It’s like we’re on Lost.
That’s what I’m thinking.
Our plane is crashing, we’re out of control, we’re on the runway going some outrageous speed, and our entire team — all of Michigan Basketball, plus families, almost 120 people total — is in serious trouble. Our plane is literally going down.
And I’m thinking about….
Desert islands, and monsters, and time travel.
I know, I know. I know what you’re about to say: I watch too much TV. I can just imagine my parents reading this — that’ll be their first thought, for sure. “Too much TV, Moritz, too many movies. Too many screens. More books.” And they’re right, of course. (Sorry, guys.)
But it’s funny where your brain goes, in certain moments. How your thoughts don’t always match up with what’s happening right in front of your eyes. How you can have the scariest thought in the world, right as the funniest thing is happening, or the funniest thought in the world, right as the scariest thing is happening. I think it’s almost like a defense mechanism, in a way. Cracking a joke, or thinking about some random TV show, at a moment when life is feeling bad or things are out of control — I think that’s just a way of convincing yourself, you know, that everything is going to be O.K.
And as our plane is malfunctioning, and as we’re whizzing and bumping around, and as we’re bracing for … well, the worst, I guess … that’s where my brain goes, of all places. It goes to GoldenEye, and to The Dark Knight Rises, and to Non-Stop, and to Lost — and to all of the other movies and TV shows I know that have a big, dramatic scene on a plane. My brain goes to:
This isn’t happening. This is TV. This is a movie. This … isn’t … real.
Melanie Maxwell/The Ann Arbor News/AP Images
And so my instinct, for a split second, is to break the tension — to joke about it. Maybe turn around and catch one of my teammates who hates flying (there are a few) with an “uh-oh …” smile, or drop a movie reference to someone who will get what I’m talking about. You know — something fun, and dumb, and #jokes.
I look behind me to find my target.
And what I see, in that moment … I’ll never forget.
I just see everyone … this plane full of my Michigan family … with this look on their faces that I don’t even recognize. It’s almost, like, an entire emotion that I’ve never seen before. I immediately turn back around. I lean over to look out the window.
We’re careening off the runway and into a field.
Oh no, I think. Oh, God. Oh no.
This is actually happening.
We actually might die.
My memories from the rest of that plane ride are this weird combination — so vivid, and yet such a blur. One moment we’re bracing for impact, skidding down the runway at what feels like hundreds of miles per hour. And then, the next thing you know, we’re slowing down … and slowing down … until….
We can tell from the sound of the pilot’s voice, and from how scared the flight crew seems, that we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s like: They don’t just want us off that plane.
They want us off that plane — now.
And we just keep hearing those words, shouted, over and over. Evacuation! Evacuation! It’s all happening so fast, and with this urgency that I don’t even know how to describe. I’m thinking, like, Holy sh*t. (Sorry for cussing.) Are they worried this thing is about to explode?
Mark and Tyler, thinking quickly, open the emergency doors on both sides of the plane. And man … it’s crazy. I’m pretty much running for my life. We evacuate onto the wing, while the plane is still moving. (Like, with the engine still going and everything.) Then we climb off (only a few feet, without the wheels) — and, as soon as we hit the ground, we straight-up book it. I’m telling you: We’re sprinting as fast as we can, as far away from that plane as we can get.
And then, for the next hour or so, we’re all just sort of … there.
It turns out you can’t simply call an Uber after your plane crashes. So we’re standing around — you know, all 120 of us, on the runway — with this giant plane stalled out on its belly beside us. It’s almost like a beached whale. It’s surreal.
We hang around the airport for a few more hours, and then find out we’ll be able to use the Detroit Pistons team charter for our flight. We board the Pistons’ plane — funny to think how cool that would have been, under any other circumstances. And I’m not going to lie to you: Getting on a plane again, so soon after our crash — I feel scared out of my mind. I think we all do.
As soon as I get to my seat, I tell myself that I’m going to try to fall asleep for the whole flight — just so I won’t have to think about what happened. And I’m right at the edge of sleep….
Nick Wass/AP Images
When something happens.
I feel a vibration — an alert for a text, from Xavier, in our team group chat. I open the text.
It’s a prayer emoji.
And then before I can put my phone away … another vibration. I have another alert, from a different teammate, in the same group chat.
