Chopped down

[ColumnistâÄôs Note: Due to an extreme case of post-election exhaustion and anxiety, John Sharkey was unable to file a printable column for todayâÄôs edition. In his stead, trusted correspondent Nathanial McEwing has graciously agreed to provide this MondayâÄôs content.] Hello, friends. We are living in dark times, as you have undoubtedly noticed. Our economy continues to crumble, we face a generation of unparalleled environmental disaster, and the Axe remains in Madison for another year. Unless you are taking an especially leisurely path to your undergraduate degree, you have never had the opportunity to bask in the Axe. And, if youâÄôre like me, youâÄôve now seen the final chance to enjoy this fine piece of lumberjacking equipment slip through your fingertips. ThatâÄôs a pity, really. WeâÄôre not asking for much, but a single victory over the University of WisconsinâÄôs forces would have been a welcome addition to coach Tim BrewsterâÄôs early resume. Alas, it was not to be. Among those of us unlucky enough to witness 2005âÄôs sad contest, the scars run especially deep. Visions of blocked punts haunt our finest dreams and the knowledge that the Axe was so near our grasp can cast a pall over even the happiest of times. We were just freshmen that year, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Embracing our newfound hatred for all things red, we bounced on down to the Dome ready to embrace the storied ritual of Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe. Sharkey and I, and a few more of our companions, were seated directly behind the end zone, the DomeâÄôs fake turf stretching out before us like the most welcoming of meadows. And we were merry. Things seemed to be going so well, and as fresh converts to the world of Gopher football, we had not yet developed the proper skepticism to accompany any matchup with a respectable opponent. After that day, we would never make the mistake of believing too unconditionally âÄî thatâÄôs when dropped, blocked punts hurt the most. And so the Axe was lost. I can remember our little group stumbling out of the Dome, all silently acknowledging that weâÄôd just seen something terrible. We stopped in the Chipotle on the West Bank in a futile attempt to ease the pain; nothing was said for an entire burrito, save for the occasional under-the-breath curse, at which point we would all nod in agreement. Bad times. If that first loss to Wisconsin, four years ago, was our baptism into the community of Gopher football and its mediocrity, then SaturdayâÄôs defeat was our confirmation. Many of the same comrades who were there with us that first year were still present as we huddled around the TV, craving redemption. For most of us, this would be our last shot at seeing the maroon and gold lay claim to BunyanâÄôs Axe. It would be a sweet way to go out, we all agreed. But, as the grizzled veterans we now are, we kept the levels of skepticism high. After four years, weâÄôd seen the Gophers lose in enough inventive ways to ensure we never fell prey to overconfidence. Well, almost never. This year, for the first time since the halcyon days of Laurence Maroney, our prospects looked good. I remember sitting at a Halloween party, hearing Sharkey telling a Penn State fan why the Nittany Lions needed to win out âÄî a Penn State appearance in the national championship game would clear the way for a Minnesota trip to the Rose Bowl. ThatâÄôs the sort of uncharacteristic optimism that was spreading throughout Gopher Nation just a few short weeks ago. By Saturday, of course, all of those dreams had died. The Gophers explored various ways to lose, like the âÄúlast-second interceptionâÄù and the âÄúget blown out by the worst Michigan team of our lifetimes.âÄù And so, Saturday afternoon in some ways took on even greater significance. No longer were we dreaming of a high-profile bowl game or double-digit wins. Instead, all that mattered was this one game and the chance to take control of the Axe. A few of our comrades have deep Wisconsin ties, making the contest even more meaningful. Sharkey could relate; watching NDSU polish off the Gophers last year opened a wound that is reopened every time he returns to his home state. Finally scoring a win against the Badgers would be a welcome way for us to finish our football-watching careers here in Minneapolis. And for a time, our prospects looked good: up three scores at the half, the Badgers struggling to find a foothold. But around that TV in John ButlerâÄôs living room, we remained skeptical. It was safer that way. And sure enough, after halftime things took a dramatic turn. Two safeties, of all things, proved to be the particularly embarrassing difference-makers. At least this final defeat came in an interesting way: spotting the opposition four points like that is a rather inventive way to achieve the traditional result. And so, some of us depart without even seeing the Axe raised in victory. Disappointing, yes, but sadly unexpected. Another year, another defeat. And weâÄôve already seen the Little Brown Jug carried away as well. While itâÄôs satisfying to tally more than one win in a season, this late-season fall from grace after such a promising start makes it difficult to appreciate the turn-around in progress. Those of you out there with another chance at the Axe: savor the possibility. Perhaps next year, in a shiny new stadium, you will get to see the Axe hoisted in victory. And if so, think of us âÄîthe ones who never made it to that mountaintop. Let us know how it feels. It probably feels pretty good. But, in the meantime, thereâÄôs the small matter of a certain bronze pig that needs some attention âĦ John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]