Sunday, October 18, 2015

Feeling Blue

The website for the University of Michigan’s Athletic Department is “MGOBLUE.COM.” The “go blue” part of it was sadly apropos after its October 17th last-second football game 27-23 loss to in-state rival Michigan State University Spartans.

The U. of Michigan Wolverines were leading 23-21 with ten seconds left in the game. They had the ball on the 47-yard line, and all they needed to do on fourth down was punt the ball deep and let time run out.

The ball was snapped low, the punter fumbled it and a MSU player scooped up the loose ball, and ran it into the end zone for the winning score.

Most of the 111,740 people in the stadium were U. of M. fans (short for “fanatics”) and had paid $95 for one end zone seats, $105 for one Maize and Blue seat, and $115 to sit in the Victors/Valiant section. The revenue for that one game could have been as high as $10 million.

U. of M’s 234-piece performance band stirs up the crowd before and during every game, playing rousing renditions of the university’s “theme” song, “Hail to the victors valiant, hail to the conquering heroes, hail, hail to Michigan, the champions of the west.” A student wrote the song in 1898 after Michigan beat the University of Chicago to win the Western Conference, which became the Big Nine Conference, and now is known as the Big Ten, and naturally has fourteen member schools. (See more on the band members later on)

The victors weren’t valiant last night, and as the ESPN television camera swept across the stands after the final exciting, game-ending play, one young man's face exemplified what all of the U. of M. faithful had just experienced.

The camera stayed on the be speckled student, adorned in a maize hooded sweater had his hands on top of his head, his eyes wide open, and a distraught look of total disbelief upon his face. 

You can recap the day is several ways.  In 2014, Ann Arbor had an estimated population of 117,770, and they could have all nearly fit into the stadium. More than 111,000 people did fit in, and they had nothing better to do on a fall Saturday. The fumbling punter, a former Australian rugby player, may have lost his scholarship. The Spartan who scored the winning touchdown, also paid a price, for after the score, he was at the bottom of a celebratory pile of players, and his hip was dislocated.

Michigan’s head coach Jim Harbaugh, responded to reporters’ questions with his usual stoic replies. In trying to find something positive about the game’s outcome, Harbaugh said, “They played their guts out,” and followed with, “We have to have resolve, steel in our spine and move forward.”

Michigan State’s coach Mark Dantonio simply summed up the ending by saying,  “Football is a crazy, crazy game.”

I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care who won, but perhaps I did, for my daughter graduated from Michigan State. (See story that follows on Thailand))

Michigan is now at 5-2, and Michigan State improved to 7-0.
Good news for Michigan fans, their next home game is with Rutgers, and the prices for tickets for the public have been reduced to as low as $65 each.

The battle was only a game. Renowned sports writer Grantland Rice put sports in perspective in 1908, when he wrote in his poem Alumnus Football, “For when the One Great Scorer comes, to mark against your name. He writes — not that you won or lost —But how you played the Game.”

I seriously doubt that Jim Harbaugh read that poem to his dejected team after last night’s loss. 

In 1985 when I was visiting a friend in Bangkok, Thailand, he shipped me off by bus to visit the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. I came back on a riverboat, and saw Michigan State’s former football coach and Athletic Director Duffy Daugherty playing cards with Tennessee’s Johnny Majors, and two other coaches.

Since I was paying my daughter’s tuition at the time, I asked Duffy what he and the others were doing there. “Oh, we are on recruiting trip.”

With the average Thai male less than 5’8” tall and under 150 pounds, I now knew how some of the tuition money was used. MSU’s basketball coach was probably recruiting players in Central Africa, where pygmies reside. The average height of a pygmy is below 5-feet tall, and anyone taller is described as a pygmoid.

Their high-stepping band has students playing 12 piccolos, 25 clarinets, 12 alto saxophones, 12 tenor saxophones, 48 trumpets, 24 horns, 33 trombones, 3 bass trombone, 12 euphoniums, 24 tubas, and 30 percussionists.

When marching, they round out their array of performers with 24 flags, 3 twirlers, and one drum major.