I walk along the street of sorrow, the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I see a giant van pull up.
“You moving in?” I ask a large Tiger.
“Yeah. Want to help unload?”
I take out boxes. There’s one with Miguel Cabrera bobbleheads, and another with Justin Verlander T-shirts. There’s a big one that falls open, spilling dozens of envelopes.
“Plane tickets,” the Tiger says, sadly.
I look at them. Toronto. Baltimore. Texas.
“Take ’em. Go have fun.”
“You don’t need them?”
“Not anymore. This was supposed to be our magical week of travel. We were supposed to play a game to stay alive, then another game to break a tie, then a wild-card game, then the first game of the ALDS.”
“What happened?” the Tiger roars, “some guy named Aaron Blair struck us out 10 times in six innings. What happened? Some guy named Julio Teheran struck us out 12 times in seven innings. We lost to a last-place team twice in a row and couldn’t score a run in our final game. So we missed the playoffs — again! THAT’S what happened!”
He droops. “Which one of these buildings is for short-term rentals?”
“I’m only staying until February. Man, I hope it’s not that place.”
He points to a dilapidated structure, with broken windows and a leaky roof. There is a faded image of a Lion on the wall.
“By the way,” the Tiger says, handing me an envelope with a key. “You mind waiting until this guy shows up?”
I read the name: “Ausmus, Brad.”
“When is he coming?” I ask.
“Don’t know,” the Tiger says, going inside. “But if he doesn’t show by Friday, you can have his room.”
Green feeling blue
I walk farther down the Boulevard, to a section marked “University Housing.” I see a Notre Dame banner hanging from one window and an LSU banner hanging from another.
“Little help?” I hear someone ask.
Standing by a bus is a large Greek figure, wearing a green helmet, green chest protector and green boots.
“Sparty?” I ask.
“As in ‘no party,’ ” he says.
His broad shoulders are bent and his eye protector is down. I think I see tears falling.
“Indiana,” he moans. “Indi-freaking-ana.”
“It’s bad enough we lost to Wisconsin. At least they were ranked. But Indiana? In overtime? A minute ago, it seems, we were in the College Football Playoff. Now we’re not even ranked. Oh, the humanity!”
He lifts his suitcases. There’s a trunk marked “Big Ten Championship” and a framed photo of Connor Cook. He gives it a nostalgic kiss.
“Do you know where I go? I haven’t been here since Mark Dantonio took over. Man, I hope it isn’t that place!”
He, too, points to the dilapidated structure with the faded Lion on the façade.
“Cheer up,” I say. “You still have the Michigan game in a few weeks.”
“Don’t say the ‘M’ word,” he replies. “Or the ‘O’ word, while you’re at it.”
A familiar scene
Finally, I approach that crumbling building. An old van pulls up. It’s from the 1950s, with a bumper sticker that reads “Come Back, Bobby Layne.”
Out steps a weary old Lion. He begins robotically unpacking the vehicle, seeking no help, asking no questions. He clearly has done this before.
“That your place?” I ask.
“Yup. Every winter, spring and summer.”
“But it’s fall.”
“Sometimes I come early. Remember 2008, when we went 0-16? I moved in before the leaves turned color.”
I watch him take out boxes. One is marked “Easy Games — 2016.” Another is marked, “Rushing Attack — 2016.” There are lots of bandages, crutches, ice bags and a poster of Calvin Johnson from “Dancing With The Stars.”
He finds his keys.
“What is this place?” I finally ask.
“It’s where hope dies,” he says. “Where Opening Day dreams are laid to rest. Where ‘Maybe this year’ is taboo and ‘See ya next year’ is heard daily. It’s called Heartbreak Hotel.”
“It seems very familiar to you,” I say.
The Lion nods. “I’ve been here so long, my apartment is rent-controlled.”
He fumbles a file. I pick it up. The sticker on top reads “Head Coach.”
“You dropped this,” I say.
“That’s OK. I’ll get a new one next year.”
I notice two neighbors poke their heads out, a man in a Cleveland Browns uniform, and another in a Jaguars mask. Then they shut the blinds. The Lion steps inside.
“Next year,” he says.
“You’re only 1-3,” I say.
“You’re so naïve,” he says.
The door shuts. The place is getting creepy. I hail a cab and ride back to Michigan. I step outside and realize something.
It’s awfully busy on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. And it’s suddenly awfully quiet around here.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.