(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
Would be a whole lot easier to get up had they won, right?
Tomorrow's Friday Fun will be in color. Might be fun.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.
I know that there have been several threads through the years on what those of us who attended the University Of Michigan did the moment we received the letter saying that we were in, but I thought I might devote a diary to the details of my own experience.
I began collecting applications and starting applications for colleges towards the end of my junior year of high school in 1995. I had my ACT and SAT results by then which, in combination with my GPA, was well above the published minimums for acceptance into Michigan at the time, but that was no guarantee in itself. There was an essay as well, not to mention the thousands of other kids doing and thinking the same thing that I was, wanting to be at the same school that I did.
During the summer of 1995, I was very explicit with my parents about my wishes – I would go to Michigan if accepted. Living 15 minutes from the campus of a world-class institution is a distinct advantage that not everyone has, and it would also allow me to feed my addiction to Michigan athletics uninterrupted for the most part. I grew up watching Michigan teams on TV and in person, and now the opportunity to attend Michigan was real and near to me.
My parents were afraid that I was limiting myself, and even though I applied to 20 different schools simply to hedge my bets (this is what happens when you grow up with statistics too), they would bring home more applications. They would bring home recommendations from co-workers. At one point, I had the application materials from perhaps three-quarters of the Division I football schools at the time, as well as Ivy League and even some European schools.
Nearly all of these applications required an essay of some sort (I steered away from a lot of schools that simply require the application and test results – I wanted to show them who I was), and here’s where I did something that probably no one should do – the essay I wrote was intended for my Michigan application. With minor alterations, I made it fit for the other schools to which I mailed applications (I still have many of them on disks actually), but everything about the application adventure was betting on my chances at getting into Michigan. In essence, if it was not Michigan, the essay was in effect a canned reply and by far the most personal form letter ever written by me.
After a flurry of application activity in August and September of 1995, there was little to do but wait. There were no electronic facilities that would have made this easier sadly, save for the essay, written on my trusty Mac Quadra. In the middle of September, replies began to roll in – I was accepted at NYU, USC, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Columbia and quite a few schools of note. Of course, my parents would not have been able to even hope to help me with the expenses if I went to the West Coast or to a place like Columbia. In reality, about 15 of the 20 applications were non-starters for financial reasons even if I had been accepted.
I waited for Michigan’s reply anxiously. A few more came in the first half of October, including one from Illinois. By the week of the 23rdof October, I was starting to think that this was not happening, and on a very cold and very damp Tuesday, I opened the mailbox as I always did on the way into the house after school, and lo and behold, there was a very large envelope from the University Of Michigan.
At that point, it was one of two things in my admittedly cynical mind – either a letter of acceptance and some welcome-type materials, or the single most detailed rejection in the history of rejections. Either way, I ran up the driveway and into the house, leaving my car idling at the end of the driveway with the driver door open in the middle of a fall shower.
Nervously, I searched for the letter opener in my dad’s desk. Failing in this search, I opened the packet with the only thing I could find – the pizza cutter. A few good, hard rolls and I was in – quite literally, as I read the letter. I was going to Michigan.
I stacked the other items in the packet on the kitchen counter, as for now, I knew what I needed to know. I ran back outside, past my car – still sitting there, blocking the driveway – and did a short celebratory run to the end of the street. I had worked hard to keep good grades and I had numerous AP classes to my credit, but I was going to a place I wanted to go. Indeed, I still have the letter as it meant that much.
By this time, my father was coming up the street, greeted by his son running around and a car blocking his driveway. I managed to get back to my car as he pulled in behind it. I still remember the exchange clearly.
“What the hell is going on?”, he said as he rolled down the window.
“I got into Michigan, dad!”, I said.
Unannounced, he gets out of the car, proceeded to hug me, and then gets right back in the car.
“So, what’s next for you?”, he asked.
“I don’t know. I have so many people I want to tell!”
“Are you going to be driving to their houses to tell them?”, he asked.
A strange question, I thought. Then it dawned on me. I got back in my now soaked car and pulled up into my normal spot in the driveway as my father wheeled into the garage.
