And so they find themselves with everything to play for and nothing to lose, on borrowed time, with house money, in God’s hands – rugged riders on a trite voyage so familiar to us all: hopes gone long ago, souls worn to dust through a half-decade of ridicule and scattered in Autumn’s afternoon gusts by the collective, jaded, sigh of a loyalist nation, only so it could all to be captured after everyone swore it couldn’t be. After we’d given up; “
I’m done caging my optimism. I’m done suppressing my hopes. This is the team I’ve waited for since 1997, when I was just a naive adolescent unfamiliar with the idea that championships don’t happen every year. In high school I used to create flaws in the girls that were too pretty for me; that way it was easier to convince myself I never wanted them in the first place. Well this is sort of the same thing, only I’m with the girl, and she doesn’t have any flaws. I suppose there aren’t any playmakers among the safeties, and DeBord does seem overly reliant on Mario and Mike, but that’s sort of like saying this girl of ours isn’t perfect because her cuticles are fraying.
One year ago – September it was – we listened to Lloyd, with whatever might the old man had left, try to distract us from the simple fact that another season had come and vanished before we had any chance, any reason to give a shit. “We lost a game, but we found a defense,” he said after
You can almost picture football players as emotionless characters, perspiring between the columns of a pantheon, catching lightning bolts between their teeth and tying them in knots with their tongues – immortals that just live in a mortal man’s world for three hours at a time. Football has always been a cold game; violently physical yet mostly devoid of intimacy. They’re the kind of people that fight for you but never really represent you; hired hands to take care of matters none of us are capable of. But this
There’s a 5-8 running back who sat in a barbershop chair four years ago declaring to anyone who would listen – no doubt with a vehemence that mandated the barber stop cutting altogether and wait for Mike to finish what he was saying – he’d be starting at Michigan by his fourth game. There’s a secondary that plays chess in its spare time, its victors proud to win even such a quintessentially intellectual game; a quarterback that mumbles and sweats on the podium every now and then, perhaps as daunted by where he’s taken his team as we all know we would be. There’s the star wide receiver that has nothing resembling a post-game persona. It wasn’t until he almost single handedly outscored Notre Dame that the media could do nothing but drag him to the podium and ask him what the hell he just did. When someone asked him how he kept such a low profile on campus, Mario replied, with an unconvincing smile, “I wear a hat." One defensive end used to wake up in the middle of the night just to help his injured roommate walk to the bathroom; the other has a tattoo of Woody Woodpecker on his left bicep.
Two linebackers have mohawks; one of which supposedly lost his girlfriend to Maurice Clarett; the third was a one-star recruit from Grand Rapids, currently the best linebacker in the country, who so nervously shrugs his shoulders during post game interviews you’d think he never heard a reassuring word in his life.
And then there’s Steve Breaston, the wide receiver who never says much and always says it softly; once quick enough to catch falling raindrops between his fingertips, now an underappreciated talent vilified by the ignorant; engulfed by his own shadow, the one cast by an epic freshman season when there was quite possibly no one in the country as good as he was. Who cares that Steve has 31 combined touchdowns and first downs this year, while Ted Ginn has only 28? He’s just a day-dreamer who writes poetry and collected comic books growing up; he wants to be a teacher after college, because, as his brother says, he gets along well with kids. He’s a goofball who happens to have some of the rarest football talents of all, and it’s impossible to read anything about him or listen to anything he says without feeling like he often wonders if he’d be better off without football. I’ll never forget after Mario had caught The Touchdown last year against
Steve caught his first touchdown pass of the year Saturday, it was on a deep route he’s never really been very good at. But as he caught it his body almost slowed to a walk; the ball held carelessly in his right hand. He jogged to the end zone as if something had been lifted from his conscience. I watched the replay again today, and I couldn’t help but think everyone else that saw it felt the same thing. It gave me goose bumps, like listening to a concert audience chant the chorus to a song in unison.
“Sometimes I sit back and think I’m someone else when I write, not a student-athlete but just a normal person," he said. “What would he be going through? I think about what is going on back home.” And then things happen, like when Kirk Herbstreit calls Steve a worthless player, only to have Steve sit silent and motionless when the reporters asked him about it days later, moments after Steve had proved Kirk wrong by scoring two touchdowns. “I've heard far worse in my life,” Steve said, when pressed in a follow-up question. “I'm not mad about it. I'm not. Because I know what kind of player I am and what I contribute to this team. I don't need that as my motivation.” Maybe it’s because when you find a player who seems to care so little about himself that you’re inclined to compensate for him and care a little extra, but I’ve never identified with anyone – not Braylon, not even Charles – never wanted to identify with anyone, the way I have Steve.
History has shown us that
I think Steve’s endured enough for a few moments of his own on Saturday.