Yesterday could have gone all wrong. It was a day chock full of sports I care about a lot. It also involved plenty of teams and coaches I either love, like, or loathe. I began tempering my expectations days before, preparing for a laundry list of emotions by Saturday night, expecting disappointment. It's my M.O. -- expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised -- and for the first time in a while, I got to enjoy the surprise.
From the moment I woke until I collapsed into bed 18 hours later, it was a rare day of sports in which every outcome I hoped to see actually materialized. It started when I walked out the door into a brisk, sunny maize and blue day and ended with visions of Kentucky-- the entire state -- crying in the bitter pain of loss and the caustic fumes of burning jerseys. Here's how the day broke down for me:
The Michigan Spring Game: Fans Waking Up with Collective Amnesia
I arrived in Ann Arbor, with my MGoMan (nameless to protect his called-in-sick-to-work identity), at about 9:30 a.m. and was granted by the parking gods, a size-challenged space 100 yards from the north gate. After surgically inserting my SUV into said space, we proceeded to break out our mini-tailgate fare and watched as thousands descended on the Big House. It felt like a real game day except for our 40 yard line seats on the press box side, a view I never see on game day. I was even giddy about my Alumni Association swag - a #4 drawstring backpack which was an odd gift that totally violates the uber-restrictive Big House "bag rules," but was certainly useful and fun Saturday.
The atmosphere was lively and celebratory as 60,000 fans awoke, with collective amnesia, from seven years shrouded in darkness and dearth of hope. All due to the khaki'd man on the field, the miracle that happened. Harbaugh and AD Jim Hackett made all the right moves with this game. I've been to plenty of spring games in my life, from Bo's Blue and White scrimmages to Hoke's first (and last) hopeful effort. This was bigger, livelier, and nearly better-attended than some actual games last fall. Our national anthem was well-belted. The band played the traditional game day opening sequence. I half expected a fighter squadron to fly over. We even got a few Norfleet Atomic Dog dance moves in. The balance between piped in "Michigan-made" music and band was perfect. And there were referees. Referees! If I doubted the seriousness of this "game," I did no longer.
I won't bore you with my detailed assessment of the action. A hundred people better-qualified to judge that and report it to you already have. I will just say this: our man has his work cut out for him. While I saw many things I liked, including a defense that is finally coming into its own, the offense didn't give me a feeling of confidence going into this season. Though Jim named Shane Morris the QB winner of the day, time will tell if he wins the permanent spot at #1. I hope getting Rudock from Iowa this summer works as well as we all pray it will. We now have a stable of young, theoretically talented QBs, but they need a lot more time on the field under the tutelage of the new staff before I'll be able to watch an offensive series without an anticipatory cringe.
The high point of the event for me was just being part of a Michigan crowd enjoying the ray of hope Harbaugh brings of restoring the program to its rightful place in the scheme of things. To bring back the pride...and the quality experience...of Michigan football. In that respect, this was a perfect game.
Michigan State vs. Duke: The Battle of Two Evils
I will get a boatload of crap from my Spartan friends reading this, but that game tickled every nerve, every fancy in my Wolverine body and soul. With no apology. I almost overcame my Scandinavian sense of rhythm and danced Atomic Dog! It's not that I like Duke. Really, who does outside of maybe 30% of the Research Triangle? But I don't live around and work with (and for) dozens of irritating Duke fans. Not so with the Spartans. Did they have a good run? Yes. Do I love their 20 point arse-whoopin'? Only with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind! Especially when the slappies started blaming the officials. It was pathetic officiating, but not 20 points worth. They simply got spanked by a better team. It ended even better than I hoped. With a bus load of Spartans on a slow, sad ride up I-69 two days before the finals.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Making the World a Better PlaceUnless you were still clinging to the hope of winning a few bucks from your bracket, it's hard to imagine not reveling in this classic triumph of good over evil. This was right up there with Skywalker versus Vader and Frodo versus the One Ring. It was a team that stands for everything we hate, led by Calipari -- who seems qualified to star in any future Godfather film -- versus Bo Ryan and his clean cut, stay in school, dairy advertisement-ready Badgers. I kept waiting for Wisconsin to falter, but they proved you don't need an arsenal of one and dones to excel in this arena. It was beautiful and forces me now to recant the following tweet I made while at the Spring game:
Wisconsin deserves the spotlight for the biggest game in the B1G on Saturday and my hat's off to them. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I heartily support their success in this tournament because a) Michigan isn't playing, b) their success is much less a threat to Michigan recruiting than MSU's, and c) I can't even identify a Badger I dislike. Their fans' response to this game juxtaposed to the response of losing Kentucky and MSU fans says it all.
In East Lansing:
Badgers in Indianapolis...
and in Madison:
The Badgers were models of behavior and kept their cool, no doubt enjoying some Kentucky-fried Calipari Rings. Lemons thrown in by the Spartans.
Frosting on the Cake
The Red Wings snagged a much-needed 2 points with a shootout win over the Wild and the Tigers got a win over Tampa Bay as Spring Training winds down toward Opening Day on Monday. This leaves a glimmer of hope for more hockey and well, who knows what, for baseball this summer. It is what it is.
I won't worry about that now, though. For today, it's enough to wallow in the perfection of yesterday. When the sporting universe doled out a rare, but succulent taste of justice and hope.
Happy Sunday and #OnWisconsin.