Friday, November 17, 2006

The Wolverine That Roared

So long, coachI have to interrupt Ohio State Hate Week to say a few words about today's sad news.

Bo Schembechler came to Michigan two years before I was born and coached his last game a few months after I began taking classes at UM (remedial algebra, but that's another story).

We all know the basics of what happened in those amazing years between 1969 and 1989: how he revived a wavering Michigan football program, how he ramped up the greatest rivalry in college football against his old mentor Woody Hayes, and how, along the way, he became the winningest football coach in what is now the winningest football program in all of college athletics. We know that, to those who knew him personally, the gruff, combative coach off the field was as generous and loyal a man as they ever knew.

And yet in all that time, I never attended one of Bo's games, and I never met the man. But that doesn't mean I don't have my own personal memories of him. (To a Michigan fan, it's all personal.) For example, I'm old enough to remember the warm early autumn Saturdays playing in the leaves while my mother worked in the yard and hearing the voice of Bob Ufer on WJR calling the Michigan games, honking his horn whenever Bo and the boys scored. I remember watching Rose Bowls with my father (who would have to watch his language when we lost another one). In fact, in those years, Michigan went to the Rose Bowl so often my childish mind didn't understand it wasn't our right to be there; Bo's teams went out and earned all those trips to Pasadena.

So I've been a Michigan fan since I measured my age in single digits. (I probably knew the words to The Victors before I knew the national anthem.) Not the type of obsessive fan who remembers every win and loss, every final score, every player from every year, or even watches every single game. Not like that. But inside, I always felt "Michigan" and, thanks to my parents, when I was of college age I got to be Michigan.

Now, with Bo gone, it's hard for me as a Catholic to try to relate God to football. The more seriously religious among us would chastise me and tell me God doesn't care about football games. The atheist would agree in his way: "If God existed, of all the things he'd care about... football?"

They'd both be right. But sometimes I'm still inclined to think cosmically. The timing of Bo's death means something. I don't know what. Maybe it means Michigan loses this Game of the Century, this Football Armageddon tomorrow, and Bo didn't want to stick around to see his already weak heart broken.

Or maybe the crafty, fiercely loyal old coach wanted to give the football team he loved and to whom he meant so much an extra motivation, an edge to push them over the hump to this most important of victories in a long and storied line of them.

That's what I'd like to think. Even if God doesn't care about Michigan football, I do.

Hail to the victors. Hail to Bo.