Sunday, September 27, 2009

Linking the present to the past

The shirt was part of my regular go-to clothes routine.
When you're a kid, two pairs of jeans and two or three shirts make up your weekly school wardrobe before your favorites get washed and thrown back into the rotation.
For me, a blue Michigan football "number shirt" as I called it then was one of my favorites.
It was blue with the word "Michigan" printed across the front and with a Number 1 prominently displayed on the front the back and on the sleeves.
In the world of recess and backyard Nerf football, Anthony Carter was the ultimate hero.
As young boys, we'd watch the Michigan receiver line up on Saturdays, making one spectacular catch after another.
We didn't consider he was only 19 or 20 at the time, but Carter was the player that all of us wanted to be when we grew up.
When we'd pick teams, we would also pick players. My group of friends was split right down the middle - half claiming Michigan as their favorites and the other half leaning toward Michigan State.
Depending on your position, you always had your favorite player. Mine was Anthony Carter.
After all, I was the only one at the time who had the No. 1 jersey.
We'd play football for hours, staining the knees of our jeans in the grass and running up remarkable scores like 52-48 before we'd call it quits.
On Monday mornings at school, we'd talk about the games our college heroes had played two days before, often starting sentences with the words, "Did you see....."
Now, all these years later, I have grown accustomed to talking to people associated with college sports. It's just what I do.
I haven't been star struck by interviews since my early days as a sports reporter, seeing my interview subjects as just everyday people who just happen to play sports.
But on Saturday, a little piece of my childhood came back to me as I stood on the sidelines at Michigan Stadium. Thirty years ago, Anthony Carter and Michigan quarterback John Wangler connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass to beat Indiana as time ran out.
I was 10 at the time.
But as I stood in the back of the end zone talking to Carter after he, Wangler and former Michigan running back Butch Woolfolk were recognized as honorary captains, I couldn't help but to think back to those backyard football games.
Carter, who is now almost 50, spoke of his days of playing for Michigan like they had just finished, never mentioning his days in the USFL with the Michigan Panthers or his brief stint in the NFL.
He spoke while 108,000 fans surrounded him, reliving the past glories of playing for the Wolverines while watching a team that is undefeated this season.
During a brief in-game ceremony, Carter was called "College Football's Original No. 1".
I knew what they were talking about because after all, I once had the shirt to prove it.