Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sports gods be Damned

The sports gods have a very cruel sense of humor.

If you've known me for the past four years, you've undoubtedly heard me utter the aforementioned phrase. Probably more than once. In all reality, I probably spent more time spilling tears into my beers whining about the state of Michigan sports than I did in class during my college career.

Sure, while I was in college I acquired a valuable perspective on sports. Watching Michigan football fall to the bottom of the Big Ten rankings for the first time in ever tried my sports heart like the Valley Forge winter tried the Revolutionary troops. There were times I wanted to quit, times I wondered why, times that I threw empty bottles against my basement's concrete walls for over an hour at a time, and times where I quite simply didn't know what to do. Ultimately, though, I became a better fan -- if I can go through that, I know that literally nothing else will ever put my fandom in jeopardy.

It wasn't until just last week that I realized how funny the joke on me was, though: As I was preparing to watch the Michigan-Ohio State hockey game last Friday evening, I was appalled to see that the Big 10 Network decided to air last year's Michigan-Ohio State Big Ten Basketball Tournament Game. I don't know how this hadn't dawned on me before; only then did I fully understand how seriously the sports gods had it in for me during my tenure in college.

I don't know how I didn't realize it in college, I really don't. But I guess when your vision is tainted by alcohol and a strong desire to avoid the true state of sports at all costs, it's not so hard to miss reality.

The last three games in the three major Michigan sports, during my senior year of college (a glorious farewell, if you will):

Football: I can't believe I'm typing this, but this one might actually be the most tolerable of the three -- only because we came into this game as extreme underdogs, and, for all intents and purposes, knowing that we would not win this game (although there's always a slim slice of hope residing in the back of your mind for the OSU game, no matter how big an underdog your team is).

That said, if someone had told me that Michigan would have never beat Ohio State in football during my tenure at the university, I probably would have sat down and cried. That scenario basically played out at the Big House after we lost that game my senior year. I literally walked two very slow, very deliberate laps around the Big House, literally crying and not caring one bit who saw me, wondering at once how this could happen to me and also how four years had gone by so fast.

Let me summarize: Walking around the Big House in tears was the best conclusion of the three major Michigan sports during my senior year of college.

Basketball: I have the distinct memory of sitting around BOX on a Thursday morning (around noon) watching this game, thinking that, finally, some justice would prevail in my college sports experience. Michigan basketball, an underachieving and extremely disappointing team throughout the year, looked like they were about to send me out of college on a positive note by beating our arch-rivals, the Buckeyes, in a Big Ten tournament game in which the opposition was heavily favored.

About 3 seconds remained on the game clock. And I don't think the feeling will ever leave me -- the feeling of being ready to go buy 40's and get wildly drunk at about 1 o'clock and celebrate true justice -- true justice in that I would have been sent out on the right note.

With one second left, Ohio State's Evan Turner throws up a prayer from half court. . . The ball seemed to hang in the air for minutes. In those minutes I knew what was about to happen. I felt my heart drop. I felt myself wondering, can this really happen to me? Again!? You know the rest. I would've feared for my life if I was a bottle of bourbon around my house that night.

Hockey: Given the insufficient opportunities my college buddies and I were granted to actually celebrate good teams, the Michigan hockey team's late-season surge during the final months of my college career excited us to no end. After a very mediocre regular season for their standards, Michigan found something within themselves late in the season to catapault themselves to the CCHA championship game. My buddies and I ventured down to Detroit early (the championship was at Joe Louis Arena) to hit the bars and pregame. It was truly a joy watching that team win that game.

It seemed like perhaps something magical was brewing, and maybe justice would be served after all -- maybe Michigan could pull out the NCAA championship we had long waited for. In the regional final, we took the top team in the country, Miami of Ohio -- a Miami we had beaten just weeks before thoroughly -- to overtime. Destiny seemed to be falling into place when a yellow jersey poked the puck into the net in that overtime. Finally, finally this would be the sports moment in college that I'll tell my kids about. I wouldn't have to explain to my grandkids that I was part of the one generation of Michigan students that didn't really have any good stories to tell them.

The sports gods thought otherwise. The sports gods could care less about me or the stories I tell my grandkids. The referees -- cited as the worst referees ever to officiate a college hockey game by many sources -- blew the whistle thinking that the Miami goalie had the puck covered in the crease, which Miami fans would even admit that it wasn't. It wound up being perhaps the most controversial call in college hockey history, of course: No goal.

Surely enough, Miami scored in double overtime, ending my college sports career forever.


You may believe in God and you may not. But I defy you to claim that there are no sports gods (or should I say devils?) after pondering that sequence of sports conclusions.

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