Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012, the Sports Year in Review

As they say, when one door closes another door opens. It's always sad when one of those doors closes, but it's always exciting when you get a glimpse of what's behind the new door. It's true in life as it is sports, especially when the fine line between sports and life is often blurred, as it is and always has been for me.



A Door Closing




Spoiled by success unprecedented in National Hockey League history throughout my lifetime (they haven't missed the playoffs since I was 3 years old), it pains me to admit this. But I think a door has closed for the Detroit Red Wings, and us residents of Hockeytown are staring down a new era in which - gasp - the Wings are not competing for Stanley Cups year in and year out.

It's been a gradual downturn for the Motor City's Winged-Wheelers. From Stanley Cup runners-up in '09 to back-to-back second round losses at the hands of the San Jose Sharks to last year's embarrassing five game loss to the Nashville Predators - who seem to have finally caught up to the team they modeled their franchise off of - the Wings have been hanging onto threads under the guise that they can still compete with the NHL's top guns. But the departure of Nick Lidstrom and the failure to sign either of the big name free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter stood as a bitter reminder of what Wings fans have been denying for years: the glory days have passed us by here in Hockeytown.

For some reason, the exact moment I heard about Parise and Suter sticks out in my mind as one of the preeminent memories of 2012. I attribute that to the ongoing denial that was going on in my own head for years. I kept telling myself that one sniper could fix the broken Wings, that one stout defenseman could replace Lidstrom and all would be well again. It was the Fourth of July. My buddy and I were on the freeway headed to the lake house with a case of beer in the trunk. He glanced up from his phone and told me the news: 'Parise and Suter sign with Minnesota'. That's when I knew. An era was over.

Mediocrity or not, I'd much rather be watching a .500 Red Wings team than suffering through the agony that is this winter's lockout. This winter break, I had plans to a) be playing pond hockey in a backyard rink; b) be watching the Red Wings play in the Big House - an interwoven glory combining my two favorite sports teams while simultaneously being allowed to consume alcohol in Michigan Stadium for the first time. . . legally c) be watching my favorite OHL team in the London Knights play the hometown Plymouth Whalers in an outdoor game at Comerica Park. Due to global warming and the NHL lockout, I will be doing none of those things. Talk about a hockey buzzkill.

A Door Opening




Circa 1998 found the younger version of me in the midst of a full-blown love affair. It was the era in which I was falling in love - an outright obsession probably better describes it - with University of Michigan athletics. My extended family, including all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, were gathered at my family's house for some unremembered family gathering and also to watch Michigan basketball in the NCAA tournament. After a heartbreaking 3 point loss to UCLA I threw some sort of temper tantrum and stormed off while those around me watched with dropped jaws - it was an unappealing scene that would be mimicked many a time in college as booze only heightened my rage/sorrow after each sorry Michigan football loss during those regrettable Rich Rod years, usually resulting in broken bottles in my college house basement. It wasn't pretty, but I don't even know what would have happened had I known that day that Michigan basketball would suffer through a time that could aptly be labeled "The Dark Ages of Michigan Basketball" in the subsequent decade following that day.

I remember being excited about winning an NIT championship. I remember when progress meant losing to Michigan State by less than 10. I remember sitting in a Crisler Arena desperately in need of renovations with a half-full student section and an entirely empty upper bowl during the Amaker era of my early college years.

John Beilein has ushered in an era where I don't have to be excited about an NIT tournament appearance or a competitive game with Michigan State. After reinvigorating a fanbase that had detached themselves from the basketball team in the last decade with tournament appearances led by the likes of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, the real cavalry has arrived in the form of big-name recruits. And Beilein has the Wolverine fan base at the very least as excited about the basketball season as the football team. And for the first time since five freshman wearing baggy shorts captivated the nation's attention, Final Four runs in the coming years appear to be a realistic aspiration for Michigan basketball.

What Could Have Been

There are always those sports moments that you can look back and wonder, had it come out the other way, would it be one of those precious memories that defines 2012 when I look back on it in five or ten years? The foremost memory that got away is obviously the Detroit Tigers coming up short in the World Series. I wrote at length in my "1984" Blog Post what a World Series would mean in terms of my life. It didn't happen, and you always have to wonder if it is, like that 2006 freshman year loss to Ohio State that prevented us from a shot at the National Championship, something I will always look back to and wonder what could have been.

Denard Robinson's electric run against Ohio State also comes to mind. In Michigan lore, there are two defining moments in Michigan football history: Desmond Howard's punt return in The Game ("One man! Goodbye. Helloooo Heisman") and Charles Woodson's eerily similar punt return along the very same sideline in 1997's version of The Game ("Charles Woodson! Down the sideline! He's gonna go! All the way!"). I remember thinking after watching Denard's run that this might be Denard's defining moment, a moment that could potentially be played right alongside Howard and Woodson's punt returns as the defining moments of the past 25 years of Michigan Football. Alas, the thought of what could have been in terms of that run will haunt me for years.

2013

We watch sports because it is hope. Hope that one day, no matter how far off, we will watch our teams hoisting a trophy. Hope that one day, we can experience a life-defining moment, watching with the people we care about - with friends or with your father or with your future son - that we will never forget. There's no lack of hope in the looming sports year of 2013. The Tigers should again be in the hunt for a World Series and will undoubtedly be overwhelming favorites for yet another pennant. The Wolverines Basketball squad looks to repeat as B1G champions and also looks to remind a deprived fan base what it's like to make a deep tournament run again. Dreams seem aplenty for the forthcoming year in sports. And, after all, dreams are what make life tolerable.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012, A Year in Review

The season is upon us now, a time for gifts and giving
And as the year draws to a close, I think about my living
- John Denver

When it comes to nostalgia, I'm guilty as sin. On any given day you can find visions from my past dancing around my head: visions of my childhood friends and I building a fort in the woods behind our houses or visions my college friends and I enjoying some 40's of malt liquor after class. But there is a fine line between nostalgia and living in the past; the former is fine and dandy, but the latter can be unhealthy.

Self-admittedly, I have spent a large portion of the past two years living in the past. Whether it be clinging to college drinking habits, trying to revert back to a college lifestyle when I was happy, or taking a ride down memory lane with the proverbial "One That Got Away" one thousand too many times, I was living in the past.

I think about the past two years and one word comes to mind: stuck. Stuck in some sort of rut. There were certain stretches where it seemed I was making absolutely no progress in growing up, in emotional healing, in my life's own progress whatsoever. Part of it was me not ready to heal. Part of it was me not ready to grow up. But a large part of it was me sitting back and waiting for something to happen.

Nick Hornby describes an eerily similar rough patch in his life in the close-to-home novel Fever Pitch:

"That night I was as usual looking to Arsenal to show me that things did not stay bad forever, that it was possible to change patterns, that losing streaks did not last. Arsenal, however, had other ideas: they seemed to want to show me that troughs could indeed be permanent, that some people, like some clubs, just couldn't ever find ways out of the rooms they had locked themselves into. It seemed to me that night and for the next few days that we had both of us made too many wrong choices, and had let things slide for far too long, for anything to ever come right"
I found myself locked in one of those rooms during one particularly bad breakdown this year. I went for about a 10 mile walk in Hines Park, where I spent a great deal of my childhood, hungover and depressed and thinking I had, like Hornby, made too many wrong choices for anything to ever come right. Wrong choices in the way I had handled certain relationships, wrong choices in leaving Chicago, wrong choices in trapping myself in a career I wasn't sure I wanted, wrong choices in the having one too many drinks on occasion, wrong choices in feeling sorry for myself for too long. Wondering what had happened to the happy-go-lucky, carpe-diem me from college. It was hell.

But a strange thing happened in the ensuing weeks. I resolved that I wouldn't sit back and wait for changes any longer. It's true as they say, "you can't expect different results if you keep doing things the same way you have always done things". Determined to stop feeling sorry for myself, I resolved to change the way I did some things. I started to ask for help, I started exercising regularly for the first time in years, I started to eat more healthy, and I started to change some of those drinking habits. And things are looking up.

