WARNING: long post
THE BOYS OF SPRING
This is a story of and from the 1976 UM baseball season.
First, a little history.
Michigan baseball has a long tradition, being the oldest varsity sport, all the way back to that perfect 1866 team.
Which was 3 and 0.
Even winning two national titles, in 1953
"1953 University of Michigan baseball team (national champions)" by Rentschler's Studio (Ann Arbor, Mich.) - Bentley Historical Library, Item BBT1953 -- http://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhl/x-bbt1953/bbt1953. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1953_University_of_Michigan_baseball_team_(national_champions).jpg#/media/File:1953_University_of_Michigan_baseball_team_(national_champions).jpg
The 1961 team won the Big Ten title, the first since the 1953 National Championship team, with sophomore Bill Freehan leading the way, but did not make it to the College World Series.
After Freehan left to be a Tigers Bonus Baby, the 1962 team finished second in the conference, but won the College World Series.
Don Lund then left as manager for another job in the athletic department and Milbry (Moby) Benedict took over as manager until 1979.
Though his teams finished second in 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971 and 1973, and third place five other seasons, Moby's teams did not win the Big Ten title until 1975, Michigan's first since the 1961 Freehan team.
The 1975 team finished 28 and 12 overall, 13 and 3 in the conference, losing the NCAA regional final in Ypsilanti 2-1 to a loaded Eastern Michigan team, featuring Bob Welch and Bob Owchinko on the pitching staff, future Tiger Pat Sheridan in the outfield, and two more future major leaguers.
1975 MVP starting pitcher Mark Weber returned, but #2 man Chuck Rogers was off to the pros and #3 starter Craig Forhan was off to UM law school.
The 1976 team was shooting for UM's first back-to-back conference baseball titles since 1944-45.
Following the 1976 season, Weber was named co-MVP with fellow starter Lary Sorensen, a junior, who entered the year with a 7 and 6 career record, and left after the season as a Milwaukee Brewers 8th round draft pick.
It was: “Sorensen and Weber and pray for bad weather”, along the lines of “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.”
After the pair of Boston Brave starters went 8 and 0 over a 12 day span in early September, 1948, a newspaperman wrote:
First we'll use Spahn
then we'll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.
In the 1970s, Big Ten baseball scheduled conference doubleheaders on weekends, all 7 inning games. MSU was our travel partner, and Indiana was paired with Ohio.
Except, to close the season, we played single 9 inning games, home and home with MSU.
Games might be Friday- Saturday, or Saturday-Sunday, but, if the first date rained out, that was it, the visiting team moved on to the next town for the next day's doubleheader.
If the second date rained out, those games could be made up the following day.
The conference campaign commenced at perennial contender Minnesota, featuring All American shortstop Paul Molitor, with hard luck Weber losing the opener 1 – 0, dropping UM to 8 wins and 9 losses on the season.
Sorenson came on to win the nightcap, surrendering no runs, though the Gophers outhit the Wolverines 10 to 6.
On to baseball power Iowa.
UM struck for 14 runs in the opener for an easy 14 – 3 win, and Sorenson picked up another victory in relief in the 8 – 7 nightcap, for a sweep.
Michigan had home games scheduled the weekend of May 1 with Purdue and Illinois, but got in only one game, a 9 to 1 Weber win against Purdue.
Ohio State rolled into town on Saturday, May 8 for two scheduled games, Weber to start the first and Sorensen the second.
Michigan entered the weekend leading second place Iowa by ½ game.
Weber pitched a complete game, walking only one, striking out 3, allowing one earned run on 7 hits.
But the offense produced zero runs on three hits, and Ohio won 2 to 0.
Sorensen entered the nightcap with 6 wins and no losses for the season.
He walked two, struck out two, also gave up one earned run, on only 4 hits, yet Michigan blew a 2 nothing lead, and the game was tied at 2 going into the home half of the 7th.
Third baseman Dave Chapman (BA .309) opened the frame with a line single. Sub Chris Martucci was inserted as a pinch runner.
Second basemen Dick Walterhouse (BA ..328) sacrificed Martucci to second.
After designated hitter Bill Haslerig (BA ..307,yes, Clint's younger brother) was retired, cleanup batter Rick Leach (team leading BA .377) was walked.
First baseman “Boomer” Wasilewski (BA .248, but team leading 23 walks) was down in the count, one ball, two strikes, when he blasted a double over the left fielder's head, and his third game winning hit of the season.
