|The view from my dad's seats|
My dad died in October, and sports are not the same without being able to share the elation of every victory and the pain of every defeat with him. My dad followed all of Detroit's professional sports teams, but he followed only one team with an almost religious devotion. Sundays were God's day, but fall Saturdays belonged to the University of Michigan football team.
My dad went to U of M in the late 50s when Michigan football was pretty much as mediocre as it has been the last few years. Everything changed in 1969 when a young coach named Bo Schembechler took over as Michigan football's head coach. Although most fans did not know how to pronounce "Schembechler" when he was first hired, his teams did what no one else did to Woody Hayes's Ohio State teams--took a punch and punched them right back in the mouth. My dad saw the fight in Bo's teams and was hooked. He bought season tickets in the early 1970s and kept them until he died.
For about 40 years, he had the same seats in section 8. From the first time my parents carried me into the stadium as an infant, I have been lucky to attend many classic games at Michigan Stadium over the last few decades. Except for the years I was a student at Michigan, I watched most of the games from those seats.
Although I sat in the student section in college, I could not escape section 8. When I competed for four years with the University of Michigan rowing team, we used to meet at the stadium to run up and down the steps of the stadium several times a year. We started and finished our grueling lap around the stadium at section 8. When I struggled to make it up the last few rows of the lap towards my dad's seats, I felt like I was the only one on the team who was coming home.
This year, my dad's tickets went unused for a few games when he couldn't sell them or give them away. He couldn't attend because he was fighting a losing battle with leukemia. I could have used the tickets for a few games, but I chose to watch the games by my dad's side in the hospital rather than sit in the stadium without him.
|My dad at one of his last Michigan games.|
This man had sat in front of my dad when Bo and Woody were screaming at refs from the sideline and Bob Ufer was screaming in the press box, when Michigan lost heartbreakers like the Hail Mary loss to Colorado, when Jimmy Harbaugh threw a 77-yard bomb to John Kolesar to beat Ohio State, when Anthony Carter beat Indiana and infuriated Lee Corso, when Desmond Howard and later Charles Woodson returned punts against Ohio State and sealed their places as Heisman winners, and when countless Michigan players walked off the field holding roses.
Our stadium neighbor and my dad had probably sat in those same seats watching three-hour or longer games more than 200 times. Together they sat in devotion to the same cause, devotion to the same university. Michigan Stadium has changed over the years. We have piped in music, luxury suites, and video scoreboards, but the marching band, the players on the field, and the lifelong fans like my dad are the constants that hold together the traditions at a place like Michigan.
As it became clear that Michigan was going to hire Jim Harbaugh and as I watched his press conference, the only thing I wanted to do was talk to my dad. My dad would have been excited about the hire. We would have talked about Harbaugh's guaranteed, and delivered, victory over Ohio State as a player. We would have talked about his fantastic jobs rebuilding the three previous teams he coached. We would cautiously talk about how Michigan might become an elite team again even though OSU and MSU have damn fine coaches themselves. But my dad is gone, and I can only imagine what he would say today.
|My oldest daughter on campus when she was three. Indoctrination at work!|
So the NFL insiders have it wrong. The question isn't: Why would Jim Harbaugh return to Michigan? The question is: Why wouldn't a guy who grew up the son of a Michigan assistant coach and who played for and idolized Bo Schembechler return to Michigan--to a fanbase that believes in him, to his childhood home, to family?