I say hello.
He says, "How you doin’?"
I say that was some weekend.
He says, "Yeah, it was crazy."
This is how it goes, the older talking to the younger. The old stand in awe of the pressure and noise – the young shrug and say, "It was crazy."
Weren’t you nervous? I say.
"SO many people ask me that!"
But how could you NOT be nervous?
"I dunno. I just wasn’t."
This could be any teacher and student. This could be any store owner and teenaged customer.
Except this is me and a kid decades younger, Tate Forcier, who as a 19-year-old freshman, a few weeks into the fall semester, is the starting quarterback for Michigan.
Don’t you have nerves? I ask.
"No," he says, chuckling.
Youth. Fans excited again
I couldn’t do what Forcier’s doing. Maybe once, I could have. Once, when I was young enough to think it would always work out.
Now I’m old enough to know things like pressure, worry, doubt. Which is what keeps me shaking my head, and what keeps Forcier running merrily around the backfield, with no time-outs, darting from tacklers, throwing a touchdown in the final 11 seconds to beat Notre Dame – all in the second game of his college career.
You realize, I say, that if you got sacked the game would have been over.
"Yeah," he says, "Â but you know, I got the ball off Â it worked out well for us."
Better than well. It sealed the second win in two games, put Michigan in the top 25, and wonder of wonders, got fans in Ann Arbor excited again. Maybe you say Forcier was built for this.
Maybe you look at a 6-1, 185-pound mechanics-savvy quarterback, trained by his one-time quarterback father, flanked by his two quarterback brothers and you say, "What did you expect?"
What I expect is a 19-year-old playing before 110,000 screaming fans. What I expect is jitters, dry mouth, the shakes, lots of swallowing. What I expect is a kid who plays like, well, a kid – not a hairier Joe Montana.
So what’s life been like on campus since the Notre Dame game? I ask.
"It didn’t hit me until I went to one of my lectures (on Monday) and the professor was taking attendance, and there’s about 200 people in my class, and when they said my name, about half of them turned back and looked up at me."
"And I was, like, ÂOh, God’ "
That’s when it hit him? Not when a field full of Fighting Irish were trying to take his head off?
"Yeah. But it’s part of being a quarterback. And I’m gonna live it up, you know?" Nothing to worry about
Well, no, I don’t know. But that’s what makes him special. In two weeks, Forcier has turned a three-person quarterback challenge to a starter and two backups. Saturday, Forcier leads the Wolverines against Eastern Michigan, and then it’s off into the Big Ten season.
Your coach, Rich Rodriguez, said he doesn’t want you to have a big head, I say, so he’s promised to humble you in practice.
"I’m not worried about it," he says, laughing. "My dad taught me ÂDon’t ever think you’re better than anybody else.’ "
And yet, that’s sort of what we’re telling him, isn’t it? That he’s the best of the bunch? How does a kid keep that in perspective? How does a kid who last year was carrying his books down a high school hallway stay sane when he’s suddenly everybody’s college hero, a player of the week, and the leaves haven’t changed color yet?
"I’m good," he says, meaning, don’t worry.
I’m good. The old fret, the young shrug, the old say it’s too much, the young say bring it on. Somewhere under that helmet is a kid. He may not look it tomorrow. But he will when they call roll in lecture hall.