It was a day that affected the course of my life, and even though it has now been nearly eighteen years since that day, I still remember the day I was officially told that I was accepted at Michigan as one of the happiest of my life.
The day started with a present.
Well, two actually.
I was in Lexington, Kentucky Friday night for my daughter's
Sunday graduation from the University of Kentucky (but still a UM fan, her room is decorated with Michigan Daily articles about Wolverine wins) and Sunday derby at Churchill Downs.
I was watching the Tigers-Chisox game on my laptop, through the slingbox, getting more and more sleepy, one on for the Tigers in the bottom of the 9th, trailing 4-3 when I closed it up and set it down on the floor and crashed.
I woke up Saturday morning, picked up the laptop and turned it back on. In a series of jerky pictures, the Tiger batter swung and the right fielder ran toward the wall and – the picture froze.
Damn, that looked like a home run! Better check ESPN.com.
The first present: “OSU recruit decommits over sex offender” is one of the top links on the home page. Gotta click thru on that one!
Must be a follow up on Ace's Friday story about the registered sex offender, pictured with three recruits on a trip to Columbus. The guy who followed up with tweets to the recruits.
Sure enough, it is. The one of the three who had actually committed, un-committed.
You can't make it up. What parent won't feel confident sending their precious son into Urban Meyer's care now.
When I clicked over to the Tiger game result, I found out the ball was, indeed, a walk off home run.
* ** ** *
This was my second Derby; the first being 1986, back in my
drinking days. I remember starting the day caressing the commode, worshipping at the altar of the porcelain goddess, or whatever they call it these days. And feeling terminally hungover for hours.
Then trying to cure that with a mint julep, which tastes like the last five times you got sick all mixed together in a souvenir glass full of sugar.
This time would be more fun.
Both graduating daughter and her older sister (three UM degrees) had already left with their Mom. At 3:30 a.m., as, in the morning. As in, arrive at the track at 5:00 a.m.
The gates do not open until eight. But, having learned from the veteran Joe, here for his 36th consecutive Derby, that, this is what you do when you are on the infield and want to be right at the fence for the races.
Which we were.
I was in the second shift, with a couple of friends who made the trip for the first time.
My wife and daughters had done the same drill last year, so they had firmed up the plans with Joe, where to park, who was running to the third turn corner to stake out our territory, et cetera.
I drove the hour and a half into Louisville. Part of the time, my friends were reading something to me out of the paper about the race. About which, I had studied not at all.
Go through the names for me, I said.
Horse owners have to register a name, which has to be unique.
Can't have another Secretariat running around out there. Only one name on the list stuck out for me.
“I'll Have Another.”
The old tapes came up again, back at Animal House, back in the day.
So much fun.
So many adventures with T-Bird and Nanook of the North, the Yooopers. One in med school, out of high school, back when UM had that program, the other, headed for law school.
The painful battle for the med student who washed out, then out of the marriage to his high school sweetheart after two daughters and a son, and all the arrests and job losses and illnesses and injuries and disapperances interspersed among stretches of clean time.
Then the long expected word. October, 2011. Congestive heart failure, the email said. Yeah, the ex-wife said, it is easier to take as a cause of death than the truth.
The lawyer was dry for a long time, couple of decades, I think.
I knew something was up, but not exactly what. He returned to the Upper Peninsula after law school; but had not returned my occasional phone calls.
I googled his name to tell him T-Bird was gone, and found a story of him in court for stealing client money.
Then, another email from the med student's ex. The lawyer was gone too. December 1. C.O.D. also called “congestive heart failure.”
I'll have another.
So, figured I would bet $2.00 to win, for each dead friend.
We found our way to the area of the Louisville, uh, sorry, Papa
John, football stadium.
Headed toward the track, we thought.
Saw three young ladies, with the requisite hats, and asked them which way to the horses.
We're not sure, said they.
We're Northwestern students.
I pointed to the maize M on by blue baseball cap.
Well, we got to the one gate that allowed entry with chairs and
coolers, just as the second (of 13, the Derby being #11) races, concluded, which we gleaned from cell phone contact with the advance party inside.
