Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tradition - You Can't Force It Or Make It Up

As I was surfing yesterday, an article from Yahoo Sports caught my attention and I was kind of surprised by it.  I mean, I figured it HAD TO BE A JOKE….

But let me back track a little right now.  I ran into a reader of the blog last week who mentioned that the Ole’ MMQ didn’t have his usual “POP” that he used to have.  That the “Devil May Care” attitude and tongue in cheek repartee that he used to have seemed to be missing.  He more or less said that he felt like he was reading another sports page and that’s not why he read the MMQ.  He wanted fun!  He wanted jabs!  And he wanted it to be over before he was ready to be done reading…which I thought, “Yeah, that’s the way I used to write. 

Wha’ happen’d to that guy?”

So, I went back a couple of years and read some of the older entries, which I admit I hadn’t done in quite some time.  Everyone needs to reflect and look at past work, regardless of where you stand today.  Do it.  Look back at some of, well, anything that you’ve done in the past.  You’ll either find something that you know you’re doing better today or you’ll find something that you used to do a lot better than and it will remind you that you need to start doing more of “THAT”, whatever “that” is.

Anyway, after reading about the Freedom Trophy, I saw the news that Al Renfrew died.  For those of you out there that have NO IDEA who Al Renfrew was, you’re not alone.  I was a student manager when this older guy came into the locker room after practice one day and Big John Falk simply yelled out, “Hey Al!”  I figured he was a janitor or something.  John gave me that sideways look and said, “You know who that is, right?”  I just shook my head and John said, “You know the “M-Club Banner”?  His wife made that and he’s the one that started that whole thing when the players run out onto the field under the Banner.”  I of course also learned that Al happened to be the former Hockey Coach as well as doing a bunch of other stuff for the University.  Seth does a great job of running down Al Renfrew’s life here…

That of course got me to thinking about this “Forced Tradition” that we’ve seen lately in all of college sports and this atrocity that the B1G has dubbed the “Freedom Trophy”.  Yeah, we can’t make fun of it because “Veteran’s Day” and “Freedom”.  Whatever.  I’m here to tell you that you can’t force a tradition….It HAS TO HAPPEN ON IT’S OWN!!!  Just like the banner.

And here’s another little known tradition that nobody (I searched the web and Wikipedia, Michigan’s Marching Band Site, nobody has this documented accurately – but Wikipedia is close) really wrotedown what happened.  I’m here to say that it happened just like this…Because friends of The Tailgate know the Drum Major that first did it!!!  (HT:  Lisa D!)

The year was 1993.  Michigan opened up with two home games in September.  The first game was Washington and the 2nd was the domers (JEEZ I HATE THESE GUYS!!!).  Anyway, I remember getting into the stadium a little early for the Washington game, a rarity for me these days, and watching the band come out.  I always liked to watch the band come out for the first home game because, well…. TRADITION!!!

The band comes out and the drum major takes his spot on the north side of the formation for the “Plume Touch”.   And chaos ensued…..

But before I go there - the origins of the Plume Touch are a little sketchy and it’s believed that it started sometime in the late 1960’s and the first Drum Major to do it was Mark Brown.  And he didn’t do it for every game; apparently Mark reserved the move for “Big Games”, which, okay, cool.

However, by the mid to late 70’s, the Michigan Drum Major was doing the “Plume Touch” for EVERY Home game.  And on this warm Saturday afternoon in early September of 1993, Drum Major Matt Pickus started his back bend to do the Plume Touch….

And he fell!

We’re not talking a little trip here, folks.  This was a flat-out stumble on his ass “Splat!” in front of 100,000 strong.  Matt picked himself up and continued with the show, because what else was he going to do?  But the student section let him have it and the “Boos” were loud and almost to the point of being embarrassing for this fan.  I mean, come on…he’s a college kid.

Now, some guys might just bow out after that.  Hang it up.  Hand the reins over to someone else.  They might just say, “You know what?  I’m not cut out for this.  It’s not for me.  I can’t possibly do that for every home game and run the risk of falling on my ass again.”  Some guys.  So what does Matt do?

The very next game, against the domers, Matt comes out with the band.  He takes his spot on the north side of the formation as the band is winding up the Michigan Fan-Fare.  Matt, standing tall and proud, REMOVES HIS HAT and places it on the ground in front of him.  Then, to the amazement of everyone that was there to witness what happened next, in front of the the same 100,000 that booed him a week earlier,

 Matt places his hands on his hips, Bends Backwards and touches his BARE HEAD TO THE GROUND!!!

Now, I am writing this from memory.  And I will say that the crowd was pretty pumped up because it was the domers and all.  And there was probably a Mystic-Michigan-Magic in the air…and when Matt did that, well, Michigan Stadium erupted and everyone that was booing that kid a week earlier gave Matt a standing ovation.  Because he didn’t back away from the adversity.  He met it head on and took what could have been a life-long embarrassment and etched himself into the Michigan History books…

And because he bravely faced that adversity…he unknowingly and unwittingly created a “Michigan Tradition”.

You have to audition to be a Drum Major at the University of Michigan.  One of the pre-requisites is you have to be able to do a back bend.  Not all Drum Majors have taken the hat off since.  But most are aware of the tradition and hopefully the Michigan Marching Band history has it right and tells all the Drum Majors that try out that Matt Pickus is the reason you have to be able to do a back bend and touch your head to the ground.  And hopefully, they now know the “why”.

So, don’t try to force feed any of the fans at Wisconsin or Nebraska the “Tradition” of the Freedom Trophy.  Let some students do something outrageous that starts something out…that becomes tradition.

Or the Bon Fire
Or The Little Brown Jug
Or Floyd of Rosedale
Or the Iron Bowl

Tradition, given time, will take care of itself.   But can’t manufacture it and shove it down people’s throats.

You have to let it HAPPEN….And it will....


Lisa D. said...

For the record, Pickus worked his butt off on that back bend nearly every waking hour between the 1st and 2nd games! He still performs his routine at every homecoming game (he missed last year due to knee surgery), and still draws some of the loudest cheers of approval - I am proud to call him my friend. Thanks for capturing this so eloquently, Russ,

MMQ said...

Lisa-no problem! I remember that whole scene like it was yesterday. I remember being so proud of that guy when it happened. Someone needed to tell the story from the fan perspective. Matt knows he did it but everyone should know what happened!