Moments before the opening kickoff I looked at the crowd (announced at 114,032 people) and wondered what an alien from another planet would think if this was the first image they had of humanity. Assuming that competitive sports are not part of the alien’s culture, what would they believe they were witnessing? A religious ritual, with Michigan’s quarterback Denard Robinson as the high priest? Some kind of political rally? Would they assume, considering the level of enthusiasm shown by the crowd, that the contest had some kind of ramifications beyond the final score? Would they be expecting the crowd, as they rushed the field after the victory, to surround the Ohio State football players and tear them to pieces with their bare hands? Or perhaps they’d think everyone in Ohio had to be our slaves until next year’s contest. Perhaps it would be a little tough to explain why we were acting the way we were—no, no one dies. No one kills themselves. No one gets thrown into a bonfire. We just win the game, and wait ‘til next year.
Everything about sports is a little bit irrational, and it’s just a little bit more irrational in America. All due respect to insane European soccer hooligans, but the grip competitive athletics has on American culture is uniquely insane. I have never played organized football in my life. I weighed 115 pounds in high school. I tried to play tackle football with friends once on Thanksgiving, and I was so scared of contact that I made tackling attempts by going into the fetal position and trying to roll under players’ legs (it sorta worked, actually). The violence of the game is off-putting, and as a strictly rational person I would say the rules of football should be dramatically changed, or the game should just be outlawed. But I live and die by Michigan football.
Michigan undergraduates trend nerdy. It’s a good school and hard to get into. There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of other diehard Michigan fans who have spent many more hours playing Magic the Gathering than tossing the pigskin around, and are rabid U-M football fans nonetheless.
I felt euphoric when we won yesterday. But the feeling only lasted for maybe twenty or thirty minutes. As I made my way out the gate and started the long walk to my parked car, two miles away, the everyday concerns of normal life returned. During a football game every play seems like the most important thing that’s ever happened. Agony and misery supplant each other again and again and again. That kind of irrationality can only last for so long.
Perhaps the aliens, after watching all of us drift away from the stadium, get into our cars and drive home, to feed crying babies and cook and pay the bills; to sit on our couches with a six-pack of beer and watch even more football on Sunday; to trudge off to work in the morning, answer the two hundred emails waiting in the inbox, load the truck with equipment, attend staff meetings, deal with bullshit, gossip in the break room, argue with our parents and our spouses and discipline our children—to deal with the never-ending struggle to stay alive and have a roof over our heads and a meal on the table, while retaining a measure of self-respect—maybe they’d begin to get it. Time waits on no man. It waits three and a half hours every fall Saturday, however, for Michigan football.