It’s another prayer emoji.
And then another. And then another. And then another.
And then I send one, too.
Pretty soon — as we’re sitting on that plane, in total silence, all of us still anxious and afraid, I think, for take-off — our entire team is sending prayer emojis to the group text. It’s like this … I don’t know … iMessage group prayer. And maybe that sounds a little corny. But in that moment, sitting on that plane? It’s exactly what we need.
And as we do finally take off — on our way to play a Big 10 Tournament that means so much to us, and, in that moment, so little — I just remember thinking two things:
How glad I am to be alive.
And how glad I am to go to Michigan.
And then we get to the Big 10 Tournament — and we WIN.
I almost still can’t believe it: We win the Big 10 Tournament … in our scrimmage uniforms … with no practice … and barely any sleep … after a scheiss (that’s a German swear word, don’t worry about it) plane crash. It’s so cool.
And then, after that event….
Well, it’s time for another really big one.
I’m talking, of course, about my big group project in Sports Management 217. Sorry — what did you think I meant?
Yeah, so, it’s this huge report, and it’s almost due. It’s supposed to be a “proposal for a sports franchise” — things they could do better, management strategies, ways they could improve performance on and off the court. We got the Pistons.
And our report, I’m telling you, it’s massive.
It’s 40 pages, at this point, and we’re still not done. And that’s a legit number, by the way. None of this 14-size-font, weirdo-spacing, padded-margins b.s. This is the real deal. I’m telling you, it’s absurd — in the best way. It’s so long, and we’ve been working on it forever. Like: Have you ever been so proud of something you’ve worked on, that, sometimes, when no one is looking, you just sort of … have to sneak a look at it, to admire your own skills? Yeah, it’s that level. It’s so serious.
And it’s been bittersweet, in a way, making this run in the basketball postseason like we have. Because I know the cliché rep, of college athletes: as, like, Not Real Students or whatever. And I take a lot of pride — honestly, I think our whole athletic department here does — in not being anything close to that. I really do feel like I’m a pretty normal Michigan student.
And that’s so important to me — to dive in, and just be a part of it all.
Ever since I was a kid in Berlin, I think, getting the “full college experience” was something that I always wanted. And I’ve definitely found it here. From hanging out at the Diag … to going to football games at the Big House (sometimes I think maybe Coach Harbaugh and I are kindred spirits) … to cramming at the Academic Center right before a final (just kidding, I’m always prepared) … to trying out all of the awesome Ann Arbor restaurants (NeoPapalis is a favorite, I get the Hawaiian Pizza; also, shoutout Benny’s, shoutout the Hungry Man’s Breakfast, shoutout side of two pancakes) … there’s just nothing like this place. I mean, even the feeling I get when I’m walking down State Street, or any street, and another student — who maybe I’m not even friends with — smiles and says, “Hey, what’s up, Moe,” and I say hello back. I really appreciate stuff like that. Just, you know, the very little things.
But anyway, back to the very big thing — this project.
My study group, man … it’s a special group. Here’s a little scouting report of the team for you:
We have Robin, who is always — I mean, always — on time. He’s very organized, and very cool under pressure, and he knows how to get people to get things done. Then we have Derek, who’s one of the smartest kids you’ll ever meet, who’s definitely a lot of our brains and motor. He’s always got the great ideas, and knows how to execute them. And then we’ve got Brendan, who’s also very smart, and has the best work ethic of any of us. This guy would stay up until all hours, in order to get stuff done. (And he can hoop a little, too.) And then you have Moe (that’s me), who feels bad for not contributing more, in a group this talented, but still always does his best.
So as you can see, we basically have the dream team here. Three guys you can just count on, period, no matter what. And one Moe.
And it looks like we’re finally putting the finishing touches on the project now.
We actually just met last Monday to go over some final details. I had to miss the previous meeting — which happened while we were on the road in Indianapolis for the NCAAs — and, as amazing as it was to win our first two games of the tournament, that still really annoyed me. I hated to miss a meeting. And of course I was trying to tell them that on Monday … but they weren’t even hearing it. They were just so supportive.
