Ever since the start of the 2007 season, the first week in September has been a strange time for me. It's an odd combination of nervous anticipation, dread, and excitement that leaves me with knots in my stomach and a somewhat jittery appearance. Not that I look like I'm ready to climb up a bell tower or anything. It's just obvious that I'm a little distracted.
Tomorrow afternoon the Michigan Wolverines begin their 130th season of collegiate football by welcoming the Connecticut Huskies into the Big House. And as the season begins, those feelings remind how different things are today than they were not too long ago.
This feeling is much different than the one I remember prior to 2007. Michigan Football was a different feeling then. It was a feeling of awaiting the inevitable. Awaiting the 8, 9, 10 win season with a loss (or two) I couldn't explain, followed by a march to a Florida bowl of some kind, or the occasional trip out west. There was little to differentiate one September from the next other than watching Brent Musberger's hair grow a little grayer and his jowls drop a little lower with each passing year.
But this is different. Connecticut is a very good football team and Michigan, at least for the last two years, has not been. With Lloyd Carr's departure and the subsequent rebuilding effort undertaken by Rich Rodriguez, the inevitable was no longer so. For the first time as a Michigan fan, I experienced what almost every college football fan has experienced at some point in their fandom. Disappointment. Anger. Helplessness. I've seen horrible things written about good people. I've seen internal back biting and conflict between people that should normally be allies. I've seen change I never expected.
Despite all of this, in addition to the nervousness and anticipation I feel, there is also a sense of serenity. For some reason I feel that everything will work out for the best. Faith that it will be okay. I've got hope.
As a Michigan fan there is so much to be hopeful about. There's a veteran offensive line, an outstanding defensive line, returning quarterbacks, talented skill position players, a great recruiting class, outstanding coaches, and, of course, the renovated Big House. Hope makes the uncertainty bearable. It also casts light on the darkest moments in people's lives.
Reading Pete Bigelow's heart wrenching story about Brock Mealer and his family yesterday, tears rolled down my face. When I looked up from my tiny screen, I saw eyes dart away from me toward the window, a newspaper or some other inanimate object, as people pretended not to notice that this grown man had tears streaming down his eyes at 8 in morning. I didn't care. I wipe the tears away, smiled, and turned my head out towards the window and thought about what Brock had gone through and how far he had come.
As Michigan fans we don't have much to go on this season. We haven't seen this team play. We know what happened last year. But we have faith that they will achieve all that they are capable of, never the less. This hope allows us to look past the obvious obstacles in front of us to a better day.
Hope is a transformative thing. It takes us from dark places and provides a guiding light when we need it most. For Brock, hope took the form of a gravelly voice extending a challenge rather than pity. For Michigan fans hope takes the form of a pair of experienced sophomores and a talented coach who has gone through hell, yet still maintains he is the luckiest man on the planet.
On Saturday a young man who was told he would never walk again will lead Michigan onto the field. Brock's story is ripe for metaphors. Without much effort a writer could spin Brock's story into an inspirational story for just about anything. But that's not the point of this story. The story I'm talking about will take 14 weeks to unfold and only just now is the preface coming to a close. We don't know how it will end. We only have a vague outline of the characters that will play a starring role. But we do know where it starts.