the corporations that have created a Rust Belt state whose once-proud assembly lines are increasingly idle.
This is called bringing your agenda to the ballpark. Which is not to say that I too haven't been racking my brain to think of globalization-related angles on this, the biggest of big games in Michigan's illustrious football history. Is free trade good for college ball? What will climate change mean for the passing game? Or is the game itself a modern-day opiate of the masses, distracting us with all its marching-band hoopla and feats of athletic derring-do from the problems of North African desertification and genetically modified papayas? And since legendary coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were both raging fascists, should we not, on principle, condemn the sport for setting a bad example to the freedom-loving peoples of the world still suffering under assorted tyrannies and miscellaneous oppression?
WhatEVER. Or, as a professor of Japanese history once wrote in the margins of a paper I wrote my sophomore year at Michigan, attempting to argue that the 11th century novel "The Tale of Genji" was actually a subtle feminist critique of Japanese society, "Piffle!"
I won't try to deny that when you are in a stadium filled with 100,000 plus people all thrusting their right arms up in the air as they sing along to the Michigan fight song ("Hail, Hail, to Michigan, the leaders and the best!"), you understand implicitly how Hitler and Mussolini got their crowd support goin' on. And sure, 19-year-old men keeping warm with a mixture of Jack Daniel's and hot apple cider on a cold November afternoon can sometimes get rambunctious. And it is better if we don't dwell at all on that time a certain 6-foot-7, 320-pound All American lineman by the name of Ed Muransky picked me up by the scruff of the neck and shoved me against the wall of the dormitory hall we both lived in just because my overpowering dweebiness annoyed him. His assholery was more than made up for by the consummate coolness of Ali Haji-Sheik, the place kicker from Texas who chewed tobacco and played a mean game of quarters.
What I will say is that my memories of those days do not fester in some noxious stew of "testosterone and alienation." I remember a sense of amity and solidarity just walking to the games, as what seemed like all of southeastern Michigan descended upon the streets of Ann Arbor. I remember glorious Midwestern fall days on which watching football seemed like the only right and proper thing to do.
I remember, most of all, those moments when the assembled thousands would spot a scrawny little wide receiver named Anthony Carter slip by the man covering him and head for the corner of the end zone. I remember the rising thrill of excitement, the murmur that grew quickly to a roar, as the quarterback let fly with the pigskin and 105,000 pairs of eyes followed its arc until that point at which its trajectory intersected with A.C.'s amazing hands and a glorious bedlam would break loose. It's the hoariest of clichés, but time does stop during those moments, and everything about them is inscribed in the soul forever afterward. In the 25 years since, I haven't been back to Michigan more than a handful of times. The Midwest did not stick, much as I loved Ann Arbor. But somewhere inside me, Anthony Carter is always breaking free and the crowd is always beside itself with glee.
And so what if the counting of absentee and provisional ballots in the still undecided congressional election race between Ohio Republican Deborah Pryce and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy had to be postponed because of the game. Get some perspective, people! Congressional elections come around every two years. A game like this is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. If that often!