I remember waking up on Saturday mornings in the 70’s and 80’s, hearing the distant sounds of the Michigan Marching Band as they practiced for the day’s halftime show. I had no appreciation then for how talented they were, or how lucky I was to have access to a season ticket in a stadium that boasted seats for 101,701 crazed football fans.
The Michigan vs. Ohio State game was always heavily anticipated by Ann Arborites — a focal point of every fall. It never occurred to me that there were people anywhere who didn’t look forward to toe-freezing, windy, sometimes rainy and snowy November days on Stadium Boulevard with the passion and fervor that we did. No question; that’s what you did on Saturday afternoons. It just… was.
While I can’t say that I have followed the ins and outs of Michigan football as an adult (I realize this horrifies my parents and my brothers; I’m sorry) I do remember many specific details from that glorious era. Bob Ufer’s emotional and hilarious radio color commentary, Rick Leach’s team leadership, Ali Haji-Sheikh’s clutch field goal kicks, the thrill of Anthony Carter’s many physically impossible, magnificent catches and subsequent game-winning sprints into the endzone, the emotional rush of being part of an excited, sometimes overzealous crowd.
My sports-fan energy is largely focused on the Boston Red Sox these days, but my roots are in Michigan football, as a freezing cold kid equipped with hand warmers and a wool hat, sitting in Section 20, Row 56. I didn’t really get the nuances of the game, but I understood the thrill of the competition, the commitment of the team, and the level of excellence.
Mom and Dad went condo a couple of years ago, and landed right next door to Bo. They had known each other for years, but it has been fun to visit them in their new house knowing that The Man was right next door. He was a friendly neighbor, often stopping to chat in the driveway. He offered my parents a VIP parking pass so they wouldn’t have to walk through the crowds to get to the football games that they rarely attend anymore. He even volunteered to help around the house, telling my mom that he could “still get around pretty good.”
I urge anyone who appreciates great writing and/or loves the college football tradition to read Mitch Albom’s article, issued today at 3:00 AM. He wrote Bo’s biography back in 1989. They knew each other well. Mitch was one of my favorite writers long before he hit it big with his wonderful book Tuesdays with Morrie — his Detroit Free Press sports columns were almost always my first-must-read at the breakfast table before trudging off to school back in the early 80’s. He has a rare talent for hitting raw emotional nerves, using clean, simple language. This article is a beautiful tribute to a man who lived his life with intensity and loyalty; passion and purpose.
I can’t say I’m a dedicated, knowledgeable football fan — my brothers would laugh at me if I did — but Bo’s death has affected me in a way that surprises me a little. It’s a personal loss for my parents, of course. But Michigan football was a prominent part of my childhood and adolescence. Those games were dominant topics of conversation at school and around the family dinner table for as long as I can remember. Bo’s death puts another chunk of that era squarely in the past.
Go Blue, and rest in peace, Mr. Schembechler.