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.

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