You find me in the newspaper composing room, late at night, near a vat of ink. I use bold face. I use big type. I am laying out the headlines. Tomorrow’s headlines. Today.
IRISH DO IT AGAIN, BEAT U-M, 10-9!
FREAK PLAY WINS IT! IRISH 10, U-M 9!
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Preparing,” I answer.
I know what is coming. It is that time of year. The cool winds are blowing, the tan lines are gone. Michigan plays Notre Dame. That time of year.
“This autumn, I will not be fooled,” I say, rolling up my sleeves and reaching for the 84-point block letters. “This autumn, I will have the story ready before it even happens. Why wait? There are only so many ways it can go, right? Michigan-Notre Dame? Only so many ways.”
“What do you mean?” you ask.
“Come on,” I answer. REDSHIRT FRESHMAN GAINS 450 YARDS, IRISH STUN WOLVERINES, 23-22 AUSTRALIAN TRANSFER STUDENT KICKS 70-YARD FIELD GOAL, IRISH WIN, 23-22
“Wait a minute,” you say. “How come all these have Notre Dame winning?”
“You must be joking,” I say.
Where have you been the last four years? Under a rock? Maybe this will refresh your memory: September 1990. Wolverines are leading by 10 points in the third quarter. The game is theirs. Then Notre Dame throws a third-down pass, it bounces off Rocket Ismail’s fingertips, over the head of a Michigan defender, and into the hands of Notre Dame’s Lake Dawson, who runs for 45 yards. The Irish score a touchdown. They add another in the final two minutes
— behind a freshman quarterback no one has ever heard of. They win, 28-24. Remember? Cover of Sports Illustrated?
“That was just one year,” you say.
“You must be joking,’ I say. Read it and weep
It is never just one year. That’s the problem. One year we could take. But
this has become an annual thing, a miserable fall ritual, like raking the leaves or watching the season premiere of “Roseanne.” It is always something. A penalty, a fumble, a funny bounce, a fluke play. And Notre Dame wins and Michigan feels sick to its stomach. So I might as well get a head start with these headlines. How about something creative, like those huge one-word blow-ups, with the italic explanation underneath:
Michigan Loses Fifth In Row To Irish; Marching Band Runs On Field During Field Goal Attempt!
Lou Holtz Suits Up, Throws TD Pass, Sinks U-M In Final Seconds!
“Wait a minute,” you say. “How can you be so sure Notre Dame will win?”
“You must be ill,” I say.
How can I be sure? Does this ring a bell? September 1989. Michigan opens the second half by kicking off to Rocket Ismail. He returns it for a touchdown. The Wolverines battle back, they score. They kick off again, inexplicably, to Ismail. And he returns it for another touchdown! Irish win, 24-19. Remember? Cover of Sports Illustrated?
“That was only one game,” you say.
“You must be ill,” I say. History repeats itself
Only one game? Shall I go back to 1988? Michigan-Notre Dame? Four field goals for someone named Reggie Ho? Reggie Ho? What is that, Don’s nephew? Meanwhile, in the final seconds, Michigan’s kicker, Mike Gillette, misses what would have been the game winner. Misses by about a foot. Notre Dame squeaks by, 19-17.
Wait. How about 1987? Wolverines supposed to be tough. They open at home, against Notre Dame. They turn the ball over eight times; Irish win, 26-7. Eight turnovers? At Michigan Stadium? That may have been the very first moment Bo Schembechler rubbed his chin and thought, “Baseball.”
“This year is different,” you say. “The Wolverines are No. 3 in the country. They’re favored for a national championship.
“They are always favored for a national championship before the Notre Dame game,” I say, reaching for some freshly inked letters. “And afterward, all they talk about is the Big Ten title.
“There. What do you think?”
HOW ABOUT MURDER?
Michigan Ponders New Tactics For Next Year’s Game After Losing On Last-second Fumble
“You ought to be more positive,” you say.
“What do you mean?”
You take the letters. You stamp them in ink. This is what you spell: U-M ENDS JINX, DESTROYS IRISH, 31-7
“How about that?” you say.
“If it makes you happy,” I say.
I watch you smile. I watch you leave. Tonight you will sleep, safe and sound, certain that this is the year all that Irish luck runs out.
I close the vat and turn out the lights. I reach in my back pocket and feel the headline I have stored there, the one about the Australian field goal kicker winning the game in the final seconds. Just in case, that’s all. Just in case.