What a throng.
All ages, all sizes, all shapes.
We could barely see the entry gate, as the line started at the
intersection some distance away.
Well, that is, one of the lines.
There appreared to be a feeder stream aimed directly at the gate,
a couple hundred feet from the intersection where we stood. We had to make a 90 degree right turn to get in.
And, another line aimed right at us, which had to make the corresponding 90 degree turn to their left to get through.
When I say line, I don't mean, line. I mean, at least 3,000 people proceeding at an undiscernable pace. The guy next to us said he had already been waiting 2 hours.
And the morning thunderstorms had given way to a blazing hot sun.
Just to make things perfect, two small groups of fanatics bracketed the feeder stream with homophobic conclusions yelled through megaphones, which were a mere sidelight from the signs, and exhortations to keep your women at home, ironing and washing dishes, and, not talking.
A continuous tirade delineating all the ways we were going to hell. The crowd reaction varied and cycled through catcalls and derisive
responses all the way to pre-riot tension.
Constables were there to preserve order.
There were, however, no race officials of any description advising of
the precise procedures required to get in to the track. Nor was anyone making any attempt to organize the lines, steer them in any direction, say, well, anything, like, cash only for infield admission, no ticket needed..
I've never seen anything like it.
Later we figured the early storms and rain forecast had caused folks
to leave later.
One elderly lady plunked down in her unfolded chair right in front of us. Her assumed husband looked 85 if he was a day. Someone produced a water bottle, and we wondered what they were doing here.
This was a half hour into our wait, and we had progressed less than 50 feet.
Every few minutes, the old lady would rise, the old man would scoot the chair forward a few inches, and the old lady would sit down again.
Of course, they were being passed left and right by others in the crowd as we were pressed in behind them.
Next thing I know, she is smoking a cigarette.
End of my sympathy.
Next time I look up, she has scooted ten feet ahead of me, the
other side of a big trash bin.
An elderly gentleman to my left tries to toss his empty beverage
container into the bin, and, overshooting his target, hits her right in the ass.
There is a God.
I made a reconnaissance trip around the back of the feeder stream that led to the gate, and someone official, who advised everyone was steered through the security checks, before they could get to the gate, whether the credit windows, or the cash gates.
Ah, I at least now know something.
Turning around, I cannot help but notice that the megaphone wielding fanatic on this side, screaming about sinners, must weigh in at a minimum of 350 pounds.
I resist the urge to inquire of him whether gluttony isn't still one of the seven deadly sins.
Making my way back to my friends, I passed next to a Buckeye going the other way. In full game regalia, hat, jersey, buckeye nut necklace.
I doubted anyone had read him the sex offender story yet, so I just said, Hi!.
Momentarily stupefied by the depth of my two letter remark, or maybe the UM hat, or, maybe the combination, he mumbled Go Bucks.
As we made the turn, now a mere first down from the destination, I executed the plan for me to cut through to buy us three tickets, while my friends checked the coolers and chairs.
As soon as I was out of sight, which was not far, all the security guards jumped up on tables or whatever and started taking pictures of everyone.
Then they all yelled: No more checking! Again and again and again. Having waited nearly two hours to be checked, it took the crowd a
while to absorb the impact of this announcement.
I continued with the strategy, pulling out $150 cash for 3 tickets, ony to be told, there are: no tickets. Each person pays $50, which is shoved into a box, and slides through the turnstile.
Interesting skimming possiblities there. How do you verify the attendance count?
However, my immediate problem was to get back from the place that had been my goal for, forever, and find my friends.
I found them, told them I would go in first, and pay for them from inside.
A female officer gently told me I could not stand next to the cash box behind the ticket taker. Uh, that is, money grabber.
I stated that sounded like a rule that made enormous sense and she took the $100 bill to pay for my friends when they finally got to the front.
Now, make the cell call to my oldest daughter to advise that we were finally in the building.
She met us at the other end of the tunnel that goes under the track from the entrance.
Now, if people watching is your thing, you have to do the Derby.
