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Another good year for the Roses

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Here’s an op-ed from a woman who went from not even being aware that Michigan football existed to discovering over the course of a few weeks that it was better than therapy for depression.

Speaking of the Rose Bowl, this is from my book A Fan’s Life, describing the experience of watching it on TV in Michigan in the 1970s:

It’s difficult to convey now what watching the Rose Bowl was like back then.  For one thing, imagine Michigan in winter – and not the comparatively mild winters that have visited the state subsequently because of the effects of climate change, but the brutal, unending winters of the 1970s. These consisted of five straight months of bone chilling cold, underneath a monotonous slate gray sky that allowed the sun to appear for perhaps half an hour twice per month.  The landscape itself was dominated by enormous drifts of slushy snow, that on a typical day were fed by an almost constant depressive staccato of tiny snowflakes, buffeted here and there by a wheedling, coat-piercing wind – the harbingers of the inevitable next big storm.

For another, keep in mind that the Rose Bowl was, as it were, It: You would not see another college football game until September.  And by “not see” I mean not see in a quite literal way, that is hard now to even imagine, as we loll in the decadent luxury of our present media-saturated age.  At that time there were not yet even any VCR tapes, let alone ESPN Classic replays, DVR recordings, or YouTube videos available to break our annual eight-month fast.

Most of all, the telecast of the Rose Bowl unveiled to us, as we huddled in practically Siberian if not Neolithic conditions, what appeared to be an almost mythical world, bathed in a warm golden light, where it was perpetually 77 degrees, and the girls from Beach Boy songs walked along a seashore that could easily be mistaken for paradise itself.

And here I encounter a question that occurs to me now, yet literally never arose for me – or as far as I know anyone else in my family – at the time: Why didn’t we go there, instead of staying here?  I suspect that our collective failure to even consider this possibility reflected a kind of inherited Latin fatalism, combined perhaps with the sort of environmentally-inculcated Midwestern stoicism captured well by Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”  (Even more puzzling is the fact that I distinctly remember wondering at the time, when UCLA won a recruiting battle with Michigan for a running back from the Detroit area, how schools like Michigan and Ohio State, shivering in the increasingly depressed rust belt, ever won such battles against the sun-kissed glamor offered by the likes of USC and UCLA.  Somehow this same puzzlement never extended to my own mindset).

Yet it was that very failure to even contemplate the quintessentially American option of hitting the road, and abandoning quasi-Siberia for the television’s carefully curated vision of happiness, California-style, that gave the experience of watching the Rose Bowl on TV its peculiar melancholic power.  There it was before us: the golden country, utterly unlike our own world, and yet still connected to us by the temporary presence of those winged helmets that remained among the most recognizable symbols of our own miserable home, to which, like our football team – which always lost in the Rose Bowl whenever it made it that far – we remained so mysteriously loyal.

I watched Michigan play in the Rose Bowl yesterday, and like God contemplating his new creation, it was good.

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