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

1 comment:

  1. The pain from the Michigan loss haunts me to this day. It's safe to say I lost my swagger as fan that day. Impossible to say where a win against Michigan in 2003 would have taken us but no doubt it would have been somewhere warmer than El Paso, Texas.

    As a Gopher football fan pain in no further away than the next game. I'm rarely comfortable when we're ahead and I can instantaneously compute a multitude of ways in which the Gophers can lose despite being up 13 points with 4 minutes to go in any given game.

    I now am faced with monumental task of raising a children. One of which at 6 years is, shall we say, obsessed, with watching football. I of course am raising him to be a Gopher fan and to date he has cheerfully complied. I hope that one day I can take him to game with as much riding on the line as that Michigan 2003 game.

    2014 will come with plenty of pain. Ups and downs will be common with downs winning but I can foresee the future and I'll bet the farm on 2015 that the Gophers rise to the level that we achieved on that single Friday night in early October, 2003.