Michigan wins, 3 – 2, running its conference record to 5 and 2, still good enough for first, over 8 and 4 Iowa, and Ohio's 5 and 3, going into Sunday's games with Indiana.
Wayne DeNeff covered baseball for the Ann Arbor News, and closed his story with:
“Michigan coach Moby Benedict hasn't had much luck trying to find third and fourth starters but has a couple of pretty good arms in sophomores Bill Stennet and Crag McGinnis and they're the likely starters against Indiana today.
“It would be a good time for them to get going” said the Michigan coach.”
Bill did start game one, and Wasilewski picked up where he left off, crashing a two run homer in the first inning, which turned out to be his fourth game winning hit of the year.
Stennet pitched into the 7th, when Weber relieved him after the inning started with 3 straight singles, for the only run the Hoosiers scored.
Weber threw 7 straight strikes to get the save; Stennet gave up only two hits and a walk in the first six innings, for his first and only conference win of the year.
So who would start game two?
McGinnis had only won Big Ten win, and that was over the Hawkeyes the second day of the conference season.
Like most Michigan athletes, Sorensen dreamed of being a major leaguer as long as he could remember.
But he put all that on the line, risking his arm, and his future, by telling Moby he could start again on Sunday, even after he pitched a 7 inning complete game Saturday.
The Wolverine bats finally came through, with a 6 run first inning, and 11 total runs on 15 hits.
Sorensen surrendered 3 runs in the 5th, but that was after an 11 to 1 Wolverine lead.
Moby said the plan was for Sorensen to go 3 or 4 innings, then another pitcher, then Weber, if needed.
He threw another complete game, allowing 4 runs, though only two were earned, to go with 5 hits and 4 walks, striking out 8.
Michigan ended the day 7 and 2 in the conference, ahead of 8 and 4 Iowa and 6 and 4 MSU, who had swept Ohio.
With the comfortable lead, and a true Michigan man pitching, no relief was necessary.
Michigan traveled to Wisconsin-Northwestern the next weekend, but the Badger games were rained out.
Weber's luck finally turned and he beat Northwestern 3-2.
It was Sorenson's turn to pitch well and lose, as UM outhit the Wildcats 4 to 2, but 3 Michigan errors contributed to a 2-1 Northwestern victory.
The next weekend was the home-and-home with the Spartans.
Sorenson again went for his 9th win, which would tie the all time single season record, in the first game at Michigan State, but got hammered 10 to 2.
Nevertheless, the Spartans were eliminated, as Minnesota split with Iowa to end the season at 12 and 6, the only team to actually play all 18 scheduled contests.
A Spartan win over us in the finale would put them at 8 and 4, in a percentage tie for first. They split their season series with the Gophers, but the next tie breaker was total runs scored, head to head, and Minnesota won that, 5 to 1.
In spite of an overall 18 win – 18 loss season, the Wolverines needed only to beat Sparty at home to clinch the conference crown, though MSU would still pass us in the standings if they won.
UM outhit Sparty 11 to 10, and each side made two errors, but Weber won easily, 11 to 3, for his team to repeat as champions with a 9 and 4 Big Ten record.
Sorensen and Weber combined for 7 of those 9 wins, pitching 147 and 1/3 of Michigan's 277 innings overall.
Weber finished the regular season with a win-loss record of 4 and 4, completing 7 of his 9 starts, 42 strikeouts to 21 walks, and a team leading 2.37 ERA.
Sorensen closed at 8 and 2, completing 6 of 11 starts, 46 strikeouts, 29 walks and a 2.64 ERA.
A reliever with less than 16 innings had an ERA of 2.87, and the rest of the staff was 4.50 or higher.
Michigan's 9 and 4 record put Minnesota in second place, ½ game back at 12-6,(38-11 overall record)
Indiana finished 3rd at 10-7, one game back, and Sparty dropped all the way to 4th, at 7-5.
1976 POST SEASON
The NCAA regional was again hosted by Eastern; for reasons known only to himself, Moby declined the opportunity.
Back in the day, there were 32 teams in the NCAA baseball tournament, 8 regional sites with 4 teams each. They usually put one in the Mid-East and one in the North East, the rest usually in the South and West. There was no formula for overall seeding. All the tournaments were double elimination, with the winners meeting in Omaha for the College World Series.