You don't have to stay in the room you've locked yourself into. I know it doesn't happen overnight, but things can change if you work towards it. For the first time in a long time, I'm feeling ready for the next big step in my life. And for the first time in a couple years now, I'm entering the holiday season feeling better about my life than I did the previous year's holiday season.

Here's to a new year in 2013. I think it will bring good things.

The Best of 2012

Other than that, some pretty cool things happened in the previous year - some things that I don't think I'll soon forget.


  • The Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, LA. The first day of 2012 found me road-tripping down south to bayou country with a carload of people. We crossed the Louisiana border somewhere around 4 a.m. I was driving, hopped up mountain dew and chewing tobacco, while the other passengers dozed off erratically. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling that came over me upon first seeing the neon Nawlins lights appear in the windshield. Our host for the weekend was sound asleep and we were locked out, so we walked down the willow tree-lined street and ventured inside an old hole-in-the-wall bar. We put a few country songs on the jukebox and sipped on a few beers while talking with the surprisingly wide-awake patrons. 5:00 a.m. on a Monday morning - but from the patrons you wouldn't guess it wasn't happy hour on a Friday. There's nothing like New Orleans. I also met a pretty cool girl on that trip - it was the first time I had felt feelings for anyone else since the previous summer. And that was important. 
  • Public Defender's Office, Ypsilanti, MI. Although I wasn't necessarily fond of this job, it would be an understatement to say I'll never forget some of the individuals I came across. This summer I conducted my first trial, conducted my own interviews at the Washtenaw County Jail, and heard some incredibly entertaining excuses for postive drugs tests (see: spider bites, 'my girlfriend bit me'). Not necessarily my favorite part of 2012, but a memorable one nonetheless.
  • Up North Trips with the old Friends, St. Joseph's, Ontario; Pentwater; Schuss Mountain. Perhaps the most redeeming aspect of 2012 was my reunification with my childhood friends. We had remained friends throughout the years, but we are closer than we have ever been now. After college I really lamented the loss of the college friends. It was an incredibly difficult adjustment to go from seeing them everyday to one day just never seeing them. But I've learned that new periods of your life bring new people, and I'm incredibly greatful for the new group of close friends I have now. Life can surprise you like that - it'll bring you new people and new adventures you never expected. That's a pretty cool phenomenon.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Whiskey Soul: Top 5 Alcohol Books

As I was home for Christmas break of some college yesteryear, my mother admired the list of books I was asking for over the holidays and asked, "do you realize that all the authors you ever read were notorious drinkers?". Of course I did. Since a young age even, I have related to those whiskey souls: it started with Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan in high school, graduated to Kerouac and Hemingway in my literary collegiate days, and has presently become an ever-expanding bookshelf in my bedroom of alcohol-related books from all generations. I don't know what it says about me, but my own personality naturally gravitates towards those tales of seeking out the marrow of life in the whiskey hours of the morning, the soul-searching affliction of the whole process, and the introspection precipitated by the bottle.


1. Big Sur, Jack Kerouac. The sky may have been the limit for Kerouac, dubbed the first voice of the rebellious sixties generation after the American classic On the Road finally found success. A la Kurt Cobain, though, the most famous of the Beat Generation Writers seemed to struggle truly, rather than popularly, with demons in the face of success; unable to live up to the title "voice of a generation" that he had earned from legions of On the Road fans, Kerouac faced depression and alcoholism rather than happiness and sunshine in the wake of his life's greatest success. In one last attempt to find peace and sobriety, Kerouac headed west once more for the seclusion of the California pines on the Big Sur coast. He wouldn't make it much further.

Like it had many before him, the literary world lost a great writer to alcohol at far too young an age when Kerouac succumbed to cirrhosis. Big Sur, the writer's final literary mark of sorts, doesn't mince words. It is the frightening account of the final stages of alcoholism: deep-seated depression, mental deterioration, terrifying visions of the devil himself via delirium tremens, the tragic account of someone fighting in vain to beat the disease.

We never hear of the demises of most writers. There is no Hemingway story of his final years attempting to sober up or the days leading up to his suicide. There's no Hunter S. Thompson account of the battles that led him to the same fate. In that way, it is a tribute to Kerouac to have completed this work in the face of all his personal obstacles. In the same vein, however, perhaps it's best that Hemingway is remembered for his masculine days fishing, bull-fighting, or at war, rather than for his vulnerable days. Because in Big Sur, we get the tragedy come full-circle, and it's not pretty; it is the disheartening tale of how the cold world took the free-spirited hero America had come to love in On the Road and wore him down until he couldn't face it any longer.

2. Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry. Though it's considered one of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century, this is one book you won't be studying in high school English classes. Which is a shame: the writing in this novel is second to none. The novel's main protagonist, an alcoholic British consul stuck in a tequila-fueled half-life in Mexico, envisions escaping it all by moving to a remote log cabin in the Vancouver woods - a vision to find peace and sobriety in the wildnerness eerily similar to Jack Kerouac's real-life attempt to do the same (see number 1 on this list). Lowry's description of the serenity of the Canadian woods is Hemingway-esque - the salmon in the creek, the scent of the pine needles underneath a tree, the crackle of the fire in the log cabin - and perhaps the greatest piece of descriptive writing I have ever read.

But alas, the novel is not all beauty. "Los Barrachones," (the drunkards) a painting of Medusa hurling drunkards' souls through the flames of hell, is more represenative of the novel as a whole. Our afflicted protagonist stares at the painting, torn between the alcohol demons telling him to take another swig of Mescal and his better judgment telling him to quit for good - a perfect metaphor for alcoholism in general. Of course the alcohol demons win in the novel, time after time, as the reader watches the tragedy unfold.

Although Under the Volcano is a work of fiction, the unfortunate reality is that in order to properly write about alcoholism, you have to go through it yourself. Under the Volcano was the only substantial writing Malcolm Lowry ever produced, largely because of the battles he fought with the bottle in his own life. And it's a shame, because for being the only novel Lowry really produced, Under the Volcano is a damned good one.

3. Leaving Las Vegas, John O'Brien. Two weeks after hearing that his novel Leaving Las Vegas would be made into a Hollywood movie (it's actually a great movie, in which Nicolas Cage nails the role of the alcoholic), O'Brien took his own life. John O'Brien's father claims that the novel was John O'Brien's suicide letter. Think about that. The novel is literally a suicide letter. That alone would make this novel awesome. But it's far more than that.

Unlike anything ever written, O'Brien's novel is a the written mantra of one trying to kill himself with the botlle. You didn't read that wrong. After losing his wife and job and will to go on, the main character in Leaving Las Vegas heads to Vegas to drink until the bottle gets him permanently. One scene that will forever be etched into my memories is when Cage's character wakes up in the middle of the night, violently shaking from a lack of alcohol in his system, and struggles to pour a bottle of vodka into his mouth. There is redemption in this story; the main character finds one last sliver of hope in the world when he falls in love with a Vegas stripper in an unholy yet feel-good meeting of souls. Unlike many popular alcohol stories, though, he isn't saved by God or a vision or even by the love he finds; he drinks himself to death.

4. A Fan's Notes, Frederick Exley. We are always comparing ourselves to the men who came before us: to past generations, to our grandfathers, to our fathers. I'm sure there is something Freudian to it all but I'm too lazy to investigate or care about that. But I've given it a lot of thought myself; I even attempted at one time to write a story centered around the underlying theme of how my own generation (and the lack thereof of meaning in our generation) pales in comparison to the World War II generation of men, the men who fought in Korea, and the Vietnam generation that preceded us - and the ramifications of those resulting feelings of inadequacy.

