In 2005, when I was a freshman at Michigan, our basketball team went 22-11. Our best player was Daniel Horton. We finished as NIT runner up. I thought that was our ceiling. I thought that was the best we could hope for, because to hope for more was to be punched in the face with the phantom TO and Tractor Traylor and Ed Martin and why our Final Four banners are in Bentley, not in Crisler. I thought that was the best we could hope for, because hope is a good thing (as Andy Dufresne told us), but hope also makes you think things and then the things don’t happen and you feel like you’ve collapsed inside, so it’s easier to stand there with your arms crossed, waiting for Shawn Crable to be charged with a helmet-to-helmet or the Horror or five interceptions or losing to Harvard or losing to Duke.
It’s the Michigan way, I guess, to wait for the terrible. To feel as if you are on some conveyor belt towards the worst possible sports moment of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. We know that 42 Big Ten titles feel like sand in your hands when someone shows Colorado, ’95. We know that every single game is another moment for Purdue to run a hook-and-ladder because you’re playing the worst Michigan football team ever so why wouldn’t you run a hook-and-ladder. We remember the Horror, referred to as such because it was. In sports, and in life, I guess it’s easier to hold on for bad things to happen, because you know they will. You get a new job, but you’re waiting to get fired. You meet someone new, but you’re waiting for them to dump you. You love your family, but you’re waiting for the phone call to tell you that someone you love more than anything in the world is in a coma and might never wake up.
Trey Burke was 13 in 2005. In fact, he turned 13 in November of 2005; around the time I was realizing that maybe business school wasn’t such a good idea. He doesn’t see hope as a terrifying precipice on top of impending athletic doom. He doesn’t see Michigan athletics as moments of pleasure forced to live up to lifetimes, generations of grinding, crushing expectations. He sees hope as opportunity. Hope as a ladder, moving ever upwards towards something we can’t even see just yet. Hope is how you get from practice to practice, from losing to Michigan State at Breslin to two steals to beat them at Crisler. Hope is how you lose to Penn State and beat Kansas. Hope is how Jordan Morgan gets in the way of Brandon Triche and gets a charge because obviously, Jordan Morgan gets a charge.
I have never and will probably never meet Trey Burke. Our understandings of what it means to go to Michigan are probably very different, given that he is a basketball player and I was a history and political science double major who worked a lot of jobs and spent way too much time at Espresso Royale. I will probably never get to say hello to Trey, or Mitch, or Nik, or Tim, or Spike, or Jon, or GR3, or Caris, or Jordan, or the seniors. Our paths crossed only tangentially. They attended the university I attended. That’s it. And that’s fine.
But if I could tell them anything, I would tell them thank you. Thank you for making your own expectations, not forcing yourself to live up to those of others. Thank you for embracing hope, not fearing it. Thank you for your work, your dedication, your belief when no one – and I include myself – believed in you because believing is like hoping and hope is hard.
Tonight is the National Championship game. I have no idea what is going to happen. We could get massacred. Dave Brandon could be playing back-up point guard. The Georgia Dome could explode. I don’t know. I never know. Anything I could say or think about what will happen tonight is beyond useless. Sports are predictably unpredictable.
But I hope we win. Despite how badly it could hurt to come up short, or how much I want to gird myself against the psychic pain of losing at a game that does not affect me in any real way. I hope we win. I hope we win.