“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”
–T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
I always liked that mileage marker that Eliot used. For many of us in education, we measure our lives in years teaching–or perhaps by an unforgettable group of students (good or bad!). My sister Katie, a managing editor of weekly magazines for over 20 years observed that teachers at least had closure, that there is time to take a step back and assess what’s been done. When Katie was finishing one magazine for print, the following two weeks’ magazines were well under-way.
And for twenty-five years, I was able to observe in the bittersweet holiday of Labor Day the balance between school beginning–with all the extra work “breaking in” new students–with the beginning of the football season. And as a lifelong Lions fan, the two greatest days of the season were always draft day and the opening game. They were the only days you could wear Honolulu blue and silver quite confident that the Lions were still undefeated.
And just like the parts of the school year that are the longest–that third week in October, for example, when Thanksgiving is still a month away (even if that holiday included a Lions-stomping to interfere with digestion), sports fans find themselves in the Valley of Death in the five weeks between the Super Bowl and March Madness.
For as fast as July and August follow the last bell of school, tucked right inside the final week of the NCAA basketball tournament comes Opening Day for the Tigers and the Masters just two weeks later–I’m sorry, I meant to say, “A traditional unlike any other.” (I love that trite saying. It reminds me of the waiter in Casablanca when asked if the gambling tables are honest: “Honest? As honest as the day is long!”)
By the time Tiger finishes his fourth day with or without a green jacket wrapped around an Olympic medalist I’m ready for summer and have convinced myself yet again that I hit a golf ball straight, that the Tigers will have a closer that won’t cause cardiac arrest and that the Pistons may someday be above .500 again. Perhaps global warming and North Korea may even be squared away by July 4th? You never know.
In addition to being the great common denominator, allowing any guy to walk into any bar and have a two hour conversation with a total stranger and never learn the dude’s name, sports allows me to clip along through my life with little benchmarks–for example the following Burma Shave signposts.
1968: Denny McClain throws 31 wins as the Tigers win the World Series. My sister Collen was born
1971: Reggie Jackson hits the lights in the All Star Game
1973: I see my first major league game, the Big Red Machine. My sister Maureen is born.
1976: Mark Fidrych (R.I.P.) makes the Tigers the stars of baseball for every fourth game.
1980: Billy Sims is drafted by the Lions and makes them look decent until his knee is destroyed by the Silver Dome’s concrete field.
1984: Tigers go 35-5 and never fall out of first-place to win the World Series. Jack Morris throws a no-hitter.
1987: Tigers win three straight over the Blue Jays to win the division by one game. Pistons lose to Celtics in playoffs due to Isaah Thomas’ inbound pass interception by Larry Bird. I graduate from college and get a job.
1989: The Pistons win the first of back-to-back titles. Notre Dame wins a national title with Lou Holtz. Barry Sanders, unfortunately for him, is drafted by the Lions. I remain in my job teaching despite being just a few years older than my students!
1991: Ernie Harwell is fired by Bo Schembechler. Michigan’s Fab Five begin their impressive (and later erased) two-year run to NCAA glory. I meet my wife, Patrice, teaching right next door to me.
1992: The Tigers are sold from Dominos to Little Caesars. Patrice and I marry.
1995: The Red Wings make it to the Stanley Cup for the first time in my life (and lose in four straight to the New Jersey Devils). My son Aidan is born.
1997: The Wings win their first of four Stanley Cups with Steve Yzerman as captain. Tiger Woods wins his first major at Augusta. My daughter Abby is born. I attend my last Tiger game with my father.
You get the general idea…or perhaps the far-too-specific idea.
So as the Tigers win their first game today, as Justin Verlander proves that he is worth the $4,000 per pitch he is now getting paid (Hey, I can be very generous with other people’s money.), as Michigan makes it into the Final Four on the backs of an amazing point guard and a surprising 6’11 freshman, I look up suddenly from my sports page of my phone and notice my son holding his ACT scores and an invitation from an Iowa college that would like him to stop by for a visit.
“Weren’t you just born a few seasons ago?” the poor kid is asked.