Thursday, May 12, 2011
At some point in your life, you will experience a death that immediately calls on that sweetspot of your childhood memories. When Ernie Harwell died, I felt a sense of personal loss. When Sparky Anderson died, I recalled seeing Tigers games as a kid. But both of those men, and the memories they created for millions, predate me by quite a bit.
That's what makes this one different. Tractor Traylor was nobody before he was somebody, and he didn't become somebody until I was 11. His entire career at Michigan corresponds perfectly with my childhood. I remember the NIT championship in 1997. I remember the Inaugural Big Ten Tournament Championship. I remember the day he broke the backboard at Crisler--not because I was there, but because a bunch of my friends were at the game and told me about it at school the next day.
There are plenty of reasons not to memorialize him. This is a Tigers blog, for one. The fact that he was a prime contributor to the the downfall of the Michigan basketball program, miring it in an obsolescence that it is only just beginning to recover from, is another. But whatever the reasons, he is one of those guys that I remember, like a beloved, if flawed, side character in a good movie. Like Donnie. Robert Traylor is Donnie.
Apart from the fact that his death is unexpected and tragic, it is also the first time that I have experienced the death of a public figure without feeling like there was some cache of memories that other people could recall that were simply inaccessible to me because I wasn't there. Well I was there. I remember Robert Traylor, and I always will.