Friday, November 21, 2008

Ohio State vs. Michigan

One need only watch a Michigan football game to understand why they have no souls. No sooner does the viewer see the opposing team commit the most atrocious unforced errors, or the line judge reverse a Michigan fumble by throwing a flag on a non-existent penalty, or the referee award a reception when the Wolverine receiver was well out of bounds, to wit, a Michigan team stumbling onto outcomes that, even in defeat, are far in excess of what their modest efforts on the field deserve, than he realizes that Wolverine nation has entered into a Faustian bargain at the cost of their eternal spirits. In return, they are to enjoy unmerited, though not unsurpassed, success on the football field.

I know of no Wolverine victory that was not aided by favoritism from the referees, or sloppy play on the part of opponents who, quite unmolested by the sluggish maize and blue defense, seem only to desire that the Wolverines have the ball again. I am aware of no Michigan defeat whose margin was not made narrower by the same. But even so, I strongly suspect that it was not with Lucifer that this pact was made, but with some minor demon in his employ.

I have reached this conclusion by perusing the college football archives since the time of Woody Hayes, and in that vast expanse of history I can find only one mention of a Michigan national championship, and a disputed one at that. In the decade of the fifties alone Ohio State managed twice as many. One imagines that Lucifer could have made Michigan nearly Ohio State’s equal had the bargain been with him. For this reason I feel confident that they have bargained with a lesser being who cannot lift them up to stand eye to eye with the Buckeyes, but only far enough to give them a good sniff of our flatulence.

Nevertheless, that rectal aroma is more than they deserve. Witness the 1998 game with Ohio State. Facing third and very long near their own goal line, but leading 14-3, the Buckeyes complete a long pass for a first down, a play that surely would have broken Michigan’s backbones if Wolverines were vertebrates. In steps the minor devil, and the referee rules a Buckeye fumble that replays conclusively proved was no such thing. Michigan gets a field goal and manages to stay close to the nation’s best team.

Or have a gander at the 2005 Penn State game, perhaps the Michigan game par excellence. Behind by a single score and with time running out, Michigan begins its drive by completing a pass in an area of the field generally reserved for coaches, bench warmers and the team cheerleaders. Typically, teams catching the ball there must return to the spot where they started the previous play and lose a down. Not so the Wolverines. Later in the drive, Michigan coach Lllllloyd Carr requests that the game be played for sixty minutes and two seconds, rather than the standard one hour, and this request is granted. At the sixty minute and one second mark, when most teams would be heading for the locker rooms, Michigan scored the touchdown it needed to win the game.

I could provide as many more examples as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. I invite the good reader to research on his own, if he has the stomach for it. The point here is that, if not a favorable wind, than at least a light breeze has blown in Michigan’s favor for as long as I have been acquainted with the gridiron sport, and that clearly some Hellspawn is responsible. Perhaps it is not strong enough to make them the leaders and best, but it more than suffices to irritate the rest of us who play the game without arcane interference.

There is good evidence that this sulfurous charm extends beyond the borders of the football field. Consider our thirty eighth president, Gerald Ford. A former Michigan football player, he got his ass into the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office. And how did he accomplish this? Not in the manner of the thirty seven presidents who came before him, i.e., by being on the ticket of a successful presidential campaign. Instead, Gerald Ford could do no better than the House of Representatives, and yet when first Spiro Agnew and then Richard Nixon fumbled their political careers away, he slipped into the Whitehouse without ever having earned the honor. If there has been a more perfect display of Michiganity, I have yet to hear of it.

But this year is different. Certainly, the Michigan win over Wisconsin had all the hallmarks of a typical maize and blue victory, Michigan State watched Michigan score a new kind of touchdown invented ad hoc by the officials in the replay booth, and Utah was struck by the same old affliction in the early going, but taking one game with another it seems clear that the minor devil, patron of the Ann Arbor pigskin, has come down with palsy. His modest powers have waned, and we see exactly what sort of record Michigan would have every year but for his sinister intervention. Fallen upon hard times even before this, at least against the noble warriors in Scarlet and Gray, Michigan comes stumbling into Columbus with lacerated hands, bludgeoned ribs and swelling of the brain.

Let our eleven warriors brave and bold take full advantage of this window of opportunity. Next year, no doubt, either the demon will recover or another bargain with another villain will be struck. This is our year, our time, to mete out to our northern neighbors in proportion as they deserve. May our boys with the beautiful silver helmets, riddled with Buckeye Leaves, not grow overconfident. Let justice be done, let goodness and decency thrive. Tomorrow, November the twenty second in the year of our Lord two thousand and eight, may Ohio State deliver such a thrashing to Michigan as to send them home howling and begging for mercy, so beaten in body and spirit that for a period of two years, they dare not return to Columbus, Ohio.