Six foot eight guys dressed in full jockey uniforms, cap, silks, riding boots.
People in all sorts of horse outfits. People is suits, puking on the grass. People exhibiting all the symptoms of a closed head injury. People with “Derby Virgin” buttons taking ten minutes to make a bet at the window. The Mayor of the infield.
And so on.
We finally arrived at our seats after the 6th race.
Hey, I was not going to bet much anyway.
Saw Joe the Derby veteran napping with his exposed belly, which I
perceived to be crying out for an ice cube from the cooler. I sated this desire as quietly as possible, so as not to wake up the rest of his body.
It must be told he was wearing his MSU hat.
He looked great, considering he is fighting the big C.
We swapped sports stories and tried to avoid the drunks, one of
whom was leering at my soon to graduate daughter. Too bad she can't show him some of the targets from her trips to the gun range.
When you go to the Derby, all your friends give you money to place their gets. My wife has developed an ingenious system for placing the various bets the races.
You get a blank envelope, write the number of the race, your bet, the amount, and the horse's number on the outside, and put the exact change for the bet inside the envelope.
Whoever runs to the window, then puts the betting slip in the appropriate envelope, and all is done quickly, and, the records are in order.
I had stuck a preview of the race, in my gear, and had read it during the tortuos wait outside.
I determined to go with Gemoligist with perfectas and trifectas and whatever.
I then had $10 left, so put $2 on the 8th, 9th and 10th races on the choices one of our group who had been picking winners.
That left $4, of my small budget, which I put on I'll Have Another, the big underdog, to win, remembering my earlier decision.
On my last trip, in 1986, from the same vantage point, you could see the horses round the turn, but it took awhile to find out the results, because the noise in the infield overwhelms the stadium announcer.
Now, they have a large video screen across the track, so you can see all of the race, including the finish.
Son of a gun, I'll Have Another pulls it off.
In memorium, T-Bird and Nanook.
Well, I've been busy. I had plans to write this but spring break and a deep NCAA Tournament run by my favorite team got in the way. So after the Final Four (and a week of depression) I decided I better write this again. Well it turns out I find watching 10 hours of Masters coverage every day more entertaining than, well, anything. Then it was back to school, and two weeks later, I still hadn't written anything. So after several hours of procrastination, here I sit, finally writing that ever elusive diary. But it's great to be back.
You may be thinking "Ugh, he's going to skip over all of that great stuff that happened", and to that, as Lee Corso would say, I give a "Not so fast my friend" in your general direction. Because even though I might have been gone, I might have been down, but I was not out. No, not even close. You see, I have been observing. Very closely in fact. These are my observations. Maybe a tad late, yes, but these can only get better with age. Fittingly, they will be called "Observations on The Game". I feel like David Hartley right now, writing a philosophical narrative about one man's cunning observations. Except these aren't exactly cunning, nor are they going to change philosophy forever. This is a stream of consciousness. About a game. And it just might be one of the best we will ever see.
Observations on The Game:
I sat in my seat and prepared myself for the game of a lifetime.
Michigan vs Louisville for the national championship. It did not get any better than this. I expected great things, but little did I know that the spectacle that was about to appear in front of me would be one of the greatest games in the modern era of basketball. The fans were great. The atmosphere was electric.
The game started, and it was an epic, back and forth affair. Then a small kid that can shoot the lights out decided to get hot. Michigan's back up point guard Spike Albrecht made 4/4 threes in the first half, finishing with 17 points at the break in relief of star point guard Trey Burke, who had to sit with 2 fouls. Spike's performance was inspiring, and raised a chorus of "Who the heck is this kid?" from the Louisville fans in my section.
Louisville tried everything they could to stop Spike. But he's an Indiana kid. "Hoosiers" is probably his favorite movie. He was unheralded He was unappreciated He was just a freshman. But on the big stage in the big dance everyone is equal. And Spike proved he belonged there.
Louisville was out of sorts. They were getting beaten in every way possible. Their coach Rick Pitino called a timeout with about 3:40 left in the half. Whatever he said in that huddle must have worked. Because Louisville's Luke Hancock looked at what Spike just did, and said to himself "I can do that". He did just that, and with Louisville down 12, with 3:00 to go in the first half made a three.