 Frederick Exley had it worst than most. The son of a New York Giants running back, Exley struggled with the fate of being unable to live up to the image of his uber-succesful hero of a father. And how could he possibly? While some father's pass down their athletic prowess to their sons, all Exley got from his father was an addiction to football and an on-again, off-again relationship with booze, and a resulting stint at a mental institution. Fraught with self-loathing spilling from each page, A Fan's Notes may be the quintessential testament to the failed American dream.

5. The Tender Bar, JR Moehringer - If you're looking for a book about booze but without the evil side of booze, this is the book on this list that you should pick up. Like it did for me, the bar played a critical role in Moehringer's coming of age. Like it did for me, the bar contributed to some of the happiest moments of his young life and contributed to some of the lowest points as well. The Tender Bar is the classic tale of the neighborhood pub. It could be any American bar: the places where people looking to find themselves, people looking to marinate their own regrets in a glass of whiskey, people looking for love, and people not sure what they are looking for flock to on Friday and Saturday nights from Seattle to Boston.

Moehringer's book is a cautionary tale, as well. The Tender Bar is the tale of what has happened at pubs in Dublin and Boston and everywhere else for centuries. Men discover the bar, come back to the bar, come back to the bar again, fall into a routine with the bar, and sometimes - unwittingly - fall into a prison of routine with the bar. In those bars men fall into a monotonous half-life, as their lives become a repetition of simply going through the motions without stopping to admire the world outside the bar. Unlike the other writers/characters that comprise this list, Moehringer discovers this before it's too late - he escapes his bar, although many of his friends who occupied the barstools next to him do not.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Heroes Get Remembered, But Legends Never Die

In the wake of Denard's impending final game at the Big House this Saturday, the Michigan sports world is overflowing with tribute videos and fond stories of #16, all striking a resounding chord in my always sentimental nature. He doesn't know it, but me and him have been through a lot together. Not just through some good games and bad games, but he's been with me through my senior year, through graduation day, through a move to a new city, through a transition to post-grad life. I feel like I owe him. So I guess this is my tribute.



They come from quite different places, Denard Robinson and Zack Novak. The former hails from Deerfield Beach, Florida - a place where many young kids don't make it out alive - including Denard's own brother - a place where football is not just a game but a safe haven from gang-life, drugs, and a route to prison or the cemetery. In stark contrast, the latter hails from Chesterton, Indiana, one of those quiet Midwestern towns secluded from all those devilries corollary to a life in Denard's hometown.

Quite different places. But they share a special place adjacent to each other in my heart. Because despite their widely contrasting backgrounds, the two have a lot in common.

Neither Novak nor Robinson was recruited heavily out of high school. Most schools told Denard he could play defensive back for them, and few believed he could hack it as a quarterback at the next level. The same holds true for Novak. Undersized and self-admittedly lacking in great skill, Zack possessed but one college scholarship offer - from a small mid-major from his home in the Hoosier state, Valpraiso - when John Beilein came calling. Both were underdogs, long shots by all accounts.

And both Zack and Denard received more than their fare share of criticism while donning the Maize and Blue. Novak was constantly labeled a stepping stone in the grand scheme of Michigan basketball, merely a clog in the system until the real cavalry - the four and five star recruits - arrived to play basketball at Michigan. I constantly had to listen to my own college roommates poke fun at Novak, always insinuating that he wasn't any good. The critique was even more pointed for Denard. His ability to throw was perpetually under question, from both the national media and from his own supposed fans, despite statistically accounting for 90% of Michigan's offense at times. Most notably amongst his critics, Michigan State players took to the Twittersphere to mock and ridicule Robinson after an embarassing loss to Alabama.

Admirably, neither one ever fired back at their critics. Instead they chose to do their talking on the court or on the field. A la the infamous Mike Hart route, Denard could have easily hushed the Spartans who mocked him via tweet after beating them this year; he took the high road and never spoke a word about the incident.  Novak never complained either. Not once did he comment on how he was always paired against oversized power forwards, he simply went out and played his heart out.

Perhaps the similarity between the two closest to my heart is their roles in the respective resurgences of Michigan football and basketball. But I think my fondness for these two Michigan athletes stems from more than athletics.

I've been a Michigan fan for a long time. Players with more talent than either Zack or Denard have come and gone time and again. I've watched the Charles Woodson's and Tom Brady's and Manny Harris' and Braylon Edwards' of the Michigan world come and go, yet none of their departures affected me quite like the exits of Zack Novak and Denard Robinson.

I attribute that to the fact that these guys were my peers. (At least at one time) They walked the same diag on campus as I did, occupied the same lecture halls, went to the same pizza parlor's on weekends, and attended the same parties I did. I read about them in my student newspaper. I watched them with the college friends in my college house. I associated them with college, which was the best time of my life.

And maybe that's why I'm so sentimental about seeing them go. Because I associate them with college, their departures mean whatever lingering bonds I may have left to my alma mater will be permanently extinguished. More players will come to replace them, but those guys will be years younger than me, part of a different generation of Michigan student life. When I tell my grandkids about Zack and Denard, I won't just be looking back on athletics, I'll be remembering my own experiences in college.

Thanks for everything #0 and #16.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sports Days That Changed My Life, Volume II: August 26, 1995


Sometimes dates are inadequate; I think oftentimes in life we remember the different chapters in our lives not by the dates they occurred on but by the moments that defined those eras. Maybe you remember different time periods by the loss of a loved one, by a new relationship, an acceptance letter into a school, a new job, or a certain mistake. For me, many of the chapters of my life are not defined by dates, but by sporting events.

The peak of that unadulterated, blissful youth will always be equated with the '97 Michigan National Championship sandwiched in between back to back Hockeytown Stanley Cups, perhaps the Indian Summer of my life. The Day Bo died and the subsequent loss to Ohio State that following day, spoiling a perfect season my freshman year: the first real onset of adulthood. Chris Osgood's 2008 Stanley Cup: the epitome of the golden years of college. The 2011 New Year's Day Gator Bowl, when Al and I drank too much and Michigan got mauled by Mississippi State in the final days of the Rich Rod era: maybe my first heartfelt realization that college was truly over, in more ways than one.

August 26, 1995

My memories of the pre-August 26, 1995 era of my life are scattered. There are flashes of moments - the playgrounds, Happy Meals, digging up worms, art projects overflowing with glue, the cartoons - but there is no definite timeline in my memory. In my own head, the timeline of my life begins on that late summer day in 1995 just prior to my first day of second grade, and the timeline is marked by each subsequent fall Saturday thereafter.

I imagine the day started much in the way most Saturday's did for me back then. Waking up in my bunkbed, chowing down on some Lucky Charms, some Saturday morning cartoons, maybe a little Gameboy action. My dad was taking me to Michigan Stadium that day for my first game. I wasn't particularly excited for the game, but I wasn't disappointed either. It was just something I was doing, like going with my mom to the grocery store.

On the way to the game I didn't pay attention to the sports radio dad was listening to. I didn't know Scott Dreisbach would be starting at quarterback that day, and I didn't know I would be part of the largest crowd in America in just a couple hours. I pointed out the horses and the cows on the farms on the way to Ann Arbor.

I only remember select things for the first 3 and 1/2 quarters of that football game against Virginia. I remember the throngs of people, and having to hold my dad's hand so as not to get lost among the sea of maize and blue. I remember the novelty of peeing into a trough amongst a bunch of old men. I remember it was extremely hot as the sun beat down on us while we sat on those metal bleachers. And I remember it being difficult to see over the taller heads in front of me when people stood to cheer.

Things truly changed in those finals seconds. As Scott Dreisbach connected with Mercury Hayes in the endzone to complete an improbable comeback - one of the marquee plays of Michigan history and the first chapter of Michigan's Lloyd Carr-era - fandom came into focus in my life. For the first time that day, I heard the Michigan fight song trumpeted from the marching band, I smiled and cheered in unison with my section, and most importantly, I felt like I belonged with the rest of the crowd. There was no looking back.