The then Hurons, 46 wins against only 16 losses on the season, (including a 4 – 0 record vs. the Wolverines) again beat us the on the first day, 6 to 0, Sorensen giving up only 5 hits while going all the way, but the Wolves managed only two Jim Berra hits off EMU ace Owchinko, who picked up win #11.
So, Michigan was forced into the loser's bracket on day two.
Weber shut out Southern Illinois , with their NCAA leading .360 batting average, 2 – 0, in the morning game.
After Eastern beat Illinois State, we faced Illinois State in the 3rd game of day two.
Michigan was down 4-2 in the bottom of the 8th, when junior Mark Grenkoski, 1 for 12 at that point in the tournament, smacked his first home run of the year, with two men on for a 5-4 Michigan win, Bill Stennet throwing a complete game.
So, another UM-EMU regional final was set up for day three.
Coming from the loser's bracket at 2-1, we had to sweep 2 and 0 EMU to win the regional, while they only had to beat us once.
As in 1975, we won the rematch, this time, 9 to 3. McGinnis started, but was pulled with one out in the second inning, having surrendered the 3 Huron runs.
Sorensen came in to throw 7 and 2/3 innings of shut out relief, surrendering only two hits, and finally nailing down win number 9.
It was not easy, as the Wolverines scored a run in the 8th to tie the game,and 6 runs in the top of the 9th to force the decisive second game of day three.
Moby came back with Bill Stennet, in spite of the 9 innings he threw just the day before.
Eastern answered with Owchinko, who at least had one day's rest after his shutout of us on Friday.
Their #2 starter, future NL All Star Bob Welch, had also tossed a shutout, on Saturday, but the Wolverines pounded him for 4 runs in less than one inning relief in that 9 to 3 win in the first Sunday game.
Stennet lasted into the 5th, but gave up a walk and 3 consecutive singles. Moby pulled him for Weber, who gave up only one hit, but wild pitched in a run in the 6th. Sorensen came in, again, to throw scoreless 8th and 9th innings, but Owchinko, after two hitting us Friday, three hit us Sunday, and, beat us, again, 6 to zip.
Those were days of the iron men of the mound, no worries about pitch counting.
18 shutout innings for Owchinko, on Friday and Sunday.
For Weber, 9 shutout innings on Saturday, and 3 more innings Sunday, giving up just one run.
For Bob Welch, a shutout Saturday, followed by a 4 run relief stint of less than one inning on Sunday.
And Sorensen. 8 inning complete game loss Friday, 5 hits but 6 runs allowed.
7 and 2/3 2 hit shutout innings for the win Saturday.
And the final two innings of the Wolverines season on Sunday, again, no runs allowed.
1976 did not boast the most talented team, outscoring its opponents overall just 180 runs to 178, hitting only 5 home runs for the entire regular season, and finishing in the middle of the conference in fielding.
But a team with heart, none bigger than the the co- MVPs, Mark Weber, and, Lary Sorenson, the starter who risked his arm and his future, for the team, when he threw back to back complete game victories one weekend in the spring of 1976.
Thanks to Debbie Gallagher of the archives staff at oldnews.org for finding Ann Arbor News stories, with box scores.
<a href="http://imgur.com/JkqGMww"> Limited numbers of posters of, and signed by, Rick Leach, Russell Davis, and Harlan Huckleby, available starting at 10:30 a.m. For the cause of fixing up the house of a boy with a debilitating illness, there is a 401(c)(3) set up, so donations are tax deductible. The location is outside the house next to the M Go Patio, closer to the stadium. Address: 310 Berkley, a/k/a Wolverine Little House next to the old AAA parking lot which is now just landscaped. We have been raising funds at each home game, and hope to go over the top today. picture from the Little House looking towards the Big House:
(and what to be prepared for when you succeed)
Co-authored by K.O.K.Law's oldest daughter
First and foremost, if you are the one who HAS to go to every home game, clear that with your partner. Having a spouse willing to forego going to a game(s) to take a child(ren) to other activities when conflicts arise is essential.
Take them early (age) and often:
Be Prepared: If your 3-year-old wants a better view of the band for the halftime show, be prepared to carry her down and back up to your seats in row 87.
Pro Tip: Keep them comfortable, and they will learn to stay to the end of the every game. And will even make you do so when you think Washington has the game won.
