Thursday, July 31, 2014

100k Words on Gopher Football: On Pain and Catharsis

This is the first post in an attempt to write 100,000 words on Gopher football from the start of fall camp (I changed the rules - it was to begin a week before the first game, but I need all the time I can get) through the week after the conclusion of the regular season. In the event I fail, I will donate $500 to a charity chosen by my Twitter followers (nothing related to Wisconsin or Iowa athletics).

Starting word count: 0

A lady's best-kept secret is her age, so let's just say I was in my 20s.

A buddy of mine and I cut out of work shortly after lunch and began the ritualistic pre-game imbibing at a bar run by an old Russian family. It was dingy - the decor was a sad testament to design themes from 1977 - and we were the only patrons, but the beer was cheap and we weren't making much money; any beer was good beer back then. We discussed the plan: when TRE arrived, we'd make the drive from St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, find a tailgate spot in one of the lots by the Metrodome and set to spending roughly three hours shotgunning beers and enjoying a beautiful fall evening before heading into the game. TRE showed up after a few rounds and we got going.

The drive to Minneapolis was something I'm not sure I'll ever forget. My friend had recently purchased a new Mustang GT and upgraded to the Bose premium sound system. For most of the trip, we had the bass maxed and the 'U Don't Know' remix from Jay Z's Blueprint 2 on perpetual repeat. Crystallized in my memory are three white douchebags, speeding along I-94 with the windows down, blaring our hip-hop anthem and turning our nervous energy into rage. Ah, the precious moments of youth.

We arrived at the tailgate lot and everything went to plan. We drank - copiously - the band played the Rouser, Goldy spun his head. The experience was complete. About 20 minutes before kickoff, we walked into the Dome to a cresting wave of sound. The excitement was palpable, the crowd filled with anticipation. It was our time. We were ready.

And so began the evening of October 10, 2003.

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Enough has been said about that game, so I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say "It just speaks to the human spirit" is not something you ever want to hear come from the coach of an opposing team when addressing the performance of his players. 

I bring this game up because, eleven years later, it still haunts me. It was the one time in my life when this program stood on the cusp of relative greatness. There were fleeting moments both before and after: Lou Holtz breathing fresh life into a moribund program, Tim Brewster's 7-1 start in 2008, making us believe, improbably, that we might win again. But these were ephemera. Holtz was gone to the Domers amidst improprieties with the program, Brewster vanished, leaving Gopher football a smoldering ash heap.

That evening in October was different. It was real, tangible. There was a swagger to the program that no Gopher fan under 40 had experienced. Sure, we hadn't beaten anyone of consequence in the build up to that game, but we were 6-0, ranked #17 and had MBIII and Lawrence Maroney, a two-headed bukkake of pain and yards after contact. We hadn't beaten Michigan since 1986, but by the midpoint of the third quarter, that was to end. Michigan was floundering, the rout was on.

The end of that quarter marked a sea change for the program. As my road dog Jeffrick at The Daily Gopher wonderfully articulated last month, it was the beginning of the end of the Glen Mason era. While October 10th was not the proximate cause for his dismissal, it was most definitely a contributing factor. Neither he nor his team were the same. There were high points to follow, surely, with the 2003 win against Wisconsin and nominal revenge against Michigan in 2005; but somehow, in a nebulous way I can't express, the program seemed...damaged. A loss of vitality, the sheen of health, choose your own metaphor. The swagger of that October evening was gone and hasn't since returned.

*    *    *

I'm a fan of ironic hyperbole for dramatic effect. I find it can convey sentiments in an amusing manner, while retaining some measure of nuanced context, at least to the discerning reader. I don't believe it to be hyperbole to suggest much of the Gopher football fan existence is oriented around pain. (NOTE: Not real pain, like war and cancer - I'm talking about sports-related pain, a much different and kinder animal.) There's a psychic damage done to us over the years of ignominious failure or victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. There's an additive nature to it; it builds like a sooty film with each unfortunate event, year after year.

The purpose of this experiment in blogging 100k words is to see whether that damage is irreparable. For good or bad, I care deeply about this team. Each season, I buy part and parcel into the belief that this could be the year, a battle between my emotional and rational selves. This season is no exception. I am as positive about the fortune of the Gophers as I have been since 2003. This may not be the year, but we will see progress, such that next year might be the year. The name of the blog is Still Got Hope, because TRE and I do and, most likely, always will. It springs eternal, even if it's all we have.

I want to use this as a diary, of sorts, to see if writing of the ups and downs of the season will serve as a governor for the highs and a catharsis for the lows. Can one undo the damage on one's psyche through the written word? Can the team regain the swagger of October 10th, 2003? We'll find out over the next 99,060 words.

Ending word count: 940

Monday, July 28, 2014

Doubling Down on Highly Questionable Decisions

Two years is a long time. Long enough to bear 2.85 children, if a couple was hell-bent on breeding an army of rapacious parasites to conquer the oil fields of Bartertown, North Dakota. Long enough to serve a prison sentence for your second dope slanging offense, but you were innocent and could have proved it if your stupid lawyer had just put you on the stand like you wanted. Long enough for seven cycles of P90X and to prep for your consequent knee replacement surgeries.

Yes, it's been two years since the last post on Still Got Hope. I'd like to think we've all gotten a little wiser. Friends have become enemies, enemies have become friends. We still share a love for all things Gopher and will spit in the Devil's eye on the Last Day when he shows up wearing Wisconsin gear. So let's give this blog another try.

The rebirth of SGH is really the second of several highly questionable decisions I've made over the last week. First, was beginning to use my real name on the Twitter. I actually thought about quitting Twitter last month, but it turns out I'm better at quitting quitting than I am just quitting, so here we are. I figured if I was coming back, I was coming back in the full, resplendent glory of my birth name. If I get fired from my job for online shenanigans, well, I can always use the warm fuzzies of our more intimate digital friendship to pay my mortgage and feed my dog, right?

There are two more absurd decisions that are slated for the coming weeks. The first is some sort of SGH podcast/video session where TRE and I will pontificate on all things Gopher, discuss smoked meat and rap about more smoked meat if the Gophers lose, because those three-win seasons are still too close to my soul to talk about a bad season when there is sweet, blessed meat about which we can wax.

The last, most idiotic decision, is 100,000 Words of Gopher Football. I'm going to commit to writing 100k words between the week before the season starts and the week after the regular season ends. I've done a lot of research and I've discovered that's a lot of words. I'm allowing myself the luxury of using any and all tropes, allegories and anecdotes to meet my quota so, while it will all be about Gopher football, it may take some circuitous routes to get there. Oh, and if I don't do it, I'll donate $500 to one (1) charity chosen by my Twitter fam (qualifier: nothing related to Wisconsin or Iwoa athletics).

So, there we are. A series of highly, highly dubious decisions farted out for you all to enjoy. If TRE's and my follow through is anything like in the past, we'll all look back on this in two years, laughing at SGH's failure as I get out of jail for meth production, $500 poorer.