On the ride home from Ann Arbor, the cows and horses passed by unnoticed. Instead, I listened intently to the sports radio, in disbelief that the radio hosts were talking about the game that I was just at. I peppered my dad with questions: 'what was the quarterback's name again?'; 'who were we playing next week?'; 'could we go to another game soon?'.

Saturday morning's were different after that. Cartoons and coloring books seemed to me mere child's play in those following weekends; they were promptly replaced by a morning ritual of dressing in my Michigan Dreisbach jersey, heading out into the backyard where I tossed the football to myself or to my dad - always re-creating that Dreisbach to Mercury Hayes reception, going over the roster in my program once more to study the names and numbers, and religiously plopping myself in front of the television to watch that day's game.

Things would never be the same.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paint Me an Ann Arbor Winter's Night

Feeling particularly nostalgic for winter nights in the college town as seasonal change is upon us once again.

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
- Bob Seger

The last leaves clutching to autumn dangle from the oak trees lining the diag. The campus paths that bustled with energy and vigor just weeks ago have grown somber and lifeless; only a few bundled up students scuttle down the lamp-lit paths, on their way home from class or on their way to stow themselves away in some library cubicle.

Turning the corner onto State Street, a chilled gust of wind reminds me once more of seasonal change. The buildings on State tower over the street, emanating a sense of history and tradition. I can almost picture John F. Kennedy delivering that speech on the steps of the student union. Or some lofty-minded student groups protesting on the lawn in the sixties, triggering the wheels of revolution. The pillars of the fraternity mansions speak of their own history, where well dressed young men once signed up to serve their country one night in the forties.

Yet nothing seems to be happening in Ann Arbor now. Students tucked away in the warmth of their houses sit aimlessly staring at the television. Or drinking cases of beer, drowning out the lack thereof of our generation.

Those thoughts of State Street's past are flushed away as I walk up the steps of my front porch and open that front door. Inside, my friends and roommates, dressed in our school colors, take swigs of whiskey concoctions while dancing around to the tunes playing from the speakers, drowning out some unnamed sporting event on the television. Feeling behind in the pregame festivities, I disregard the stack of unwashed dishes piled up in the sink and the beer spills covering the countertop, dispose of my backpack, and embark upon the evening unfolding in the living room. The night seems alive again.

With our whiskey overcoats draped over us, we walk amongst the throngs of students down Hoover, taking sips of whiskey from our flasks along the way. Though we walk among strangers down in the chilly night, there is a proud sense of community among us. The lights of Crisler Arena guide us to our destination - that evening's sporting event.

The winter nights go on that way. And though it seems like nothing happens on those November and December nights, and though maybe no one but us will look back on those days like one looks back upon the students registering for military service in the forties or the student protesters planting the seeds of change in the sixties, we create our own piece of State Street history on those cold, dark Ann Arbor nights.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

1984



Two of my best friends' dads - Bryan and Jimmy's dads -  have the Detroit Free Press cover from when the Detroit Tigers won the '84 World Series framed and hanging in their basements. I grew up with both Bryan and Jimmy, so I often frequented those basements in which the 1984 newspaper slogan seemed to stand out as the centerpiece. A sentimental guy since birth, whenever I ventured into either one of those basements I always would pause for a moment and stare at that captured moment, an iconic moment in Detroit history rivaled only by maybe that unforgettable Stevie Yzerman '97 night that captivated Michigan's hearts.  And even while I was young I thought about where Jim or Bryan's or even my own dad was for that epic scene.

I imagine they were much in the same place my group of friends are now: in their early to mid twenties, young and alive with enthusiasm, the world still coming into place, that nervousness a younger man feels about how the future might unfold, and of course emotionally attached to their sports teams. I obviously wasn't alive in 1984. But in my own mind I can picture my father and Jim's father watching those playoffs unfold: watching the Justin Verlander of their era, Jack Morris, pitch yet another gem; watching Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon from some bar in the metro Detroit area; clanging their Labatt Blue's against one another; talking about their past while thinking about their futures.

We're not so different, I bet. 1984 Bryan's dad and 1984 Jimmy's dad and 1984 my own dad would probably get along quite well with 2012 Zac, Adam, Jimmy, Bryan, and Steve. We're at the same stage they probably were in life: getting a little bit older but still learning how to navigate the waterways of life; at a point where your best friends mean pretty much everything; still young, but on the verge of what will become our married lives.

It's not hard to explain why I always stared in awe at those framed Detroit Free Press covers feautring Kirk Gibson's famous trot around the bases. From the moment I was old enough to understand baseball through high school, the Tigers were not a good baseball team. In fact, they were historically bad for most of my lifetime. In 2003, the Detroit Tigers won 43 games. 43 games. That's 119 losses. I still have memories as a boy, listening to Detroit sports radio with my dad, and the radio guys talking about whether the mandatory rule that each team gets to send a player to the all-star game should be eradicated - because the Tigers didn't have anyone worthy of the All-Star game.

Then something weird started to happen, though. The Tigers started getting not bad. I remember that special fall in 2006 - it was the first time I left home as I was living in Mary Markley Dormitory Hall in Ann Arbor. I remember watching those games with my roommate that year, Andy - a guy I would say cares more about the Tigers than anyone I've ever met. I remember those magical October nights shelled up in that dorm that was so small but I now think about it like it was Hogwarts, watching as Magglio Ordonez sent shock waves through small towns all around Michigan. I remember those nights, but I won't lie, I wouldn't consider myself a true fan then.

Things start to change when you graduate college. Tuesday night beers turn into lemonades, friends move away, and you're left with an abundance of time of which you've got to figure out how to spend it. The summer after graduation, when I lived in Petoskey, is when I started to fall in love. I watched Rod and Mario narrate those games almost every night - it was probably the best time of my life, watching those Tigers and looking out into the Northern Michigan woods in the backyard and waiting for the girl that I was in love with to come home from work. But it wasn't until probably last July when it became a full-on relationship for me and the Tigers. I was going through a particularly rough time then, and watching the Tigers each night became my rock. I've said it once before, but it's times like those when sports become a hell of a lot more than a game.

I don't think I'll ever forget this summer, and the only reason for that is the baseball team that plays in Detroit. My routine on those June and July days was to get home from a long day at court, change out of my suit, go for a walk in Hines Park, and then settle in for the Tigers. And somehow routine becomes more than just routine. It becomes habit. It becomes a relationship. It becomes a bad day when the Tigers are down 3 games to the White Sox. It becomes a good week when they're starting to catch those White Sox. And it becomes a night you'll never forget that Monday night when they clinch against the Royals, and you just had to crack a beer even though it was 11:30 already.

Hopefully I'll get the chance to venture into Jimmy or Bryan's basement this week and pause for a moment to look at that '84 Detroit Free Press cover. I'll think about our dad's. I'll think about where they were in their lives on that October 1984 day. I'll think about what that day means to them in terms of their lives.

But most importantly, I'll think about how special it would be if in some far off day my son could look at my Detroit Free Press "2012 Tigers World Series Champs" cover that's hanging in my basement someday. Hopefully he'll think about where his dad was in October of 2012. Maybe I'll explain it him: 2012 wasn't really that great a year, but the Detroit Tigers changed that, the Detroit Tigers made it a year I'll never forget. Maybe I'll explain to him how special a time it was to be watching with all my best friends, as my dad and Jim's dad do in my subliminal memory. And I'll tell him that that's why sports can be a hell of a lot more than a game.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Silver Linings

They say that you'll never really know where life will take you. For me, that never really rang true until my life was turned upside down. And I'm finally beginning to see the bright side of that upside down.

Four years ago, or two years ago even, if you would have told me that the highlight of my fall in 2012 would be a Michigan State tailgate, I would have looked back incredulously. The silver lining of the past two years of my life is that I have rediscovered the best friends in my life; given that they live in East Lansing, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in the the city that once was vorboten in my vocabulary. It's weird when bad things happen in your life. Good things come from those bad things. But usually you don't realize that until way later.

