Joy and innocence in its purest form. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
[This is kinda meta, kinda emo, kinda I-haven't-been-able-to-watch-the-replay-of-the-game-yet, and kinda it's a Tuesday. But every now and then you have to respond to something that provokes thought. Over the last two weeks an old buddy has started posting again and a new site posted something wonderful. As a result, I felt there was something I felt I needed to say, to write, to respond. I appreciate your indulgence. - Dave]
Covering Michigan football on a daily basis is not easy.
Not too long ago the long time Ann Arbor News columnist Jim Carty hung up his press pass for the last time and trundled off to law school, saying "you can't spend your life asking football players the same questions indefinitely." Similarly, the venerable Yost from MZone retired from blogging saying simply "it's gotten to be too much for me to continue on my own." For those of you who have followed this site, you're well aware that I am prone to month long absences either due to burn out or real-life related complications. Doing this day in day out, is hard.
Strangely, it's not the time commitment that gets to you. This is free time you would normally spend on yourself anyway. Playing sports, video games, reading, drinking, womanizing. Pick your poison, but you'd find a way to waste whatever time you spent at the keyboard each day on something equally trivial. What gets to you are the expectations. The expectations you put on your team. The expectations of those who read your site.
The expectations you place on yourself.
You want to be relevant, funny, insightful. You want to be grammatically correct, though that is something I will never achieve. You place artificial burdens on yourself to be all things to a public that you only know as commenters or nameless "hits" on your sitemeter. You start looking at your numbers, wondering what drives traffic and what you're willing do write that will make that sitemeter bounce without compromising your "integrity." You make deals with yourself. You wake up to post at 3am because something can't get out of your head. Suddenly, it's no longer a hobby. It's part of your life, for better or worse.
Writing and blogging starts off innocently. You had something in your head that you wanted to get out, to share with everyone. But there was a thought that needed to meet the keyboard, so you sat down and started typing. And once that first thought was out there, the flood gates opened and you kept posting. Sometimes it's a joke. Sometimes it's a rant. Sometimes it's a personal revelation. At first it's a release. It's cathartic in so many different ways. You have something to look forward to during your day job or during the stressful or awful portions of your day. You start coming up with all kinds of things to write about. Maybe a comparison of some obscure accomplishment to your starting tailback. Yeah. That'll work. These things get you through your day job or getyou through the thing that makes you uncomfortable. Writing is an outlet and a release.
Sadly, the excitement eventually wears off. If you started blogging as an escape, maybe the thing you were escaping from goes away. Maybe a new job takes up more of your free time. Maybe you meet someone special. Something changes and writing becomes a tretiary aspect of your real life. But it doesn't go away.
You change as well. Even though you came in to writing and bloggingbright eyed and idealistic, eventually that idealism starts to fade. When you cover a team you are exposed to many unpleasant things you would never be know had you chosen to remain a casual fan. This has nothing to do with recruiting, sex, drugs, or rock 'n roll. It has to do with the peaks a valleys of life.
Football teams are living organisms. The change, they grow, they surprise and disappoint. Over time, your proximity to them changes how you react to their evolution. You become more critical. More jaded. The little things that would get you excited at the start of the day no longer do so. You start to look at things on a micro level rather than macro. The dreaded phrase "big picture" becomes how you view everything rather than the occasional glance toward to future you indulge in after a football game or after the season. Sometimes the amazing and awful become so common place that you cease to react in the way you did when you first started.
You also become far more emotionally invested in your team than you ever imagined. While the sense of wonderment fades, the emotional attachment grows stronger and harder to ignore. More than anything the frustrations of your expectations and the perceived burden of trying to spin the positive out of constant criticism gets to you. The innocence you started with dissipates. And when your team goes through the types of seasons Michigan has over the last three years, the innocence evaporates.
That hurts worse than the losses. Football, in and of itself, is pure. It is sport. It is a release from the normal travails of life as a working member of society. But as a writer, it quickly ceases to be an escape. The bad news piles up and those wishing to bury your hopes or your team start to shovel dirt on your fandom. You take refuge in logic. Cold, calculating logic. But there is a cost. It provides you shelter in exchange for your innocence.
Thankfully, because college football teams are living organisms, they possess the ability to transform themselves before your eyes, to reward your faith. To renew that sense of innocence you traded for shelter.
There is something special about this team. About Denard Robinson, the defense, Jordan Kovacs, Rodriguez, et al. But my cold, logical heart has yet to completely thaw out just yet. There is still the self-perceived burden of showing everyone that Rodriguez is and was the right choice to take over at Michigan, to show that things are really okay, to get back to people feeling excited and hopeful rather than cold and cynical.
But that burden will eventually lift, whether Rodriguez stays or goes. At a certain point you learn to let go, and to letevents unfold before your eyes rather than spending your time trying to predict them. And through it all, you write. You write about the sublime, the funny, the good and the bad. You try to find joy and humor in everyday occurrences where you would normally heave a heavy sigh and trudge through a post explaining the unexplainable or preach to the unconvertable.
All of us must return to that sense of innocence so that we can enjoy this wonderful sport and this wonderful team more thoroughly and completely. We do not know what will happen. And this is something we should embrace and be excited about. The consequences of failure are not dire. No one will die, no one will suffer. It is football, after all. It's a game. Despite all the euphemisms about warriors and, war, soldiers, and battle, it is a game for children at heart.
It is time for us to embrace that again. To regain that sense of innocence.