They were like, “Hey, Moe, we’ve got your back. We’ll text you what we need you to do for this week of the project, and you can get it done after the game. And maybe get a triple double or something.” (I wish.) But that’s their attitude. They support me, but they also make fun of me when it’s appropriate, you know — just normal-friend, normal-classmate stuff. I hope I’m not making too big a deal out of this, but it means a lot to me. They don’t treat me like … I think the phrase is, “a dumb jock.” They don’t treat me like that at all.
Tony Ding/AP Images
And I guess I’ve just been thinking about that a lot, lately, and I wanted to mention it here. Just how nice it is, at Michigan, to feel like I belong — not only as a player on a sports team, but also as a real kid, like any other, who just goes to school here.
Sorry to go all “school spirit” on you there, but it’s true. I think our whole team feels that way. We’re not playing just for our team. We really are playing for the entire university — an entire community.
We feel like we are a part of something very, very big here.
And I can’t really explain it, but, being a part of something so big — that’s honestly one of the most intimate feelings in the world.
I didn’t have a triple double, against Louisville, like my guys in Sports Management asked for. But I still had a pretty good game: 26 points (though only three rebounds — what’s new), in a win over a 2-seed.…
I hope they were satisfied.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Other than that, though, I won’t really go into the game much here — I figure you’re probably already sick of hearing about it. (To be honest, I think I am, too.)
A lot of people were calling it the game of my life … and who knows, maybe they’re right. But I’ve been working really hard this year. And everyone on the team — from Coach, to our seniors, to, you name it — has been so encouraging of me. When I’ve gotten down about some bad results, they’ve always been there for me, telling me that I’m making progress.
That’s a big thing for Coach Beilein, I think — progress and process, over results. Our goal has never been to be perfect in every game, starting from the beginning of the season, you know? Our goal has always just been to be there at the end.
To be there when it matters.
And then, after we beat Louisville — oh, God, you have no idea.
Like, think of a really high number. I mean, as high a number as you can think of. No, even higher than that. Really shoot for the moon here. Yeah — that number. After the Louisville game, I probably had even more messages on my phone than that. (And I’m not someone who usually has a ton of messages.) I mean, I had people messaging me who I hadn’t heard from in like 10 years. Ten years! Just people I knew, growing up, in Germany … who were reaching out to say how they were all watching, and how they were all so proud of me.
And getting those messages … it really took me back a few years. It took me all the way back to my childhood, growing up in Berlin. I kept thinking about the little kid I was back then. How much I loved American sports. And it’s so funny, because — every year, growing up, I’d make a March Madness bracket. I’d be in one of those CBS bracket challenges. (No, I never won. My strategy was to pick based on “feel” … big mistake.)
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports
And now? I’m one of those Guys In The Tournament.
And now, we’re one of those Teams In The Tournament. Sorry, let me rephrase. You know, those teams, that supposedly “come out of nowhere,” each year … and have these great games … and beat the teams that everyone has picked to win it all? Those teams that were the reason I never won a bracket in my life?
Now — our team is one of those teams.
And now we’re in the Sweet 16. It’s wild.
But when I say “wild” … I don’t mean that we’re surprised to be here.
Because, I gotta tell you: We’re not.
This team we have, you know, it’s something else. We’ve gotten key contributions from freshmen; sophomores; juniors; and, most key of all, our incredible seniors — Derrick, Zak, Mark, Duncan, Sean, and Dak. We’ve won games in pretty much every way you can think of: with our shooting; with our defense; with our passing; and, yes, with our toughness. We’ve won the championship of the most competitive conference — no exceptions — in college basketball. And we’ve beaten the 2-seed in our region.
So call us a 7 seed if you want. Call us an underdog if you absolutely … positively … have to. Call us a Cinderella if you don’t really understand what the term “Cinderella” means (like, at all). And call us “white collar” at your own risk.
But don’t call us a surprise.
Eric Bronson/Michigan Athletics
We feel like we have the best coach in the world, and the best fans in the world, from the best school in the world, in the best city in — come on, I’m from Berlin — America.
And we think our team is pretty good, too.
So we’re going to go out there, and really just do what we’ve been doing all month: our thing. And if we can just do that … then I think there’s a really good chance that we’ll be able to keep on saying the only three words that matter in March. The three words that have taken on an extra-special meaning for us, over these last few weeks — a meaning that goes far beyond basketball, and far beyond Madness, and far beyond everything else.
If you can excuse a little more of my German humor:
We’re still alive.