For all the hell I've waded through in the past year, I don't know if I would trade it now. It's just about impossible to trade the guys who would have your back no matter what for anything.

Yesterday I wore green and white. I tailgated with thousands of Spartans. I cheered for Michigan State. Definitely not my forte, but it was more me being happy to spend time with my best friends than any college football affiliation.

Moral of the story: If you're going through hell, you may not see it at the time, but sometimes there is a silver lining in that dark tunnel.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sports Bucket List

(an incomplete list - but these are the most desired ones on the bucket list):



1. Hockey at Toronto Maple Leafs Gardens/ Montreal Canadiens Molson Centre As the deep south reveres high school and college football to a religious extent, Canada, the place where shinny was born, prays at the church of hockey. And Toronto and Montreal boast two of the most storied hockey franchises in the world. One of my favorite winter pastimes is watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday evenings, always wishing I could be sucking down a Labatt Blue in some warm Montreal or Toronto pub before venturing out into the frigid Canadian winter en route to that night's hockey game.

2. Every B1G Stadium (accomplished: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State (by far the best experience of any I've visited thusfar), Ohio State, Notre Dame) (Left: Wisconsin (probably the best place to watch a game in the B1G), Nebraska, Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue). A product of Michigan's auto-industry, I feel 100% a Midwestern boy at heart. What better way to explore your Midwestern roots than a roundabout of the Big Ten cities, taking you from the golden cornfields of Iowa and Nebraska to the great lake shores of Wisconsin and Northwestern through the rust belt of Indiana/Purdue and almost to Appalacia territory at Happy Valley?

3. Death Valley at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge Ironically, I would have had season tickets for this upcoming season, as well as the past two glorious seasons, at LSU if it hadn't been for the old college sweetheart. Oh, the funny places life takes you. As it is, for better or for worse, I've yet to experience the place they call Death Valley in the heart of football country - the deep south.

There are plenty of college football traditions I'd love to see: Chief Osceola riding out of the Florida State tunnel on the horse they call Renegade, Enter Sandman at Virginia Tech, or tailgating in the most famous tailgating spot in America - Ole Miss' "The Grove" - but none are quite as worthy of the sports bucket list as LSU's death valley is. Give me some southern bourbon on an autumn southern day, the ferocity of thousands of liquored up cajuns, and the glow of the lights underneath a Louisiana midnight sky - that's college football.

4. Ontatio Hockey League Tour Although I'm a Michigander through and through, I think there might be a little bit of Canadian blood in my system. Hockey holds a special place in my heart, particularly the junior OHL circuit. Last season, I crossed one off the sports bucket list as a couple of my buddy's and I ventured up north to the schoolhouse to see my London Knights play in the Ontario Hockey League Championship at the John Labatt Centre. It was one to remember.

Still, there are plenty of other venues left to see on the OHL circuit. With the NHL destined for a lockout, surely I'll get out to see plenty of the hometown Plymouth Whalers' games this season. But of course Plymouth cannot compare to those Canadian cities where hockey truly lives and breathes. Amongst the cities I'd most like to see in Ontario: Windsor, Niagara, Kitchener, Ottawa, Owen Sound, and Sault Ste Marie (MI). Along with the B1G cities, this is probably the most realistic check on the sports bucket list in the near future (i.e. this winter).

5. Texas High School Football The South boasts its own unique culture in Americana lore, but the high school football culture of Texas is a subculture within that Southern culture. How great would a Friday tailgate in some small Texas town be - sipping on some southern bourbon, cooking up some Texas chili, all whilst the Texas sun sets and the famed "Friday Night Lights" begin to glow?

6. Fishing on the Big Two-Hearted River I fashion myself somewhat of a Hemingway aficionado, and "Big Two Hearted River" is amongst my all-time favorite stories. Located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the river served as a safe-haven for Hemingway after he returned from war. While not a sports event per se, nothing sounds more relaxing than floating on the Big Two-Hearted, taking in Michigan's beautiful Up North scenery, and sipping on some beers around a campfire at night, watching carefully for the ghost of Hemingway somewhere in those woods.

7. Arsenal soccer game in North London. In the same vein as the previous one on this bucket list, this one stems from a literary source. Rarely there comes along a book you can relate so closely to that you feel as if the author and yourself would make good friends, but Fever Pitch struck that exact cord for me. I've never been a soccer fan, but one of my now all-time favorite novels has me dying to hit the fish-and-chip shop that Nick Hornby frequented in North London, the Arsenal stadium where so much of his story took place, and the Arsenal pub he spent so many hours in - whether it be sulking after a brutal loss or basking in the glory of a victory.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on "Fever Pitch"

For a long time, I've known that I'm not the type of fan that your ho-hum, casual fan really likes. I can be unpleasant to be around during the most important games of my teams due to an obnoxious fervor, I tend to sink into either a deep depressed state after an initial phase of rage when things aren't going well for my guys, and I'm unapologetic when I shed a tear or two for a particularly big win or an historic loss.

Fever Pitch -the novel, not the cheesy movie - scared me. It scared me in just how closely I could relate to the author. An account of Hornby's lifelong obsession with the Arsenal soccer club in England, detailing everything from the tears of joy during Arsenal's most glorious moments during Hornby's life to the bouts of real-life depression that mysteriously seemed to coincide with poor Arsenal seasons, Fever Pitch is an explanation of what it means to be an obsessive fan.

More than anything else, Fever Pitch illuminated to me that it's gonna be this way forever. The way it has been for Hornby and Arsenal, it will be always for me and Michigan and the Red Wings.

"I had discovered after the Swindon game that loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or hum, something you were stuck with. There have been many times over the last twenty-three years when I have pored over the small print of my contract looking for a way out, but there isn't one. Each humiliating defeat must be borne with patience, fortitude and forbearance; there is simply nothing that can be done, and that is a realization that can make you simply squirm with frustration."

Anywho, the point is that the obsession that is fandom lasts forever. The point is that, like Nick Hornby, life often makes more sense in the stadium for people like us; like Nick Hornby, my biggest dreams have nothing to do with my own life, but rather my biggest dreams revolve around a bunch of twenty-year-old strangers one day playing for a national title, or a bunch of European-born hockey players wearing the Winged-Wheel hoisting the holy grail of hockey.






Monday, August 6, 2012

Hooky

Looking back upon this summer, the lunchless days in court hustling from one criminal defendant to the next, the days sitting around the jail waiting to listen to bogus stories from some mentally-questionable characters, the days in a windowless office entering in new court dates onto the public defenders computer system, they all sort of blend together into one monotonous glob. One day, though - one day that would make Ferris Bueller proud - sticks out as the day I'll always remember from this summer.

It was a Monday morning. I was driving down the country road I like to take, rather than the less-than-picturesque view of the freeway, to court in Ann Arbor. I had attended my first NASCAR race the previous day with my dad, my uncle, and my cousin for father's day, so needless to say the Miller Lights and images of jort-city were still lingering with me the morning after. The prospect of work grew less and less appealing the further I got into the country, as I watched the summer sun bloom over some farm fields. Shortly thereafter is when I decided work was not, in fact, happening that day. Irresponsible? Maybe. But it was perhaps the best decision I made this summer.

Unwilling to return home and attempt to explain my reason for not going to work - I didn't really have a legitimate reason - I embarked on a day of activities that would return me to my past and make me genuinely smile. I went to memory lane.

I walked around Ann Arbor. By my old college house and by the stadium. I thought about my old friends and how separated we had become and wondered how two whole years had passed since I had graduated. Yet I didn't feel sad; rather, I felt happy for the memories I had with those great college friends. Then I walked by East Quad and saw some bright-eyed and innocent-looking incoming freshman, walking around with a dazed look in their eyes and the lanyards around their necks - the dead giveaway of the freshman. They had no idea how jealous I felt as I watched them in their confusion. I thought about how the next four years would unfold for them, and about how it would probably be the best four years of their lives.

