I spent the better part of yesterday doing something I absolutely hate. Namely freezing my butt off, but more specifically lying in wait with several other journalists, acting more like paparazzo than true photographers or reporters, hoping to get a quote, a picture, or even just a glimpse of recently-fired University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, or one of his star players.
We were part of the machine - part of the circus that is modern-day sports. Reduced to waiting outside UM’s Schembechler Hall in the freezing cold as player after player moved like pawns on a chess board into the building under strict instructions that they were not to speak to any member of the media – period!
So we, the members of the media, stood there mostly, like fish in a tank swarming to every approaching player like freshly dropped food, only to be rejected time and time again by kids young enough to be my own.
Hell, it wasn’t their fault they were in this mess. What would they say anyway? There’s really only so much athletes ever do say. It’s as if they’re all given a book titled “How to deal with the media through 101 clichés.”
Pick a number for any occasion. If you had a good game, you might try number one on the list:
1) “First I’d like to thank my savior The Lord Jesus Christ, for without him, none of this would be possible.
If you want to sound humble, give #23 a try:
23) “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, they deserve all the credit.”
If you just lost, try #37:
37) “It’s just one game, we’re going to put it behind us, look at the film, and focus on next week.”
There’s rarely an answer that doesn’t involve 110%, one game at a time, or “we shocked the world.”But the cliché used most often yesterday was the all too simple, but extremely effective No. 101:
101) “No comment.”
"We gave it 110% in there, oh yeah, and one more thing ... no comment!" (Photo by Lon Horwedel)
So there we were, no coach, no star players, no quotes, and hardly any pictures - just a bunch of frozen reporters and photographers shivering in a snowy parking lot, controlled by a bunch of teenagers who were being controlled by a bunch of bureaucrats at a public university. And for what? … Football? … Really?
I started to laugh at the thought. I was standing there, freezing my ass off for a game, but nothing that actually had to do with the punt, pass and kick part of it. This was as far away from anything that had to do with football that I could think of. The secrecy, the solemn faces, the dudes in suits – not even President Barrack Obama’s visit to campus last May could compare to this!
C,mon guys, this is football, it's supposed to be fun! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)
Then I started to wonder when it all changed? When did the game turn from two kids throwing a tattered ball around their backyard, into a multi-million dollar business? When did the fans and online commenter’s suddenly feel as if they were the voice of reason ... as if they knew more than the coach ... as if they controlled the destiny of their team?
The guys who innocently started playing the game over a 100-years ago certainly couldn’t have known it would have come to this. They couldn’t have known their names would still hang in the air like ghosts over a stadium crammed shoulder to shoulder with 100,000 people every fall Saturday. The list would grow over the years, names like Harmon, Crisler, Yost, and Schembechler. They were, and still are, revered as Gods, when in reality, they were nothing more than just men, either playing, or coaching a game played by kids.
But Rich Rodriguez, was being shown the door. He wouldn't become one of those men, at least not here. He didn’t do enough, he didn’t win enough, and he never was a “Michigan man." (Whatever the hell that is). Not like Bo Schembechler (who, ironically, came from Ohio).
In the end, it just didn't work for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)
The Rodriguez style of football didn’t suit the Big Ten conference where guys supposedly are big and mean, and play smash-mouth football. The style Schembechler’s teamed played under his famous mantra of “three yards and a cloud of dust.” (Which, if you think about it, still leaves you with fourth and one, not to mention it’s hard to create a cloud of dust on artificial turf).
Rich Rodriguez is a nice guy. I always liked him. We’re roughly the same age and he treated everyone decently – even the media. And in a world of clichés, at least he came up with something original to say every now and then, my personal favorite being, “We didn’t become stupid overnight.”
But catchy quotes don't mean squat if you don't beat Ohio State ... or Michigan State ... or, for that matter, any team in the Big Ten other than Indiana and Purdue.
I’m sure Rodriguez still loves football just as much, if not more, than the screaming masses that called for his head - even now, the day after losing his job. But the business side of the game ate him up and spit him out, at least here at Michigan. I'm pretty certain he’ll move on to greener pastures (not that his pastures aren’t already green, he’s leaving as a millionaire) and coach again somewhere else, maybe somewhere where he’ll be loved and his name will become legendary – maybe not.
Either way it doesn’t really matter, because tomorrow another kid will pick up a football in his backyard and dream of the day he’ll be running down the field in front of thousands of fans. He’ll dream of the day people will buy his jersey and ask for his autograph. He won’t think about contracts, or money, or guys in suits. And he certainly won’t dream of the day a guy with a camera tries to take his picture as he goes to meet with his coach who just got fired.
He’ll just take everything "one day at a time" while giving it "110%." Maybe he’ll even give enough thanks to The Lord Jesus Christ, so that one day, if he’s really lucky, he’ll be able to walk up to me and say …
... and that's what really matters!