And then on the next possession, made another. And on the next trip down made another.
Michigan called a timeout, came out of it, and missed a shot. Louisville took it down, gave it to Hancock, who just wildly heaved it up from about 28 feet out. It was an off balance, one footed, going away from his dominant side, shoulder heave. From where I stood, I had a perfect line on this shot. My mouth slowly fell open in awe as the ball arched on a perfect trajectory towards the hoop, going through with a perfect swoosh. That's a 12 point lead eliminated by one player in four possessions in less than 2 minutes on 4 shots. Utter. Pandemonium.
Michigan managed to take a one point halftime lead. It didn't feel like a lead thought. The look on the faces of Michigan fans were that of fans whose team was down 20. But it felt like that. Everyone in that building knew that there was a storm coming in the second half. But there was an air of anticipation Because that was the greatest first half of basketball I had ever seen, and I couldn't even begin to fathom what the second half had in store.
This epic back and forth battle between these two heavyweights continued into the second half. This was Ali vs Foreman. This was The Rumble in Downtown Atlanta. These teams were trading blows, and it was only a matter of time before one of them would become the knockout punch. Michigan took an early lead, and then Louisville, and then Michigan, and then Louisville again. This was the type of game you never wanted to end. Just two teams of athletes at their physical and mental best giving everything they had and then some at the pursuit of a National Championship. That's what it was, and everyone in that building that night knew it.
This was the most beautiful thing until just over 5 minutes left in the second half. Michigan had just cut Louisville's lead down to three, and there was a buzz in the building. Was the momentum going to switch back Michigan's way? Could Michigan, the youngest team in the tournament, pull this win off? All they needed was a spark. Both teams had some momentum when Spike Albrecht missed a layup and Louisville forward Chase Behanan grabbed the rebound. He looked and found Louisville guard Peyton Siva streaking alone in the open court. The pass was perfect and Siva started to glide in for a layup. Michigan guard Trey Burke was the only one in the vicinity, he slowed a bit to time his leap.
With 5 minutes to go in a national title game, you don't concede uncontested layups. Burke and Siva both leaped at the same time, Burke on the inside, closest to the basket. This all seemed to happen in slow motion to me. Burke extended his left hand as far as he could, grabbed the ball, and pressed it against the glass. What. A. Play!
Almost the moment he did this, a short, shrill noise erupted from near the sideline.
The whistle of a referee. At the same time, a Michigan player grabbed the rebound, and looked to start a fast break going in the other direction, because according to him, and most of the stadium, this was the spark that Michigan needed. This game was theirs for the taking. Except for that whistle.
Trey Burke had just made the best play of his incredible career. And this is what it looked like in the play by play:
Foul on Trey Burke
5: 09 Foul on Trey Burke. Foul on Trey Burke. Foul.
Trey Burke couldn't believe it. His reaction is exactly that of someone that knows he has been robbed of possibly the most athletic and greatest play of his career.
I knew it. The Michigan bench knew it. Their coach John Beilein knew it. The crowd knew it, and immediately erupted into boos.
Peyton Siva silenced those boos with two free throws, pushing the Louisville lead to 5, a lead that they would not relinquish. Another Luke Hancock three made it a 10 point game, but like they did all year, and all tournament long, Michigan fought back, pulling it to 4 points with 1:20 remaining. But they were unable to get that clutch bucket to turn it into a real nail-biter, and a key turnover sealed the deal for Louisville, who after some free throws won 82-76.
Walking off the court while confetti that could have been for you rains down and another team celebrates a victory has to be one of the worst feelings in the world.
The way the teams celebrated were total opposites, as one would expect. For Michigan, it was a solemn handshake between coach John Beilein and freshman forward Mitch McGary.
For the players it was a simple hug. No words are needed.
For Louisville, it was a time for celebration, for rejoicing, for joy. It was time to cut down the nets. The hoop was lowered so that Kevin Ware, a sophomore guard who broke his leg in Louisville's Elite Eight game could cut down the final strand.