I went to Hines Park and to the old ballfield. I watched two little boys riding their bikes down the trails, adjacent to the river where I spent my boyhood days. I watched them, without a care on their minds, on that summer day, and wondered just how in fact so many years had passed since that was me. Indeed, it seemed like it was only yesterday that my friends and I were carrying our baseball gear down those trails, the only worry on our minds being who would win that day's ballgame. For a moment I sat down on our old baseball field and felt the June sun beat down upon me, and for a moment it was as if all of the gang was there and we were just kids again.

When life becomes monotonous, sometimes you need a day like that. A day to remind you why we're truly here on this earth. A day to remind you to savor those memories with your friends, because soon it will be years later and you'll be missing these very days. A day to remind you that, as Ferris Bueller said, "life goes by pretty quick, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it".


Friday, June 15, 2012

Life and Loss with the Red Wings

"It's a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. How your team plays echoes your innermost feelings, what you already "know" — but what you feel and know to a large extent comes from your team, because how they do is if nothing else a weird running pantomime of a fan's life. Their play is in your earliest memories and reflections; it challenges how you look at things." - Kent Russell, via Grantland




In some of my earliest memories, I am sneaking into my living room where my dad is watching the Red Wings on the television set on frigid February nights. Darkness fell early on Millwood Village on those two-dog nights, and us kids were called in from play before the last dinner plate was cleaned off. This phenomenon left me restless and curiously snooping about the house. Dad throws logs onto the fire during stoppages of play - the crackles of the fire and the low drone of Mickey Redmond's voice composing the soundtrack of those wintry evenings. "Number Nineteen," my dad says - I didn't know he'd seen me - "he's the heart of the team". And like that, Detroit sports are passed down from generation to generation on those cold, dark February nights. 

Little did I know that it would be upon those red uniforms that I would begin to formulate my identity in this world; it's funny how those small moments can blossom into something much bigger. Fandom is a hobby for some people. A passion for others. And for some, it is the marrow of life. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I curiously snuck a glance at what my dad was doing on those winter nights.

As Kent Russell illuminated to me, "how [your team] does is if nothing else a weird running pantomime of a fan's life". Like a best friend, we've been through everything together, the Detroit Red Wings and I. Through the happy moments, when you seem to be walking on airs, that make life worth living: the Darren McCarty breakaway goal in game 4 of the 97 Finals, or the moment I yelled "Ozzie" at the top of my lungs in my college house when they replaced Hasek with Chris Osgood, my all-time favorite Wing, in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs - a move that would prove fateful. And through the tragedies in life: my first taste of reality when I woke up one morning in June to hear about Vladimir Konstantinov's limousine accident, or in 2009 when the Penguins took game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the other interns I worked with in Chicago that summer couldn't quite understand why I had to be by myself that night. 

Growing Up




Before Detroit became the capital of the hockey world, Hockeytown was but a fledgling civilization. Names like Probert, Yzerman, Coffey, and Fedorov were fighting - Probert quite literally fighting - to erase decades of futility. As the Hockeytown video goes, "In the early 1990's the Red Wings seemed to assemble a team that could challenge for the Cup, but the following seasons only brought more heartbreak". 

It was on those nights in the early nineties that I was leaving my coloring books behind and sneaking a peak into the living room to see what my dad was cheering about on those February nights. And it was on those nights that he started to explain to me, piece by piece; "Number ninety-one, he can score some pretty goals"; pretty soon he said, "If you're so interested, we've gotta get some tickets so you can get to see a game in person". Any fan has those fateful moments, when the life-changing moment of fandom comes into focus. Those were those nights.

In my own mind, the Wings didn't win a Cup in '95 or '96 because of lack of talent. They didn't win because they were waiting for me to grow another year or two, so that I would be that perfect age in which I was just old enough to appreciate that magic, just old enough to remember that night forever. In that way, the Wings and I were growing up together, building up to something really special.

The Golden Years




In episode 1 of The Wonder Years, the narrator remembers, "In a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs. It was kind of a golden age for kids." He was talking about the sixties, but he may as well have been talking about the nineties in Millwood Village, the place where I grew up. 

To this day, when I hear the word summer, my mind harkens back to June nights in Millwood Village. June nights are like a Bruce Springsteen song - there's an intoxicating feeling in the summer air and anything seems possible. Neighbors gather together in a backyard lit by tiki torches, the smell of charcoal cooking hot dogs and hamburgers sifts through the humid air, and a Jimmy Buffett song plays from the stereo. The adults sit out on the patio drinking bottles of beer talking about things that don't make sense to us kids, while neighborhood boy chases neighborhood girl, and vice versa. We laugh and run and play, stopping to catch fireflies every so often, our energy level never running low thanks to a limitless bucket of soda.

I remember a particular one of those June nights, when the neighborhood flocked to my house, all dressed in red and white. We barbequed, tossed water balloons, and played outdoors in anticipation of game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. There was a sense of quiet, though; everyone was calmly giddy with the idea that something truly special could happen that night. I don't remember much of the game, but I remember, quite distinctly how, as the seconds ticked down on the game clock, shouts and screams of joy echoed throughout Millwood Village, adults rejoiced like little kids, and beer glasses clanged against one another in a toast of celebration. I don't think it really affected any of us kids as we played the rest of that night; we were just happy we were allowed to stay up past midnight as the celebration continued for the adults. And it's funny the way those moments work. There are no voices that call out to savor every second of the night, or that it will be one of those few moments in life that remains forever etched into your memories. The night just goes on, and only later on do you look back and realize how special that moment was. 

Center ice at Joe Louis Arena still reads "Hockeytown". Yet it's not quite the same. During the magical 1997 run, Detroit reached fever pitch: you couldn't take a 5 minute drive without seeing 2 or 3 Red Wings flags waving from other vehicles, Yzerman, Shanahan, and Fedorov jerseys engulfed Southeastern Michigan in a sea of red, and frenzy ensued while octopi danced upon ice with each passing day. Those truly were the golden days of Hockeytown. 

The Lost Years




The early aughts were a strange time for both me and the Red Wings. I guess that's the way adolescence goes: at one point you're basking in the glory that is pure, unadulterated life and before you can stop to tie your shoelaces you are a couple years older and starting to recognize the unfortunate realities that accompany us on this journey. 

I don't remember a lot about the early 2000's. I don't know if that's a subconscious choice or just the fact that a teenager's mind is racing too quickly for it to really stop and grasp much. Either way, it was a time of identity crisis. That's just the way it goes. I was searching for the person I was supposed to be; I look back on those early teen years and sometimes wonder just what the heck I was doing. Chalk it up to puberty. 

The Red Wings were going through an identity crisis of their own. Stumbling through the Stanley Cup hangover period, the Wings played musical chairs with a number of goalies through those years, always looking for the franchise goaltender but never finding him. In the early aughts, they shuffled through Curtis Joseph, Ty Conklin, Manny Legace, Joey MacDonald, and Dominik Hasek. And that's the thing about growing up: what the Red Wings didn't realize was what they were looking for all along was within themselves in the first place - Chris Osgood. 

Detroit won a Stanley Cup in 2002. Yet it's the Cup I remember least and appreciate the least. It was sort of a phony year. Taking advantage of the pre-salary cap era, the Wings assembled a conglomerate of veteran superstars and easily glided towards the Stanley Cup in '02. But when I think about the Red Wings, none of those guys are true Red Wings in my mind: all-stars like Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios, and Dominik Hasek all pale in comparison to grit players such as Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, or Joey Kocur, for me. But I guess that is the way those junior high and high school years are. You try hard to impress people that don't matter, try and be someone you aren't, until you realize what's truly important in life.