Buy them the right game clothes:
As their passion grows so will their need for accessories (socks, shoes, pompoms, facepaint).
Be Prepared: Their favorites will be YOUR old t-shirts and sweatshirts, be ready to hand them down. If you set the standard of buying them a bowl game shirt for Christmas each year, expect to get yelled at by your 21 and 25 year-old daughters the year you forget (or as you say “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want one”).
Take them to all the sports! Baseball, basketball, hockey, and other games, whenever you can:
- College hockey at the Joe was close for us.
Be Prepared: This is where superstitions start getting serious, they will add to the clothing items they’ve acquired to create lucky outfits - for each sport.
Get a good parking spot:
Be Prepared: You need to park close, as you might have to get the rugrats back right after the game, for their sport or other school or friend function, and/or leave immediately from a morning event to make the kickoff.
Pro Tip: Get your father-in-law’s parking sticker so you can get in and out really fast.
Second Pro Tip: And, if you are lucky enough that your offspring attend U of M, make parking at their ideally located house a condition of you paying their rent.
Buy them all the treats they want at the games. Remember, it was your idea to take them:
Be Prepared: This will turn into “lucky” Lemon Chills & ice cream cones, that they will insist you pay for into their 20s (and beyond).
You might have to give up tailgating (until they’re in college), so they can do things Saturday mornings and evenings. Don’t make the choice between their stuff and U of M football, make the football fit into their lives.
Be Prepared: They may have to change into their homecoming dress (and do their hair and makeup) in the back of the mini-van after a game. You might have to make an emergency make up purchase when your daughter freaks out over forgetting sunblock and now has a big white block M on her cheek from where the facepaint was.
Share and teach the history, tradition, passion, etc:
Play your Ufer CDs and when you do the play by play along with the CD, it will amaze them. Daughter #2 turned to look at me and said, in an even keeled voice, “That’s not normal.” Tell stories about how their grandfather and Canham were buddies, how a U of M AD employee used to reserve a parking spot for Grandpa’s Bud van. Have them read Bacon’s books (and Brandy’s and Angelique’s and all of them).
Be Prepared: They will ask you questions you don’t have the answer to, especially after they read the books, so be ready to learn even more about Michigan.
Pro Tip: They will take YOUR CDs and books off to college with them, so buy them their own copies.
Take them to Columbus for a U of M v. Ohio. If nothing else, this will cause them to lose all interest in matriculating there:
There is no turnoff quite like live Buckeye behavior.
Be Prepared: You will have trouble convincing one daughter to ever go back, because U of M lost and she’s unlucky (J went over a decade before setting foot in Columbus again & still hasn’t been back for a football game), while explaining to the other daughter that “No, we can’t go to Columbus every other year for the game” and then inevitably giving in and taking her.
Pro Tip: Go on the alumni association bus trip. They have the parking spot, you can walk in and out of the Snakepit with a group of non-barbarians. Even then, one of the barbarians may try to pick a fight with your daughter.
Once the oldest is hooked, the younger siblings are sure to follow:
Be Prepared: Of course, the younger will require her own lucky outfits and Ufer CDs and books.
Pro Tip: Don’t tell them they are following the example of the older sibling! The younger won’t admit how much they look up to the older and the older will at some point get annoyed by the copy catting of the younger.
Take them to the football bust, so they can see players up close and personal:
Be Prepared: You’ll be expected to get them good seats and all the good autographs.
If you make a trip to the Rose Bowl, spend the night before the parade on Colorado Boulevard:
Camping out guarantees front row seats for the parade!
Be Prepared: If you do this once, you’ll have to do it every time. Oh and the drunk 20-somethings next to you will spill mustard all over your sleeping bags. So take the grungy ones.
Pro Tip: Bring silly string! In addition to sleeping bags, snacks, water, and cards & games, though the crowd provides ample entertainment.
Side Effects of Success
When you teach your 6-year-old to say Tshimanga Biakabutuka, you will both think it is the greatest trick ever and will insist upon demonstrating for everyone.
When Mom insists that your daughter visit Michigan State, she will wear her “Bow Down Little Brother” shirt the entire time.
They will not hide their true colors from teachers, aunts, uncles, parents of their friends, or your friends who may be MSU grads.
There will be endless superstitions: hooking pinky fingers on the inside hands for defense, outside for offense, switching seats, switching hats. Your 26-year-old daughter will no longer cut her hair during football season after making that mistake two days before the 2006 Michigan-Ohio game.
