Saturday, June 11, 2011

Colors That Float In A Slightly Different Order

Michigan will wear these on September 10, 2011.

The jerseys Michigan will be cloaked in for the first night game ever played in Michigan's home stadium have finally been unveiled.  MGoBlog is in an uproar, brandishing a pitchfork in one hand, a gauze-enveloped flaming stick in the other, and believes that any non-athlete caught wearing one of these should be shot.  I respectfully disagree.

Some teams adorn a new, eye-soretastic uniform virtually every game.  Oregon fans, I hate you.  When it was first announced that the Wolverines would embrace throwback jerseys to commemorate their first home night game, the general reception was strangely positive.  It also left people scratching their heads because the Michigan uniform has remained largely unchanged since Eli Whitney demonstrated the use of his cotton gin to applauding men in wigs.

The reason there has been so little change over the years is simple:  the basic tenants of the uniform are essentially perfect.  A classic blue jersey blemished only in those places where absolutely necessary to satisfy NCAA-mandated identification requirements (and occasionally sporting a subtly placed block "M").  A pair of maize pants artificially enhanced by the rays of the sun and the advent of Photoshop to achieve the ideal hue for high-definition television.  And of course, the winged helmet.

Michigan is not adopting a new uniform, it is not undermining tradition.  For one game, the team will wear a few stripes on its sleeves and people will be outraged and it will be an image loosely adapted from historic renditions like this one:

Like many Michigan fans, I consider myself to be a traditionalist.  The thing about traditionalists is that as soon one of them breaks from habit, everyone takes notice.  While this can be a restrictive curse, it can also be a powerful attribute.

Imagine for a moment an elderly man who regales you with stories of his life as a Michigan fan.  For the last 75 years, he has bled blue and filled urinals with maize, and around his neck he wears an iron key on a faded leather strap.  "I want to show you something," he whispers, and as usually happens with old iron keys it is accompanied by an equally old dusty trunk.

The man carefully unlocks the trunk and lifts the lid, rummaging to the bottom before finally withdrawing an unfamiliar football jersey.  The cloth is faded and ripped and unmistakably old.  It has a yellow block "M" and player numbers, but bears a pattern that is entirely foreign to you.  "They only wore those for one game," he mentions.  "Tom Harmon's last in the stadium."  From his beaming smile, it's obvious that he cherishes the aged fabric.

My reaction to this man would not be one of accusation or disdain but admiration and envy.  I would yearn for his experiences and the rare treasure he had to remember them.

This year under the lights, the players will don jerseys that have a special character, one that is both a tribute to the past and a step toward something new, a novel chapter in a storied history that will be read and retold for decades.

I plan to purchase a replica of the 9/10/11 jersey.  And, as it happens, I hope one day to be an old man.  If you are a supporter of the University of Michigan in any of its many facets and endeavors, including the fleeting appearance of the night game jerseys, chances are you'll be welcome on my lawn.

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