Resurgence




I will never forget the exact moment when Mike Babcock yanked Dominik Hasek from the goaltender's net in game 2, round 1, of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Red Wings trailing the Nashville Predators two games to none. I was in Ann Arbor in my college house, watching with my best college friends. It was springtime on campus, one of those beautiful May days with the flowers blooming and the girls walking around in sundresses, a collegiate day perfectly suited for day-drinking and playing cornhole outdoors. I had just finished my sophomore year and was living the free and pure lifestyle of a college student yet to worry about the realities of finding a stable girlfriend, a paying job, or of anything, really. Chris Osgood skated towards the goal and patted Hasek on the back as he skated towards the bench. 

I have only had one real dream in this lifetime; I don't think I will ever really have another one quite like it. That dream was to attend the University of Michigan, mostly so that I could be a face in the crowds that I watched on Saturday afternoons as a boy with unrivaled passion. I took a lot of AP classes in high school, some that were a bit above my learning level. I joined various clubs such as the yearbook staff and played as many sports as possible. I passed up a lot of afterschool hangout activities so that I could hit the books. I didn't do those things because I wanted to, but because I had resolved that I would get into Michigan, no matter what it took.

The springtime of 2008 found me quite literally living in that dream. But with Michigan football performing poorly, I was clinging to the Red Wings more than ever. And a resurgent team led by names such as Datysuk, Franzen, and Zetterburg made that spring a season to believe in. 

As Chris Osgood - a guy no one will ever replace as my favorite Red Wing of all time - heard Babcock tell him to go in, as he put on his goalie mask and opened the bench gate to skate out on the ice, as he did his goalie warmups in that blue crease, surely somebody a block away from 933 South State Street heard the cry, "Come on Ozzie!!!". The rest is history. 

End of an Era



"And if people are allowed to grieve when they are passed over for promotion, or when they fail to win an Oscar, or when their novel is rejected by every publisher in London - and our culture allows them to do so, even though these people may have only dreamed these dreams for a couple years, rather than the decade, the half-lifetime, that I had been dreaming mine - then I was bloody well entitled to sit down on a lump of concrete for two minutes and try to blink back tears after the Arsenal loss". - Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

In June of 2009, I found myself alone in the maze that is the Chicago nightlife. I was lost with no idea how to get back to my dorm and didn't care. I tried to hide my tears from passersby, but after about a minute I stopped caring and let the tears fall. And they fell onto my Red Wings jersey. 

Earlier that night the other interns of my pre-law program agreed to go out with me for Game 7 of the Wings game. After a couple of weeks with me, they had started to grasp what these playoffs meant to me after seeing me come home drunk on weekend nights and rabble on about how this could be a special year. They grasped some of what it meant to me, but that night they would grasp just how much it meant. 

In the closing seconds I mumbled to my new friends that I needed to take a walk. A couple of my closer friends from that summer internship group tried to follow me out; they saw me starting to cry outside the bar. I said I just needed to be by myself that night. 

I guess I should've realized then that it was the end. The end of an era. The end of college approaching. The end of a Red Wings era approaching. But I didn't.

Last summer I said goodbye to Chris Osgood, as previously mentioned my favorite Red Wing ever, and Kris Draper, another staple of the Red Wings glory days. This summer I said goodbye to Nick Lidstrom, the last remaining piece of those glory years. The Red Wings I had grew up with were gone. Gone forever. It didn't seem right.

This past year has been a year of goodbyes for me, too. My best friend from college moved to Virginia. Most of my other college friends moved elsewhere, as well. The proverbial "one that got away" got away. Life as I knew it was over. I looked to the Red Wings to tell me that it wasn't over, but I should have known better. A five game loss to the Predators in this springs 2012 Playoffs told me it was over. Over forever.

The Next Chapter




"At some point you are not what you were, and then you are nothing. It's at this point people start putting themselves together, once you have had that year where you do too much of something—drink, play video games, feel sorry for yourself, brick threes, fumble—feel terrible after, and then do too much of that something again." - Brian Cook, writer of Mgoblog

Sometimes good things end. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that things tend to work themselves out in the end. I've done a lot of soul-searching this spring and summer; I sort of lost who I was this past year. And I'm learning to redefine myself. I've started going for 10 mile hikes down the trails of Hines Park. I've started to appreciate those times I get to hangout with the guys I grew up with a little more. And I can't lie, during those times I've thought a lot about the golden years, when Michigan football won a national title and the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup in the same year. I've hoped that I could go back to those days, those simpler days. 

But time marches on. And you have to roll with the punches time throws. The Red Wings are going to have to do the same. The nucleus of the golden years is gone. They are going to have to redefine themselves if they wish to keep "Hockeytown" written at center ice. Supposedly a new hockey arena is in the works for Detroit, which almost makes sense looked at in terms of my life. I didn't want to rebuild, but eventually you just have to leave the Joe. 

24 years or so of fandom has taught me a lot. I know that there will be another 2009 moment of sadness. I know that I will turn to the Red Wings when a close family member dies or some other tragedy strikes. But I also know that there's another 1997 moment somewhere up ahead. And I know that somehow, the Red Wings will be peaking on the day I get married. And somehow they will be doing good when my first child is born. 

Because how your team does is, if nothing else, a weird running pantomime of a fan's life. 

Here's to the next 24 years.



Friday, April 27, 2012

The Right Place at the Right Time

Have you ever felt like you were destined to be in a particular place at a particular time? That feeling is a rare occasion in life.

I haven't felt that way in a long, long time. I've spent a large portion of the past year brewing with bitterness over how royally screwed over I was in terms of my living situation. I could be in Chicago, meeting new people and opening myself up to new experiences. I could be in Washington D.C., where a couple of my best friends live, having a good time with those guys. For better or for worse, though, I'm in my hometown for the time being. Most of my college friends have moved away and the social scene is lacking around these parts.

But the other day, I got that feeling that I was meant to be here, in this exact spot at an exact time. I've developed a routine of falling asleep to a television show every night just so I can avoid those thoughts that plague your mind late at night. I had just finished all of the seasons of How I Met Your Mother and was embarking upon the first episode of Frasier. The closing line of that first episode is Frasier, a talk-show host psychiatrist, giving this bit of advice to a woman still mourning the loss of a boyfriend 8 months after the fact:

"But you're not mourning the loss of your boyfriend. You're mourning the loss of what you thought your life would be. Let it go. Things don't always work out how you planned: that's not necessarily bad. Things have a way of working out, anyway."

Laying in bed, I couldn't help but think that quote was written specifically for me. It describes the last 8 months of my life to a tee. More importantly, it was what I needed to hear.

With summer fast approaching, it's time to finally leave the pessimism behind. I may never be able to forgive what happened to me, but dwelling on it isn't going to make things any better. I always used to cringe when people optimistically spurted off the motivational line, "Attitude determines everything". But I've come to embrace it. This summer, I'm going to dive head first into life with a positive attitude. I'm going to drive to Lake Michigan on a spur of the moment just to admire the lake, I'm going to take a drive down a country road and enjoy the scenery, I'm going to savor the moments with my my best friends - the friends I grew up with.

Attitude determines everything.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daydreams of Hockey in Small-town Ontario

As the famed, and overused, Robert Frost poem goes:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Outside the pub window, the cold Canadian winter blows through the slushy streets on a small town Ontario night. Small groups of locals, huddling closely to the warmth of their overcoats, march down the streets on their way home from the rinky-dink stadium that resembles a steel mill moreso than a hockey arena. In the distance, a large smokestack puffs gray clouds into the vast Canadian sky. Inside the pub window, comforted by the warmth of the pub heating, I glance over my notes from that night's game while the waitress sets a mug of Labatt onto the cedar tabletop. I begin to jot down a story on my yellow legal pad, as the midnight deadline for the local newspaper rapidly approaches. The loneliness of the bar, empty save for two isolated old men watching the Maple Leafs game on the bar television sets, starts to fade as my story takes shape.

