Thursday, February 21, 2013

Life and Loss with Michigan Basketball: Volume II

This post will be installed in segments. This is part II. 

Previously: "He Takes a Timeout. They Don't Have Any Timeouts!"

The Age (and Fall) of Innocence

We're all made up of flaws. One of my primary flaws as a youngster was a short temper, prone to rages that my mild-mannered adult-self could never understand. There were some post-Michigan football game temper tantrums when I would throw baseball trophies into the wall in my room, or stomp my feet on the bedroom floor. But there weren't many Michigan football losses in those days.

I come from a large Irish family. My childhood is chock-full of jovial gatherings of many aunts, uncles, and cousins with merry conversation and spirits enhanced by free-flowing whiskey and beer. And it was a Michigan-loving Irish family, in which "The Victors" was sung at every Christmas gathering as far back as I can remember.

Not all of those memories of the Irish family gatherings are lighthearted, though; there's one particular dark spot that stains my collective memory. It was March of 1998, and the Wolverines Hoops squad - led by the likes of Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Maceo Baston, and Louis Bullock - was a victory over UCLA away from the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Mind you, this was 1998, mere months after Michigan football had gone undefeated and won a National Championship, so I wasn't exactly accustomed to losing at this point. As the game clock wound down, the otherwise festive atmosphere was interrupted by some tears and some unremembered object being thrown against my living room wall. The room grew quiet as my aunt's and uncle's jaws dropped, as they watched me storm through the living room and storm up the stairs, yells echoing off the stairway ceiling.

What I've discovered over the years is that there is a direct correlation between the stock you put into the outcome of a sporting event and how well your life is going at the time. In the fall of 2011, for the first time ever, I found myself unable to feel much sadness over a Michigan football loss - too much had gone wrong in my own life for me to care much about a game; I watched friends post on social media sites about their sorrow over a Michigan State loss and felt jealous, because it meant things were pretty much fine and dandy in their own lives. What this means, of course, is that my life was pretty damn good when Michigan lost to UCLA in that NCAA tournament game. I had no significant real-life problems to worry about in my nine or ten year old life, which made made it easy to feel rage and sorrow after a sporting loss. Aside from being forced to eat my vegetables at the dinner table and having to do my homework before running off into the backyards with friends after school, sports losses were the biggest issue in my life. It was an age of pure innocence. It could never last.

In my own life and in Michigan basketball, I could have never anticipated the windswept world that awaited up around the next bend in the road. One of the grand tragedies of life is that, in our youth, we yearn to be grown up, unaware of the true glory of kid-dom and unaware of the realities of the adult world. In the same way those were the last years of pure unadulterated innocence for me circa 1998, those were the last years of innocence for Michigan Basketball as well. Things were about to come crashing down in tumultuous fashion for us both. I would soon enter the strange times of junior high school, and then the treacherous world of high school - the tragic realities of the world becoming clearer and clearer with each passing step I took. And in similar fashion, shortly after that loss to UCLA when I stomped up my parent's staircase and threw a temper tantrum in my childhood bedroom, news outlets began to speak of scandal deep in the dark rooms of Crisler Arena that would plunge Michigan into a dark time.

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