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Monday, October 5, 2009

Chalk Talk: Perils of Fanaticism

Celine Dion said it best.

"And my heart will go on...and...on!"

You heard it thousands of times in it's Titanic heyday, and now you hear it a sports blog? The world works in funny ways, and so does my mind; thus, I am using Celine Dion to make a point about what it means to be a fan.

See I was blessed. From the time I graduated from diapers to the toilet, I can remember having a passion within me for being a fan. It started with "big time wrestling." Hulk Hogan was my favorite. When The Ultimate Warrior beat him in their classic Wrestlemania VI showdown, I remember being paralyzed with shock. I had no idea how to react. The only thing that I knew was that it felt like my heart had been ripped out Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style. I knew that I would never get over this loss, that it would stay with me and haunt my dreams for years. Silently within myself, I vowed to never again watch the WWF so that I could avoid disappointments like this. It was just too unbearable, too life altering. I couldn't stay away, though. Every time I thought I was out, they'd pullllllllll me back in.

I remember the first football game that I really cared about. The year was 1991, and the Giants and Bills were playing in the Super Bowl. It was a spectacle that I had never seen before. The country was just getting into Desert Storm, Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem, and planes flew over the field before the game. My dad being a huge Giants fan, I was naturally inclined to root for them. The game was a seesaw battle which saw lead changes and big plays, finally coming down to Scott Norwood's legendary miss to give the Giants the win. This was my first feeling of utter satisfaction with a sporting event. From there, my life forever changed.

Once you get a taste of something as sweet as a Super Bowl win, you come back for more. Suddenly, I was fanatical about all my dad's favorite teams. The aforementioned Giants, the New York Yankees, our hometown Oak Harbor Rockets, and most of all - the Michigan Wolverines. From that fateful moment where Norwood's kicked sailed wide right, my life has been littered with highs and lows dealing with sports. The 90's domination of John Cooper, Mariano Rivera's blown save against Arizona in the 01' World Series, Shawn Crable's helmet-to- helmet hit against Troy Smith in 07', and most recently the overtime thriller Michigan just played against in-state rival Michigan State.

To try and describe my emotions during this game would be like trying to describe someone high on cocaine, heroine, PCP, and methall at the same time. First, there is the anticipation leading up to the game. For any big game (say, Michigan vs. Ohio State), the week is not measured in "Mondays" and "Tuesdays"; the week is measured in "4 days until gametime" and "2 hours until gametime." When your team takes the field, there is an adrenaline rush as if you were taking the field with them. Emotions are sky high through the first stage of the game. There is the feeling out process, as you gauge how your team may fare through the game. There are certain to be a few "what the hell are we doings'?" thrown in there, along with some "Hell Yeah's!"

At halftime, you have no idea what the hell to do with yourself. Is anyone else with me in thinking that college halftimes are way too long? The NFL has it right with their ten minute intermission. Should I get something to eat? Can I really take a dump that lasts the entire halftime? Should I change seats to get some different mojo? All questions that every fan has probably thought at one point or another. Once halftime is over, it's back to the grind. With every possession in a close game, you eye the clock to see where your team stands. Every third down conversion or failure changes the game and your emotions. Want to feel like you've been kicked in the balls? Watch your team give up 4 consecutive third and longs and tell me how your doing. The 4th quarter is heart attack time. With Michigan trailing 20-6 with 6 minutes to go against MSU, even I was getting a little doubtful. Trademark phrases like "there is still meat on this bone" were turning sour - "There might only be gristle left on this bone." But then you get hope - one big play that vaults your team back into the game. Now you need some defense. Can the defense really force a 3 and out? Why am I sweating like I just filmed a porno in a sauna? When the impossible happens and your team gets the ball back, it is a whole new feeling of apprehension. Can we really drive the length of the field to tie it up? In this case, I watched a skinny freshman take his team on his shoulders and make play after play - with a few heart attack inducing moments (one bad snap turned into a 12 yard scramble and completion, one fluttering ball that managed to fall to the ground around 3 MSU players) - and lead his team to an improbably touchdown amidst a pouring rain that was surely a big middle finger from the football gods to Michigan.

I was on top of the world. The impossible had happened - Michigan had tied it up and was going to overtime. There was no way we were losing this game! Too much momentum was on our side - too much moxie was in that quarterback's heart. But then, it happened. An interception on the first drive of overtime brought that sinking feeling back to my stomach. My positive vibes went out the window as the prospects of losing again sunk back in. Then, on that fateful 3rd and 12 run, Larry Caper broke through a Troy Woolfolk tackle and scampered into the endzone for the winning 6. Those last 10 yards of his run played in my mind in slow motion for a good five minutes after that.

After that comeback, how could this team lose? Why do I do this to myself? Every fan knows that feeling. Michigan fans have felt it against OSU for years - Ohio State fans have felt it against Texas,USC, Florida, LSU. That moment where you are resigned to defeat, where your dreams of victory are officially out the window. The big celebration plans no longer seem very fun and you start to replay key moments from the game in your head. What if we didn't miss this tackle? What if this play was called? This continues for a couple hours until the shock wears off. You can finally turn on ESPN and see what the rest of the football world is up to. When those dreaded highlights come on, there is still a powerful twinge of hurt that runs through your body when you see that final score posted.

This is what being a fan is all about. The highs and the lows - the glorious victories and the gut wrenching losses. When I finally laid down to go to bed that night after the Michigan State loss, I made a mental note to put that loss to bed as well. It was time to move on - time for Iowa. Time for a primetime showcase for with our gutsy freshman quarterback and our spotty defense. My heart had finally calmed down from the days events. Would I change anything? Hell no. There is a trademark shot that ABC uses during it's games: it is of the college campus during the game. I always see people walking around and I wonder to myself, how much would it suck to be these people? To not care about sports, to not go through each Saturday with 110,000+ people on pins and needles as your team wins or loses. Some people say it's only a game, and yes, that is true. However, it is HELL of a game. One that keeps you coming back for more and more. One that has your heart racing every Saturday like Antonio Henton at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. Like I said earlier, Celine Dion had it right.

My heart will indeed go on.

Never Run The Toss Sweep
Coach Deuce

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Man, that chick beside me is smokin'.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

3:30 AM, after the Louisville game.

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