Bye weeks are fun, aren’t they? Especially coming off a big win.
This was the second consecutive bye week we’ve gotten to let the endorphins run wild and dream the impossible dream. Our last bye came after the victory over Penn State last year, where we just wrapped up our fourth conference victory in a row for the first time since the Vietnam War. We were 8-2 and had our sights set on a home game against Wisconsin, with a very outside chance of winning the erstwhile Legends division. Things came to an abrupt halt after the week off, but we got to revel in the glory of what could be for one blessed week.
The entirety of my week was spent doing something of a rarity as a Gopher sports fan: basking in the sweet glow of success. People, friends and co-workers, who know of my obsession with the Gophers congratulated me – I got texts from people I hadn’t spoken with in years who sent their well wishes. This must be like what winning the lottery, where acquaintances come out of the woodwork to make themselves known; only without the $200 million and jing and floating castle.
Frankly, sitting on the edge of the couch while the team came out of victory formation and the TV switched to Joe Bjorklund sprinting (well, doing whatever it is when offensive linemen move as fast as they can) to grab the Jug I felt, well, pretty damn good. Not winning the lottery good, or birth of a child good or unlimited trips to the pizza and taco buffet good; but a deeply profound sense of satisfaction.
There is a feeling of dread known only to long-time supporters of generally bad sports teams – a mix of excitement for what could happen coupled with the rumble of ten-thousand stampeding horses bearing down on you: the possibility of greatness rarely exists in thought without the more certain likelihood of pain. When we’re losing during a game or after a string of losses, we feel that pain acutely throughout the season. When we’re winning a game, the possibility of the pain tolls in the back of your mind. Only when victory is assured– and not just any victory, only those of consequence or over boogeymen – do we have that moment, the certainty of knowledge that there will be no pain. It happens all too rarely for us, or it has until recently, so we savor every blessed moment.
So, yeah, I enjoyed that win immensely and I’m sure the three readers of this blog probably did too. I would have enjoyed the bye week more if Michigan had thrashed Rutgers and lent some credence to the notion that we had beaten a tough Michigan team, but c'est la vie. They’re reeling and since this was the fourth time in my life we’ve managed to win the Jug, I couldn’t have cared less if the Wolverines were a rotting corpse by the end of the game. A win is a win, damn it.
It was pretty special watching Wisconsin lose to Northwestern. A lot gets made about how Minnesotans suck because they spend more time and energy cheering against Wisconsin than they do for Minnesota teams. I’ve had a couple go-rounds with a ZZZ-level employee of one of our local network stations on this subject. He’s an unapologetic Wisconsin alumnus and the paragon as to why Minnesotans have this complex. He claims to want Minnesota teams to do well, while throwing out every passive-aggressive barb possible as it relates to the Gophers vis a vis the Badgers. You don’t (or at least I don’t) see that sort of condescending self fellation from Iowa fans – Badger supporters have cornered the market on self-congratulatory asshattery; so, yes, I very much enjoy watching them lose.
The topic du jour over the Gopher innertronz seems to be whether the Badgers defeat to Northwestern portends awful things for this weekend’s clash against the Evanston Cats.
Man, I don’t know. After my long-winded apology thread, I’m reluctant to jump back on the struggle bus of doubt; so how about a poor, long-winded metaphor? I was a bigger kid growing up (that’s code for “husky” or “fat”). Norwegian whaling ships were a constant menace in the waters outside of my home. I never really played much on teeter-totters, but when I did, the poor bastard on the other end always got stuck in the air. I’d push up with my legs, but since I weighed so much more than the other four-year old, I’d end up with my feet back on the ground. A harsh lesson in physics before I had ever even heard of Schrödinger’s poor cat.
At any rate, when you spend your whole childhood looking up from the bottom of a teeter-totter, you start to see the world a certain way. Now, maybe, you lose a little weight or the rest of the kids grow into you and you start to see what life is like from the top, or at least not always from the lowest point. It’s pretty cool up there, but you’re really not used to the bright sun and, oh, hell, that’s a long way down. You like it – you could certainly get used to it – but you’re totally unfamiliar with it.
We’re not at the bottom of the teeter-totter anymore, guys. For the second year in a row, we have legitimate hope of a great season. We have the defense we’ve always wanted, a running game that can hold its own in the conference and a few sprouts of hope with respect to moving the ball through the air. But the fear is still there. Just like a team that always loses, we fans, or at least I, have to learn how to win. They, the team, have to do it because success is unattainable without a positive mentality. I have to do it because of stress eating and pancreas transplants aren’t really a thing yet.
This week, we’ll look at that inescapable fear of the top of the teeter-totter. Maybe we can find a way through it together. Or maybe we’ll just find catharsis, reconciliation and better living through pharmaceuticals.