During class on November 11th, we were asked to name examples of “pleasing illusions” that we all have. The term comes from Edward Burke’s defense of thinking of the king and queen of France as more than just regular people in his piece, Reflections on the Revolution in France. One of the responses that struck me as humorous was that we all still believe that, “Michigan is an awesome football team.”
It is difficult to imagine that anyone still believes that a 5-5 team can be considered “awesome” in any sense of the word, but with the history the program has, it is not difficult to imagine that people still think of Michigan football as elite. I started thinking about the year the team has had, and upon thinking back about something I saw at the Minnesota game, I had an interesting revelation.
The boo-birds were out in full force. All around me were screaming for the mediocre play to end. However, there was one fan a few rows in front of me who was advocating for something else. “STOP BOOING! THIS IS MICHIGAN,” he yelled until he was red in the face. I thought to myself, “it’s nice that he cares so much about the team, but when things are this bad, it’s hard to not boo.”
That fan would not let the tradition of Michigan be tainted by a few unhappy students. He longed for things to return to the way they once were, when Michigan wanted to keep the Michigan tradition of winning alive, much like Burke would’ve wanted. Then it hit me; if Burke was alive today, rather than during the French Revolution, and was a college student, he would be attending the University of Michigan.
We are at a school that prides itself on tradition, which Burke believes to be the best source of knowledge, more than anything else, and seeks to do things the way they have always been done. Here at Michigan, we talk about our illustrious tradition of excellence until it is nearly beaten into the ground.
If head football coach Brady Hoke were fired at the end of this season, Burke would undoubtedly be in favor of hiring a “Michigan Man” as his replacement. The term is applied to anyone that resembles the values of a respectable man that attended the university, so he would look to someone like Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback for U-M, to be our new leader.
Only someone that knows about the true tradition of Michigan football would be suitable to lead our program back to its former level of prestige. When Burke explains that, “the science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori”, he means that something should not be done until you have experience in the matter.
This same logic can be applied to the construction of our football team; if we do not know how someone that has never been associated with the University will handle our famed prestige and tradition, we should not hire him in the first place, just as a new governmental system should not be installed because we don’t know how it will work. He would’ve scoffed at Pat Caputo’s suggestion in his Macomb Daily piece to “think outside the box when hiring a new coach”. For Burke, an outsider would be able to do next to nothing for our program, and only a traditional “Michigan Man” could help us.
It is dangerous that our football team has settled into an era of mediocrity, because once we start thinking of Michigan as an ordinary football program, we are destroying the image of the team, and “all the decent drapery of life [will] be rudely torn off,” just as it was in France when people thought that their rulers were no different than themselves. Right now, our team is just like any other, just as “a king is but a man,” but according to Burke, we need to act as if this is not the case to preserve the lore. When Adam Biggers of Bleacher Report broke down exactly why Michigan football is performing so poorly, Burke would’ve criticized him for trying to tear down the drapery that covers up the illusion that we are something far greater than we recently have been; he would do everything in his power to keep that drapery standing.
It would be much easier to accept our recent trend of losing, if we did not consider the schools that are now better than us to still be our inferiors. We hold an intense prejudice towards Ohio State and Michigan State, so when Denard Robinson said that he will always refer to Michigan State as our “little brother,” Burke would’ve applauded him for not letting their recent success overcome our history of dominance. Burke explains that, “instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, … and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them.” Burke’s prejudice toward Ohio and our “little brother” would’ve never ended, regardless of their recent success.
We don’t usually boo our football team, because after all, this is Michigan. We look fondly upon our tradition, and do not let down times distort our image of the team. Burke would have appreciated our respect for tradition and unwillingness to move away from it. He would’ve dreaded the idea of Michigan being some ordinary program, and would’ve loved to hold onto his prejudices against our rival schools. His thoughts on the French Revolution closely resemble what is happening here on campus with our football team right now, and while the students of the University of Michigan are not going to overthrow the football team, Burke, like that fan at the Minnesota game, would’ve discouraged any criticism against it, or its tradition.