Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Painful Labor and Rebirth of Hope for Michigan Football

I've never had children, but I know plenty of women who have. Some of my friends have described the birth process as the worst pain you can ever imagine. In one apt description, they say it's like drawing a basketball through a garden hose, which makes me rather happy to be a very involved aunt. Over the years I've had to ask, "Why on earth would you ever be open to having another after all THAT?" The answer was always the same. "Because when you look into that baby's eyes and hold him, you don't care about the pain you went through to get him." The memory of the pain is lessened because the happiness overwhelms it.

That's a great comparison to how I view 2014, particularly when I look back at the year in Michigan Football. It was one stumble after another for the Wolverines, Brady Hoke, and most of all, for Athletic Director Dave Brandon. There was shock and grief over the losses, the scandals, the embarrassing marketing stunts, and the growing rift between those running the Athletic Department and the Wolverine-loving fans who help fund it. I know at one point last fall, I felt the situation was utterly hopeless. I could see no light in the tunnel, just more tracks leading nowhere. We had a crazy AD, a new athletically-untested president, and a likable but hapless coach. There was an angry revolution brewing among students, alumni, and season ticket-holders. The diagnosis was, to extend my metaphor, Clear Blue Easy. Michigan Football and its fans have been suffering (at least) 7 years of uncomfortable gestation. We had it all. Nausea. Aches and pains. Tender emotions. And those Braxton Miller contractions were no picnic, either. There were a few good times: the 11-2 season, the Under the Lights series, Dave Brandon getting handed two boxes. For the most part, however, there was no rosy, happy glow on this aging mother of a program. 

Then in December, the proverbial water broke and Brady Hoke was relieved of his duties. The rebirth process of Michigan Football began in earnest. It was a month of laborious waiting as interim AD Jim Hackett conducted his search for the new coach. Hours of breathless panting and frazzled nerves over media hearsay and rampant rumors. Who would it be? Will he look like us? Will he grow to be successful? And ironically, instead of "Will we be able to afford his college?" it was "Would our college be able to afford him?" Like those on the verge of new parenthood, those last couple of weeks were filled with great hope, anticipation, and no small amount of fear.

On December 30, Jim Hackett announced the arrival of James Joseph Harbaugh as our new head coach. Yes, it's a boy! Actually a man and a damn good one at that. I'm sure more than one cigar or drink was sacrificed in his honor. It was a long time in coming, this hopeful rebirth of the Michigan program and already we're proud of our new arrival. Like any new kid at a family gathering, he will be the center of attention and much adoration. Our Jim spoke well and from the heart that first day, sharing feel-good stories of old and happier days and he called this place his dream. His home. And if all goes well, his permanent one. It wasn't even New Year's Eve yet and I was utterly intoxicated.

I guess all those moms were right. You can go through a lot of pain and suffering if the eyes you're looking into when it's all over are ones you dreamed about seeing as you waited all that time for him to come. Jim Harbaugh was born with an M chromosome and raised to be exactly where he is today, doing what he's doing. It feels like he's all ours now, but I think it's possible he has been from the beginning when he was just a boy joking around with Bo Schembechler and hanging around his dad, Jack, on the practice field. 

The rebirth has been long and difficult for all of us. But I can truly say, after seeing our man again after all these years, I no longer have strong memories of the pain we've endured to get him.

My happiness overwhelms it.

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