They truly won that game for Kevin Ware. They stood for endless pictures, posing with various signs, and of course, the National Championship Trophy.
When Louisville coach Rick Pitino finally made his way off the court to go celebrate with his players and conduct all of the necessary interviews, he flashed one last sign of victory to the remaining crowd. He formed his hand into a "L" and held it there for a minute before finally succumbing to a wash of security, fans, and reporters who were all pushing him towards the exit.
This was truly a game for the ages.
Something about this game's finish was melancholy for me when it ended. As I sat there, surrounded by some fans who had tears of joy in their eyes, others had tears of sadness. In front of me, as confetti streamed down from the rafters, I came to a stark realization. This is the only time I would ever see something like this ever again. If this epic of a game had happened in the NBA, both teams would simply resign everyone to a contract, and there was a good chance that this same matchup would happen again next year. But this is college basketball. This will never happen again. I'd seen Trey Burke's last game in college. I'm am very confident that he will have a long and extremely successful NBA career, but there was something magical about that night. This is what makes college basketball so painful, but so beautiful. The rosters are always changing, the game is always evolving. This is what makes it great, but for once, I wish I could have a time machine, so I could go back and see them play this game again. Not because I didn't like the result the first time, but because it was such a beautiful battle between two teams who left everything they had on the court. That was a game that even Hollywood couldn't have scripted. But we must move on from the past. Michigan is losing 7 players from that roster, Louisville only 1 (they have a TON of juniors). But for about 3 hours in downtown Atlanta, time seemed to stand still. There was nothing going on in the world except a duel to the death between two opponents on a basketball court. It was beautiful. It was a work of art.
Football commentators regularly talk up the value of the bye week or a big early season game for the opportunity to add extra preparation from a coach staff. This week I dug into the data to see how much of an effect bye weeks and openers had on team performance and which coaches are the best and worst at using the bonus time to their advantage.
As usual, I looked at all FBS games from 2003-2012. If a team played an FCS opponent as an opener or after a bye week it wasn’t included but it wasn’t treated as a bye for the next week’s game, either. I compared how each teams EV+ (points better/worse than an average team would have done, opponent adjusted) was in openers and post-bye versus how they did overall for that season. I then assigned those numbers to the head coach and looked at how head coaches have done, under the assumption that any strengths or weaknesses under these conditions would be more coach than program. So Brady Hoke is evaluated from Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan.
Over nearly 1500 post bye week games evaluated, a small benefit did emerge. The average team performs 1 point better post bye week than in regular weeks. 53% of teams performed better than their expected based on full season performance. The data closely matches a normally distributed outcome with an average benefit of 1 point and a standard deviation of 11.5 points.
Distribution of points versus average for post bye week games
Openers were about a wash. The typical team performs about 0.2 points worse than expected in openers. Openers feature a lot more variables than just extra preparation time. The standard deviation for opening games is the highest of any week during the regular season (but lower than bowl games). That variance is pretty low however. Teams have the most deviation from their season average in week one (11.9 points) but the low point has a deviation within 1 point (11.0) that occurs during week one. So teams are most likely to have an outlier game in week one or for their bowl but overall, most weeks have a pretty similar level of deviation.
To see how current Big Ten coaches have done, I looked at their track records for both openers and after a bye week to see who has done the most and least in each situation. The bubbles are color coded based on the team and all of the reds are team coded because there are too many red teams in the Big Ten.
Positive numbers are good and bubble size indicates sample size
Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz have both been able to start the year off strong with strong opening performances. New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen along with small sample size guys Bill O’Brien and
Curtis Kyle Flood both have the best results after a bye week. Coach Hoke’s openers have been mildly below average but his bye weeks have been the most productive of any coach with a larger number of games. Urban Meyer has seen his results after bye weeks on the other end with his squads playing 3.6 points per game worse than they do in a normal week.
