"It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away."
For reasons unknown to even my own self, I think The Shawshank Redemption is a wonderful film. The unlikely story of Andy Dufresne is oddly compelling and his on-screen friendship with Red is one that's even more odd even for a film that's 21 years old. Not very often you get an entire movie centered around the friendship of two men...two convicted murderers, that feels so uniquely eloquent and justifiable.
No sex, no drugs, no graphic profanity. Just honest to goodness friendship. In a mid-century prison movie.
I'm getting off track here.
What draws me to movies like this is the idea of redemption. Some of my favorite movies are centered around the idea of salvation for the story's protagonist. It's a classic movie theme mainly because, when done well, it's very very good cinema.
Sports is no different. It's a common story line.
Somewhere, somehow there are parallels that can be drawn between prison and losing. If I could I would connect those dots in a more coherent way but hopefully you understand what I mean. Losing is a mindset...and the culture that's born from chronic losing, or at the very least chronic mediocrity, is a prison that is almost impossible to free yourself from (see: Indiana Football, 1887-present).
Ever since it became apparent that Jim Harbaugh was going to come back to Michigan, I have spent more time than I should trying to decide just how excited I should really be. Some days I'm really pumped...thinking there's no way we're ever going back to that dank prison cell ever again and it's nothing but championship seasons from here on out.
Other times, I get nervous. Not often of course, but it's tough to envision things going back to the way they were after all we've gone though these last 7 years (or more). I mean, it's been 11 years since Michigan has won a Big Ten title. Incoming freshman were just starting elementary school when Chad Henne and Mike Hart led Michigan to their most recent league trophy.
Despite the recent struggles, Michigan's culture is still one that's more about winning than it is losing. But this last decade or so has challenged that perception. As the losses to Michigan State and Ohio State (and so many others) have mounted, a little bit of what used to make Michigan great has crumbled a bit.
I could go on spouting analogies, but the simple fact is Michigan hasn't been Michigan for quite some time. And I'm not talking about the "brand" or any other nonsense like that. I'm talking about the final score of games not being what they used to be.
So when Jim Harbaugh...this free-tweeting, confidence-oozing, brash, loud and rebellious football Svengali who sounds and acts like he's been living in some alternate universe where Michigan never stopped being the same Michigan he left in 1986...just waltzes back in and injects pure adrenaline into a program basically on life support, folks need to take a minute to screw their heads back on.
This whole offseason reminds me of the scene in Shawshank where Andy plays opera music over the loudspeaker as the inmates stand there shocked and confused but inspired at the same time (see shawshank.gif above). No one knows how this is all happening, but no one would dare look away because how could you?
To see someone like Harbaugh come in here and do the things he does...the way he does them...it's both shocking and perfectly fitting at the same time. He gets full artistic license because of his Michigan lineage and of course his track record of success in coaching.
He's absolutely crazy...but in a weirdly good way. And yet somehow, he fits right in. He's perfect.
Jim Harbaugh is like pure Michigan football extract. In high doses he could stun a gaggle of SEC coaches in their tracks...which he's basically done with his #SummerSwarm tour. Of course, if you're Jim Hackett, you do run the risk of this whole thing blowing up in the lab. Harbaugh walks that line between football genius and mad man...but if you think about it, so do all great football coaches. And I guarantee no Michigan fan would not want to take that risk.
Will Jim Harbaugh redeem this program from years of mediocrity? The prevailing wisdom is of course he will because how could he not? He, like every other Harbaugh coach ever, just wins. But winning his way is hard to do...it's hard on people. There are no gimmicks here...no Rich Rod offensive finesse genius. Harbaugh just wins by just beating his opponent into submission...mentally and physically.
In 77 days the Harbaugh era officially begins at Michigan. Sure, he's been on the job now for almost 6 months...6 months that have seen more hype than maybe the last 6 years combined. He's had a great start so far, great success recruiting, both players and coaches. But his record is still 0-0.
You can plan and chart and diagram all day long, but until a foot meets leather on September 3rd in Salt Lake City, there's no way to know just how well this thing is going to go. But there's hope, real honest-to-goodness hope...and that's a good start.