Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wolverines Blogging: A State Of Civil Unrest

It's hard to describe how brutal the loss to Penn State truly was. It's not just that the Wolverines lost. Not that they've fallen into a 2-5 hole out of which they're not likely to climb. Nor the increasing realization that this will be the first losing season in over forty years or that their bowl streak is about to be snapped.

It's not even the way they lost. How the team that showed up in the first half was the one we fans have been waiting to see all year. Full of talent enough to paper over the cracks. Filled with too much determination to slide too far back. The offense was working and the defense was flying and, for a half, at least, you could believe. That Michigan was back. That they'd finally rediscovered the promise they'd flashed during the close of that Wisconsin game but, this time, they weren't going to wait to fall behind before they started to play. Play the sort of desperate, hungry ball that they've needed to all along.

And then the team that rushed out of the locker room in the second half was the same sorry imposter that's been on display for the rest of the season. Penn State methodically picked apart Michigan, delivering the payback beating that I'd expected. A lot of it, perhaps, had to do with Threet going down. He's been playing injured and, without him, it all seemed to fall apart. But with the PSU game and Illinois the week before, that's twice where the game's slipped away after the half. That's not a sign of a lack of determination or heart, or even a failure of the newly vaunted conditioning program. Instead, it's getting outcoached. Somehow, the other teams are making the adjustments that the Wolverines aren't and that's a huge problem.

But it's still not the cause of my crushing despair.

Because what really gets me down about that loss is the wearying realization that State is next.

Michigan State. The Little Brother. The safety school. The also-ran and the wanna-be. And, soon, about to be the latest team to show no mercy to a struggling Michigan team.

It's hard to relate just how important this rivalry is, if you've grown up as a Michigan fan. If you've been raised, a Michigan man by other Michigan men and lived, breathed, with the fortunes of the team through the years. Or maybe it's just if you're from the state, as I am. Because this is the game, this is the competition, that divides this state. Streets, work places, even families, breaking apart into Maize and Blue and Green and White camps. Flags get flown and former neighbors get a terse nod. Standing in line at the store or waiting for class to start, you jaw back and forth with someone wearing the opposing colors. You pick up sides at recess based on your allegiance. You play this game out a hundred, a thousand times a year before it actually takes place.

My freshman year, I sat at my dorm room desk, at a loss to explain to my roommate just how important it all was. He was from out of state, from the West Coast (My roommates that year were a musician from Oregon who spoke fluent Thai, and an engineering student from Bangledesh, who was richer than the entire rest of the floor. Man, I miss college.), and what he knew was that Ohio State was the big game. I couldn't express to him that, yeah, it all came down to the Buckeyes and the rest was all prologue but this game, the game against state, was the largest chapter in that book. Couldn't find a way a way to relate that the bitterness and the hate were all the more intense because, for the next 364 days, you'd be living and working alongside the other team's fans. I couldn't say then what I can now, that team from down south, they're the rival. But State? State is the enemy.

This year, though, it looks like State will be the victors. That they stumbled against the Buckeyes is the sort of false hope that the unwary fan will fall into. A trap that's just going to make having your heart ripped out and stomped on all the more painful. MSU might not be there yet but they're closer than Michigan. And while the game is in Ann Arbor, the best players are on the wrong side of the ball.

No, it looks like Michigan is about to be 2-6 with OSU looming on the horizon as the final, terrible end to a sad, sorry season.

And there's nothing State would like more to stick the next dagger in and further the collapse.

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