College Football is a hard sport to be a fan of. I think, in some fashion, we were all doomed from the start when that big genetic wheel in the sky (or underground, depending on who you root for) pre-destined us to be college football fans. In nearly every other sport, there is a season of length that allows the viewer, or the participator, to say "I enjoy this activity, and I will enjoy it for quite some time this year." Baseball, the NHL, and the NBA all have seasons that are so long, in fact, they routinely fall to criticism regarding how boring their regular-season games are. Even the NFL, while the shortest of those three (especially considering games played), at least runs weekly events for the majority of the fall and Winter.
College Football is different. There are three full months of it, then a brief goodbye kiss in January, and it's over. Have fun waiting the next 9 months for the fun to start again. In addition, the whole endeavor is run by an organization that applies its might so inanely that one often wonders if the NCAA just consults the magic 8-ball for decisions while vehemently clinging to a 1950's mentality whereby everything is just swell in the world of the student athlete, never mind the changes in professional pay, agents, endorsements, recruiting services, and every other modern-day leech that has attached itself to the money making underbelly of collegiate athletics. During this long, hellish off-season, there have been many times where I've honestly looked at the situation in College Football - the conference shuffle, Miami, LSU, Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State - and wondered why the heck am I fan of this? I felt like a fan of an engrained-yet-nonsensical system by which young men are essentially exploited for money while an inept organization keeps watch and arbitrarily administers punishment to those found guilty of its asinine rules.
"BUT THEY GET A FREE EDUCATION," yes yes, I get that, but so many people are making so much money off their likeness, their hard work, and their talent that it's hard to see that as equal value. We've been bombarded from every side with stories of stolen laptops and some kind of Danny Sheridan invented "bagman" at Auburn, coaches who preach integrity but knowingly violate rules (and not matter how stupid I think the rules are, they were still violated. We all play in the same shit-box here), players fighting Marines outside a bar, crooked mentors, and sex-party-cocaine-yacht fest in South Beach. Being a fan of this started to feel like being an enabler of this system of exploitation. It was like being a fan of the Evil Empire.
This week, and for the next 15 weeks, we get to remember why we're fans of this. We get to remember that Denard Robinson is so awesome that when a kid from New York writes him a letter about what it means to be a leader, he got a picture obviously taken from a cell phone back, with our quarterback, holding the letter. What were you doing in college? Were you taking the time to answer a kid's letter while being the superstar athlete?
We need to remember that this is the same kid who tried to put snow in a ziplock bag to take back to Florida on his recruiting trip; he had never seen it before.
Now that it's game week, we remember that we have an offensive lineman who was recruited under Lloyd Carr, saw the entirety of the Rodriguez era up close and personal, and now as a senior captain gets to talk about how special it is that his name is up there with all the other captains, and that his season's goals are "to be nicer to the media." David Molk has gone through more crap, I would wager, than any college football player in terms of coaching changes save for maybe the Michigan defense, and he's done nothing but get in his stance, snap the ball, and maul somebody.
We get to remember that Mike Martin is still there on the defensive line, being an immovable object and, like Molk, enduring a Michigan career that nobody would have signed up for, saying of his upcoming Senior season:
"Coach can't be looking at everyone at the same time, so (we're expected) to coach guys up between drills and take them aside and tell them what they need to do better," Martin said. "That goes miles and miles and it really helps guys. It gives them a different perspective on how to get better. That's what you need — guys pushing each other."
To borrow a phrase from Brian in a truly well written post, I need these guys to be successful. The fundamental difference, however, between myself, probably you, and the others out there who trash our sport is that I need them to be successful for them. I've never watched a Michigan team that I've liked more than this one. I love Denard Robinson like he's my own son made of puppies and pizza. Now that it's game week, we're reminded about what's good about this entire enterprise.
I picture David Molk, in his promise to be nicer to the media, answering honestly about what it means to be a captain, saying:
"I came here under Lloyd (and) that first season we beat Florida (in the Capital One Bowl), but still that wasn't a great hurrah season because we should have been better," Molk said recently. "And then Coach Rod came in and we had three of maybe the poorest seasons in the last decade, two decades...
Then, in a moment of pure honesty, the statement about this season:
"So (we're) stepping through that, realizing, it's time."
I don't think he meant for this to be any larger than it is, but like all true leaders, his words are now a part of whatever story this season is destined to tell. The players, the coaches, the fans, and the program: we've stepped through that. And now, simply, it's time.