They might be the only person in their U of M friend group freshmen year who knows why we announce the Slippery Rock score at every game.
You’ll become more worried about their cardiac health on football Saturdays than your own.
For the parent:
A shared tradition of team values and integrity, good role models, teaching some of the ups and downs of life, which is sometimes unfair, people get injured, lifetime dreams die on a single play, you cannot win them all, cliches, yes, but with value to be passed on. Real people, they can see, and talk to on occasion, not just stories in books. Hopefully, you will raise someone to take you to the games in your dotage.
For the child:
The reward has been lessons in being part of something bigger than yourself and how you represent that, in loyalty, in passion, in the ups and downs of life, in making sacrifices, in bringing people together.
The reward has been the memories, the times spent with my dad related to Michigan are some of my favorites. I remember rushing from my tennis match to the Big House and from the Big House to the homecoming dance. I remember three hour road trips to South Bend, in which he sang college fight songs the entire drive and I couldn’t believe I was related to him. I remember exuberant celebrations together after a victory. I remember him setting aside his own feelings to comfort me after a particularly dreadful loss. I remember phone calls in college after games to talk about the highs & lows, to make sure I was still alive, to make plans for the next game, the next road trip.
The reward is being a (three time) Michigan alumna. Walking onto campus as a freshman, my love of Michigan became my own in a way it hadn’t been before. I learned, embraced, and loved what Michigan was beyond the Big House and Yost. That love is something I share with thousands of alumni, family members, college friends, but most of all my daddy. I know that wherever life takes us, we’ll always share our love of Michigan.
So, we are in the stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, with 75,000 other fans. I look for my Atlanta friend, but the seats she was in Saturday are empty. I text her, still outside fighting the crowd to get in.
Now we find our seats, in the upper deck, corner, about halfway up.
However, the view through the binoculars is perfect, taking in the whole court. A friend who was there Saturday had told me the sight lines were better than the United Center, where the Bulls play.
I look to my daughter and say I can't believe we made the title game. She says: “I can't believe I'm here!” with a big, parent satisfying grin.
And it is all over twitter that Webber is at the game. Just to continue to make it all about him, though, he does not sit with his four teammates. As my daughter says, whatever.
It seems there are more Louisville fans in the crowd, judging by wearing apparel. Not all of our fans wear maize, of course, but it seems that more than half the throng is wearing red.
The Louisville end zone is in front of us; ours at the opposite end. Our students act as they did at home games, standing througout, crowding to the court, so that the last few rows of seats were empty during the first half.
I am told the half-time performing bands used them for the second half.
Our noise making leads the elderly Kansas fans next to us to note that Michigan fans are really serious.
My great fear, the zebras, appears to materialize as Burke picks up two quick fouls, the second yet to be seen by anyone else. I feel impending doom. Disaster. A Louisville blowout.
Bad calls are made on both teams. When you can see a mid-court foul from my seat, without binoculars, it is impossible to conclude that the officials all missed it. That one would have been on Hardaway.
A friend texts that he does not think that the referees are in good enough shape to keep up with the players, so that they can be in position to actually see the game they are calling.
You could not disprove that theory by what I am seeing.
So, Burke sits. Spike shoots. And scores. And shoots and scores and shoots and scores and, you saw the game.
I raise my hands to the heavens like Ecstasy Guy. Yes, it is our destiny, clearly, nothing can stop us!
The half winds down. I figure we need to be ahead by at least ten.
Woops. The entire lead evaporates in a rain of Louisville threes. We just barely get back on top as the half ends.
The vibes are bad again. I remember leading Indiana in the 76 game at the half, still tied with ten minutes left, and, the end, losing by double digits.
I find my friend at halftime, take a picture, have a short visit. Her son is sitting in a different spot. I am sorry to miss him, a 16 year old survivor of Ewing's sarcoma, a virulent form of cancer.
The second half begins.
It is a battle of two heavyweights, exhanging blows, no quarter asked, none given.
I keep thinking Louisville will pull away, but they do not.
Then the play of the year, the Burke block at the far end of the court. Looked good to me live. Looked better on the replay.
The advantage of attending sporting events live is that you can look where you want. You are not bound by the director mandating shots of players' parents in the crowd.
I watch Burke, wander alone to the corner, looking away from the court.
He is pissed, I tell my daughter.
