Worthington, a small community just outside of Columbus, Ohio, is filled with tan and light blue Lexus SUV's. This is not a damnation of that location - as uncool as it makes me I aspire to one day make enough dollar bills to drive a luxury car should I choose - it's just that Worthington is one of those spots where you tend to see young mothers rolling in cars that I cannot right now afford.
This is not how it used to be. Worthington used to be a very small community outside of Columbus that mostly catered to farming folks who most certainly did not own or aspire to own a luxury SUV.
It was this Worthington in which my father, who I should mention is an irresponsible college football fan, grew up. He rooted, naturally, for the Ohio State Buckeyes, which is completely forgivable given the circumstances. Since those days he's moved around, to New York, California, and Indiana, and since those days he's given up his childhood trappings of Ohio State in favor of a more universal approach to College Football, mainly that it is an unwieldy carnival of personalities and teams all trapped inside the beast of the NCAA the arcane rules of which seem only to promote the possibility of scandal. He also, for reasons unknown, let me become a Michigan fan, behavior which I find to be about the most irresponsible thing he's ever done. I think it had something to do with the fact that he grew up with Woody hating Bo, but also grew to see the game more holistically as the two turned out to be (mostly) friends towards the end of Woody's life. In a sport that breeds irrational passions, my dad seemed to be content to just sit back and watch the games unfold.
In 2006, I moved to Boston, and found myself outside of Big Ten country - and indeed outside of the world of College Football - for the first time. In 2006, Michigan would dominate the schedule, somewhat surprisingly, to the last game of the season against Ohio State. I remember sitting around my dingy apartment on Saturdays watching whatever games I could, mostly by myself, and mostly feeling pretty lonely. I'd call my dad afterwards, a conversation that went mostly like this:
Beauford: Did you see the game?
Dad: Yep, you know, that 86 is pretty fast.
Beauford: Yeah, Mario's pretty good.
Dad: Is that his name?
Again, my father is the very definition of a casual fan. Then I would hang up, and look around the apartment. There was one crack, running the entire length of the wall, that I would focus on. Plaster chipped and peeled from that crack, leaving a semi-permanent trail of crumbs along floorboards of that west-facing wall. I did not yet have friends, I had moved right as Football season had started, and I missed the Midwest. I exercised frequently, I went to parties of co-workers who had clearly established their own clique of friends, and I watched Michigan football. Anybody who has up and moved to a new city in a new region of the country knows the feeling I'm talking about. I didn't really acknowledge it at the time, but I was lonely.
Meanwhile, Michigan kept winning, and nobody cared. New England, not being a hotbed of collegiate sports enthusiasts, just kept humming along as if nothing was happening, as if the thing that I had talked about - Michigan actually getting past their non-conference schedule without losing - wasn't happening before our very eyes. Instead, it was just me, the crack on the wall, and the nice but not very enthusiastic (not to mention detail-oriented) conversations with my dad after the games. You only get a few moments in during your life where something that irrationally means a great deal to you goes really, really well. I had to experience this one on my own. I nearly cried for joy during the Notre Dame game that year. On my own. I nearly threw up during the Ball State game that year. On my own.
I read about Bo Schembechler's death that year. On my own.
I did not know Bo. His Michigan was one that belonged to the generation before me. The generation of my father, who grew up with Woody Hayes and Ohio State football under gun-metal gray skies. I didn't, and won't try to channel that time or place. It belongs to those who were there. I will say, in a cosmic sense, that it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me that this pillar of a man, a man who built the program - warts and arrogance and we're gonna beat you because we're Michigan and that's all the reason we need - into what it is today didn't get to see the apocalyptic showdown with #1 Ohio State. I didn't cry when I read the news, as I'm sure some did. I simply didn't know him well enough. Then my dad called, and the conversation was different. It was about how when he was a kid there was no one tougher than Bo or Woody, and there was this one fullback from Ohio State named Jim Otis who was biggest guy you'd ever seen run the football, and how Jamie Morris used to dart in between those Ohio State defenders. Then he sighed and lamented that it's just not that way anymore, but for a brief minute I saw college football the way my dad had seen it when it meant as much to him as it did, at the time, to me.
As lives go on, and responsibilities grow, it's inevitable that the games we use as distraction matter less. You're able to see the bigger picture that tells you that if Michigan loses you're probably going to wake up the next morning. We all handle this with different coping mechanisms but the fact remains that remote controls are not nearly in the type of danger now that they were during my college years of watching football. That 2006 season might be my favorite Michigan season for two reasons. One, it provided a tether for my back to something familiar while I lived as an alien in a city that I didn't know, and two it provided one phone conversation with my father during which College Football had the same importance in our lives. Michigan would lose that showdown with Ohio State, but the sun did indeed rise the next morning, and for a brief minute everything seemed, despite the loss, that it was going to be ok, and that maybe I learned to just enjoy this unwieldy carnival ride for what it is.