Other Notable Coaches
Openers on the x-axis and post bye week on the y-axis
Charlie Weis has seen his career reflect his seasons at Notre Dame. A first season/game that was significantly better than what happens afterwards. I guess his decided schematic advantage expires after one week. Barry Alvarez is apparently the king of the bye week as his teams turned 3 bye weeks under him into a +21 advantage, even after accounting for opponent and team strength. Joe Paterno was the opposite case. His Penn St teams played over two touchdowns worse after a bye week. Mack Brown and Jim Tressel also had teams that have found bye weeks to be counter-productive. The only entry several points worse on both standards was GERG Robinson during his tenure at Syracuse. LLoyd Carr’s openers were never great, even when The Horror is excluded but his teams where some of the best coming off of a bye week.
As always, let me know about any request for off-season material you would like to see.
I thought I might share some background on my first experiences with deep dives into MGoCulture, if you will.
It began in the early 1980s on an unassuming street in Northville, and it began with a 1977 Ford Econoline and its owner –both pictured on this page for the University Of Michigan Club Of Greater Northville (LINK). I spent many hours, when I was a wee lad, sitting in this van as it sat in a driveway wondering what it would be like to be at a Michigan game before I actually went to my first one in 1985.
Lou was our next door neighbor, and his daughters babysat me and my sisters quite often, so we spent an awful lot of time at their house. Actually, we even spent mornings before school there once in a while, waiting for the bus, whenever my parents had to go into work especially early. I was in elementary school, and like so many kids in southeast Michigan, I was a Michigan fan, but I suppose at the time that I didn’t know what this meant precisely. Lou knew in meticulous detail, and it still impacts my life to this day.
Most of their house was similar to the colonials around it (including ours). At the time, most of us on the street had not graduated from 1970s décor, so browns and burnt sienna were not uncommon, and linoleum floors ruled the day along with the odd shag carpet. There was one room in that house next door that was an aberration, but a beautiful aberration – the office.
I still remember first stepping into that office and being awestruck – if it had a block “M” on it, or Bo’s likeness (even Bump’s likeness, as Lou went to school mostly during Elliott’s tenure) or if it was simply Michigan-related, it was in there. There was a board on one wall with dollar bills signed by names as diverse as Dan Dierdorf, Reggie McKenzie, Don Canham and even Bennie Oosterbaan. It was just dollar bills, but also signed photos, a few game balls from different decades, pennants and so on. Even though he likely had better things to do than explain all of these things to me, that is precisely what Lou did – the beginnings of my knowledge of MGoHistory and MGoCulture begin in that office just off the kitchen of the house next door.
Lou taught me “The Victors”, and not just the chorus. He even taught us “The Yellow And The Blue” and even let us attempt to play these songs on the organ in his living room. Actually, when we came over to the house sometimes, we would be quizzed on our MGoKnowledge. He took his self-imposed role as the neighborhood purveyor of all things Michigan quite seriously, and I know he still does even now. When I find myself buying MGoGear and supplying MGoTrivia to my niece and nephew, as well as my kids and my meighbors, I know exactly who I am channeling.
The Michigan flag flew proudly on the flagpole in Lou’s front garden. When the pole was ripped from the ground and thrown into the street by a June 1983 storm, it was actually the first thing that was replaced. Not even nature would prevent Michigan from reigning supreme over Morgan Circle. I watched as he installed the new pole, saying not a word, and at the end of that back-breaking day, in a ceremony to which we were all invited, the new Michigan flag (the old one was never found after the storm) went up with a “Go Blue!” and then some grilled delights on his back porch. He was dedicated to his university, and I think I picked that up as well, for the first thing that goes up every game day is the flag.
I don’t think I ever told him, and maybe I should this season as I walk past Edgewood and Snyder, where he tailgates more often than not, but I credit him primarily with starting me down the path that made me not just a knowledgeable Michigan fan, but a proud alum and MGoFanatic. Indeed, there are times on MGoBlog when, in the middle of a post, I stop to ask myself how Lou would respond.
Like many on this board, I come from a family that has Michigan ties from within as well, but when I think about who inspired this level of fandom and who inspired me to want to be part of that culture, I think of that house next door to ours in Northville and its resident Wolverine.