And rightly so. But he composes himself, and plays out the game, to the best of his ability.
As did all the players, on both teams. And the coaches.
I cannot remember another championship game like this, in any sport. No one ever seized the momentum and ran with it. Neither team was able to work its will on the other.
Disappointing result? Of course. It was meant to be. That is how I handle such things after decades of the ups and, more frequent, downs, cheering on the Maize and Blue.
Bad officiating? Blatantly, but that does not mean a perfectly called game would have mandated a different result.
With 3.9 seconds on the clock, my daughter and I look at each other and get up to leave. She has to punch in at the barn in Lexington in less than 8 hours, and it is 6 hours driving time.
The parking spot works to a charm; we seem to be in the first 15 vehicles leaving the stadium. And the road leads right to the freeway.
Erin is still up front next to me in the passenger seat. I call my friend who texted me to get his impressions from watching on TV.
A magnificent spectacle, he agrees.
The adrenaline is still going, for a while.
I stop for gas and a cappuccino and she takes up residence on the sleeping bags and pillows in the back of the mini-van.
Hmmmm. Maybe I should have pounded some 5 hour energy drinks.
Out of Georgia and back into the curving mountain roads of Tennessee. Which I do not remember. Oh, yeah, I was napping during this part of the trip down.
No lights on these roads either. Usually a semi truck or two is in sight.
Somewhere around 3:30 a.m., I pull off for a power nap.
Erin wakes me up about half an hour later, and off we go again.
After the next gas stop, I have her drive the last hour and a half or so. We are on schedule, and she is fully awake.
I am in the passenger seat and we chat about the hoop programs our our respective alma maters, Kentucky and Michigan.
She says the only player to graduate during Calipari's tenure was a holdover, who had promised his grandmother he would get a degree. He talks at post-game conferences about how some of his guys are not coachable. Well, why the hell should they be? They are just on a one year layover before they go pro. She is familiar with player attendance at classes, and not impressed.
The contrast with our coaching staff could not be more stark.
The team, the team, the team. Michigan Man values. Exposure to these beliefs is the benefit of having taken my girls to UM games since before they could talk.
Sports imitates life. You win some, you lose some. But how do you play the game?
As a parent, how do you get quality time with your kids?
I heartily recommend long road trips to Michigan sporting events.
Having exhausted the topic of basketball, she goes on to tell me her relationship with her bosses, the owners of the huge horse farm, the ladder to advancement, what she wants to do, and how she plans to get there.
This is the reason for my trip. To have that time, to check in on her life, to see how she is really doing.
Her sister lives in Detroit and I am blessed with frequent contact with that wonderful person.
I have not seen Erin since this trip. She will be up here this weekend, August 16.
She pulls in front of her house about 6:15 a.m. I go in to use the bathroom, but my dog allergies drive me back to the van for some sleep. I hear her “Thank you!” as she gets in her car to drive to work.
After some sleep, I drive home, arriving about 3:30 p.m., meaning that, except for 6 hours in Atlanta and pit stops, I have been in the mini-van for about 33 hours.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The Fab Five,
1997 Football Season and
2013 Championship Pre-Game
The Fab Five:
debuted at now destroyed Cobo Arena against the University of Detroit. Seating under 12,000, Cobo was still a bigger venue than U of D's home court, Calihan Hall.
I decided to go to see the show. I believe they were on the floor together for less than two minutes. I remember lots of turnovers, but we won easily.
Most of the Fab Five games were on TV, and they were great, and fun to watch, back to back Final Fours, off to the NBA.
And then. The scandal. Ed Martin, somehow identifed as a UM "booster," had given money to Michigan players.
A rally for Steve Fisher was held at the Michigan Theatre featuring Jim Brandstatter, among others.
Two days later, he was fired.
So, I tell my daughter, here is my recollection suffused with what I was told by reliable, or maybe not so reliable, sources.
Ed Martin was supposedly a UAW retiree who just liked to be nice to the kids in the hood, though, the better you were at basketball, the nicer he was.
He was never a guy who said, if you go to such and such school, I will reward you. He also gave some kids, like Mr. Webber, money before they were even in high school.
He gave money to kids who went to other schools, like Missouri.
But he was on the Michigan coaches list for comp tickets to some games.
The feds were after him for running a numbers game, an illegal lottery. Turns out gambling profites were the real source of his largesse.
