About two weeks ago, after a particularly uneventful night at work, my friend Dave and I decided that we needed some sort of adventure. The choice was easy – North Campus. (We’re simple people.)
The destination we had in mind was the peculiar wave field in the corner of the campus. We’d never seen it, and though it was about as cold as it has been so far this year, we thought it would be a great place to throw a football around.
That got old pretty quick, so I told Dave that we should go find some music note sculpture somewhere on the other side of North Campus. I was really intrigued by it since I’d seen a picture and it looked interesting. He wasn’t so impressed by the idea, but he trudged along. In the car, he kept asking why we would be looking for something like this at 2:30 in the morning.
My answer was that we were going because I thought it was something that really represented the University, something that, no matter how small it was, I would always remember when thinking about my four years here. He didn’t put up a fight after that.
Why do I tell this story now? Because I love this University. I love this campus. I love the people here, the experiences I’ve had, the other ridiculous late-night adventures I’ve taken. I love the football team, the hockey team, the basketball teams, the water polo team.
Call me anything you want, but I still think about that stupid music note and it makes me smile. And I know it will for years to come.
I know that I’m not the only one who, when I was much younger, would ask my mother if she’d still love me even if I didn’t do well on a test. And I know that mine was not the only mother who always answered cryptically that she’d love me even more.
I was too young at the time to understand what she could possibly mean by that. But on Thursday afternoon, reading about what University President Mary Sue Coleman and Athletic Director Bill Martin said in the press conference announcing Michigan’s self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program, I finally realized how moments of failure can make you love something even more.
I find it odd that I was partially lured to this University by a group of five fabulous players, a team that, looking back now, apparently never existed. And I was laughed at today when I asked a Borders clerk if they planned on getting in any more copies of Mitch Albom’s fictional classic “Fab Five.”
Seriously, though, like just about everyone else on this campus, the University can do nothing to make me forget the magic those five stars made or the change they affected on college basketball as a whole. But while some use that as a reason to express disdain for the Athletic Department’s actions, I, in turn finally see the first ray of light coming from the program, something that I haven’t seen in my first three years here. And it’s about the basketball program loving the University like so many of us do.
There’s no question that Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock did not love the University while they were here. They definitely don’t now. They came here because it was a means to an end. For Chris Webber, that end was the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. For Louis Bullock, it was a basketball career in Europe. Whatever they are saying, none of them is crying right now because the banners are down.
If you love something, you don’t maliciously break its rules for personal gain. If those four players (who may or may not have attended Michigan) are upset right now, it’s not because they selfishly brought shame to a great university, but because they got caught in the process.
I’ve said before that a big difference between college and professional athletics is the attachment many college fans feel for their teams. It’s not as much always the Wolverines, at least in my mind, as it is the University.
The problem is that the athletes we revere don’t understand this. Chris Webber was playing basketball. It didn’t matter whether it was St. Cecilia’s church, Arco Arena or our own Crisler Arena. He was shining on the biggest stage he could find. And in order to play, he, Taylor, Traylor and Bullock only had to enroll in the school and go to classes here and there.
Bill Martin loves this University. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been fighting back tears throughout his press conference. Moreover, so does current star LaVell Blanchard. As a senior on a team barred from the postseason this year, he has nothing to play for. Nothing, that is, except the University. “I am a Michigan man,” the normally stoic Blanchard said Friday. “All I can do is smile because even though this may be a hard time, I think back to the tradition and the fun I had with this program, and I would not trade it for anything else.”
In these days of apparent failure, how could you not love something like that.
I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling that there’s something on this campus that Bill Martin, Mary Sue Coleman and LaVell Blanchard will think about in years to come. Maybe it will be as big as the Burton Bell Tower or as small as the “M” on the Diag, but I bet there’s something. For all I know, they might even be willing to accompany Dave and I on our next absurd adventure. Who knows what else this University holds.
When you love something, it stays inside you. Which is why I can’t help feeling that Webber, Taylor, Traylor and Bullock have never once thought about a stupid music note sculpture on North Campus. And call me anything you want, but that seems sad.
Jon Schwartz can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.