Sometimes when I'm stuck inside the law library, surrounded by thousands of old legal books, as I am now, my mind begins to wander to that small town Ontario town where I might be trying to cut a name for myself as a beat writer for the local OHL club. I think about the forks in the roads I have faced in my lifetime, the path I respectively chose, and where that path has led me. Not to say that I'm unhappy with the career path I've chosen, (I actually am content with it for the first time in a long time) but sometimes I find myself deep into reading a lengthy hockey article - my mind lost in the magic of that unique sport and reminiscent for times up at the schoolhouse in Canada - and wonder how amazing that other career might be.

As Frost said: "Two roads diverged in a wood". Sometimes I feel like we get so far down one of those roads that it's not possible to turn back. Then again, sometimes I feel like I'm still young, and maybe the road I'm going down is just a precursor to another, much bigger, fork in the road.

Carpe Diem.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Post-Grad Drudgery

Man, the past two years have been tough. Being graduated from college has been the hardest transition of my life without question. This is in large part because nobody ever tells you what to expect after college. So I present to you my lessons for post-grad life:

1. Your friends will change. For those four years of college, I had the best friends a guy could ask for. We did everything together. I lived with my best friends, partied with my best friends, sat out hangovers with my best friends, and everything else in between. It's essentially like having a family when you live with your friends. In short, it was awesome.

Now, I see those people that I literally once would call my family only a couple of times a year. Once we graduated, everyone moved away. My friends reside all over the country from New York to Washington D.C. to Seattle. It's pretty tough going from seeing those people every waking minute to basically never seeing them.

Quite honestly, it's pretty lonely without them. When I come home from class, there's no one to joke around with or just watch a TV show with before bed. There's no one to go grocery shopping with. It's just not the same.

2. Hangovers get worse. During my freshman year of college, my hallmates (2nd Elliot at Mary Markley Hall - probably the drunkest hall in the history of dorms) and I drank pretty much Tuesday through Saturday, causing all sorts of ruckuses and having all sorts of fun. I could drink 12 beers on any given night and wake up and make it to an 8:30 class no problem. Those days are long gone. Nowadays if I go to the bar and drink 12 beers I have to fully plan on zero productivity the next day and I have to purchase at least 2 32 ounce Gatorades for the morning.

I also think the worse hangovers are a symptom of the first bullet-point on this list, friends. When I lived at BOX the Sunday hangover was a ritual. Everyone would stumble out of bed and meet in the BOX living room, where we would plop ourselves onto our beer-stained couches for about 12 hours of television and joke-telling that would make the hangover feel a little bit better. Those were some of the best times I ever had, and it was while I felt like absolute trash.

I don't have those friends around to sit around and joke with every Sunday anymore. Now it's pretty much just me and my hungover self sitting around feeling miserable. When your by yourself during a hangover, the depressing feeling induced by the hangover is increased tenfold.

3. It's much harder to meet girls. I in no way mean this to be disrespectful to girls, but in college girls just have very little inhibitions. Girls get drunk and make horrible decisions in college, making it much easier for guys at the bars.

In the post-grad world, (most) girls tire of the getting-hammered-at-the-bar-and-sloppily-making-out with guys scene. Instead, post-college girls want you to take them on dates and actually put in some effort and maybe even iron your shirt for a date.

Moving back home certainly doesn't help anything. The bars that I frequent in my hometown largely feature middle-aged married couples drinking wine who probably already had 401k's when I was born. Even when I do meet girls my age around my hometown, we most likely have nothing in common because those girls have never left home and are probably in community college. Don't get me wrong, there are girls to be met and the process is fun, but it's just not as easy as it once was.

4. You don't automatically feel like an adult after graduation. This has been the toughest lesson that I've learned. I guess I always thought that once I graduated college I would just feel like a dad or something and be completely settled down. That's just not the case. I've had too much to drink on plenty of occasions, made some dumb mistakes, and generally acted like an 18 year old my fair share of times in post-grad life. That's because, quite frankly, I'm not that much different from my 21 year old college self. Growing up simply doesn't happen overnight.

Being single in your mid-twenties can be a weird situation. You want to be settled down and maybe just have a lemonade and watch a movie on some Friday nights, but the ultimate goal is to have someone to be able to stay in with you on those nights, so you feel compelled to go out and meet new people. I guess when I was a little kid I always pictured myself being married and doing yard work and paying bills and being really content at age 24, but life doesn't always agree with the grand plans you've made for yourself.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

November 17, 2006

News of JoePa's health brought about this post, for one reason or another.




They say men are children. I know that's how I was that day.

The day had an ominous feel to it. I woke up in my dorm in Mary Markley Hall in 2320 Second Elliot Hall. I rubbed the sand from my eyes and climbed down the bunkbed in that tiny dorm cell, went and brushed my teeth in the community bathrooms, and finally walked out into the Autumn air of another Ann Arbor morning. I walked through the picturesque campus - underneath the rust-colored leaves drooping from oak trees that had seen generations of students come and go, past the Hogwarts-esque brick dorm towers on the Hill, into the throngs of students bustling with weekend energy across the Diag - on the way to my "History of the 1960's" discussion in Mason Hall. All the while my mind was focused on one thing, and one thing only: Number One versus Number Two. My first Michigan - Ohio State game of my college career (little did I know how that would turn out, I had yet to be jaded by those soul-testing '07 and '08 seasons). I was slightly hungover, but this was back in the day where I could play ten rounds of beer pong and wake up and still make it to my 8:30 classes. Before class started I picked up a copy of the Michigan Daily and read about the historical implications of the impending game that was approximately 26 hours away.

It was the pinnacle of my life thus far. I was living the only real dream I had ever had: getting in to the University of Michigan and watching my beloved Wolverines run onto that gridiron on Saturday afternoons. The friends I had made in 2nd Elliot Hall in Markley and I were inseperable. We drank about 5 times a week and had a blast exploring our new world - Ann Arbor. My world had opened up; while only months prior I was lamenting the narrow-mindedness of my small town, my circle of friends had suddenly stretched into Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, and Philly.

House parties were a new world to us. Girls were everywhere. I had no worries about finding a girl to settle down with, about finding a stable career, about any serious problems in my life. We had discovered the glorious world of tailgating, a wondrous blend of my two favorite things in the world: alcohol and Michigan football. Better yet, we had yet no witness a Michigan loss during our college careers, as the Wolverines were a perfect 11-0 heading into the Game.

My GSI rambled on about the Black Panther Party, or Women's Rights, or Woodstock, or Dylan. I don't know which, because all I could think about during that discussion section was what it might mean if Michigan would beat Ohio State the next day. My life would be perfect.

I walked out of class, through the diag, over the bridge and back to my dormitory, probably walking on airs with giddy anticipation for the weekend that would define my life thusfar. I walked into my hall and chatted with the guys who had just become my family away from home, my best friends. I stepped into my room, decorated with a unique combination of Michigan paraphenalia and alcohol posters that were cool when you were a freshman. And then it happened.

I don't really remember how I saw it. Maybe it was a website. Maybe it was that little ticker across the bottom of ESPN. But I saw it clearly. "Bo Schembechler has passed away".

I remember vaguely walking to the room next door to me, where the one person who I would consider rivaled me in Michigan fandom (ironically his name was Zac), lived. I think we both kind of looked at eachother in disbelief. We didn't know whether to hug eachother or what. After that I walked around in a bit of a daze. I decided I needed some fresh air.

I went for a long walk that Friday afternoon. I decided to walk through the graveyard adjacent to Mary Markley Hall (little did I know that would be where Bo would be buried). I thought about home. I thought about my childhood. I started to cry, and I didn't really know why. I never knew Bo, never was a fan during his coaching tenure. But it was like a grandfather had passed away. I looked at the tombstones around me and just felt sad.

It would be too sentimental to say that was the moment my childhood truly ended, but things were certainly different after that - the easy-going world around me slowly started to disappear.