That investigation took forever.
Pure hearsay, as they say in my business, is that the U. S. Attorney in charge of the investigation was a Notre Dame grad who hated Michigan, and so dragged things out on purpose.
Martin himself even died before he could be tried.
It seems to me that, at some point, the focus of his gift giving changed from buying big man on the street status, to laundering his gambling gains. The Webber and post-Webber beneficiaries are alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of Webber's problems was that Martin was trying to get his money back, and Webber said, what money?
Grand juries are one of the least democratic institutions still allowed in our democracy. There is no right to have your attorney present while you are being questioned as a witness. You can be subpoenad, that is, forced under the contempt power, to appear as a witness. If you decline, you can be jailed for contempt until you do testify.
Now, the first rule of practicing criminal law is, get your fee up front. The second rule is, never let your client testify before a grand jury until he is granted immunity for prosecution for anything he testifies about. If the government balks at immunity; your client invokes his 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refuses to testify.
Alas, Mr. Webber's attorney botched this simple rule and allowed him to testify without immunity, and, for reasons still unknown, he lied about getting money from Martin.
Now, there is NCAA law/rules, whatever, which readers of this blog know to be Byzantine, archaic, unfair, unevenly applied, et cetera, and, there is criminal law.
It is perjury to lie to a grand jury, and Mr. Webber copped a plea to that.
Jalen Rose did testify, and freely stated that Martin gave him a few dollars here and there on many occasions. Far as I know, he did so without immunity, but told the truth, so no criminal issue.
However, NCAA issues remained.
There is nothing illegal, or, even immoral, about accepting a gift of money from, anyone. The other three of the Fab Five were not from the Detroit area, and outside the influence of Mr. Martin.
So, the ten year ban on contact from Michigan with the Fab Five ended May, 2013.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon has said Webber has to come forward and take responsibility for his actions. Jalen Rose has intimated the same. Who knows how it will turn out.
Like many others, I have had enough of the Webber drama.
Now, team 84 of Michigan basketball said they welcomed the support of the Fab Five, even donning haircuts honoring them before one game. I believe the Maize hoodies they wore for the Indiana home pre-game were a sort of tribute. So, I yield to the team's wishes on their attendance at the title game.
But this Webber drama, will he or won't he? In our seats before the game, tweets from everyone that Webber was there with his girl friend, but, NOT sitting with the rest of his former teammates.
To whom, according to King and Rose, he has not spoken in over 20 years.
Message to Chris: get over your bad self.
* * * * *
Fortunately, Erin did not fall asleep during this fascinating factual recital from her father.
The weather was great. At one gas stop, I bought a sub and posed with it in front of my face while wearing my "We had subs It was crazy" M Go Blog shirt.
Erin switched from listening to me to her preferred young country music on the radio.
No calls or emails on tickets.
I texted Matt, host of our football tailgate, that I planned on meeting him at his hotel. I figured if I scored some tickets off Craig's list, I would need to print them out somewhere, and I could get that done at the hotel.
My oldest, Janell, could not make this trip, but she saw the 1998 Rose Bowl with me, so she said she had her championship, and this would be Erin's turn.
* * * * *
That game was a BIG ticket issue. I wanted to set up the Rose Bowl trip before the Ohio game, but my wife said oh, no, remember that one year, you got tickets for me and my cousin, and Iowa ended up going. Bad luck to count your chickens before they hatch.
So, we end up with flights that routed through Philadelphia. Whatever. We get there, free lodging at my aunt's house in Arcadia, home of the Santa Anita racetrack.
We left with both girls and without any game tickets.
On arriving at my aunt's, we discover that my dentist's son has a pair we could have. Alleluia!
Turns out he bought two as a Michigan employee, for his brother to use, as he had a conflict because of a wedding to attend. The brother already had tickets from another source, and the dentist, a long time family friend, knew we were looking. Cool.
Erin was not yet 7 at the time, but I still looked for two more tickets, so that we all could go.
Staying out over night on the street on Colorado Boulevard to have front row seats for the parade was part of our plan. I had done this on all three of my prior Rose Bowl trips, and my wife was with me the last time, the loss to UCLA.
I made a sign that said "Need Rose Bowl Tickets" and walked up and down the middle of Colorado Boulevard, a couple of hours before the parade, in front of, literally, tens of thousands of people.
I had two offers, for single tickets, $300 each. I declined.
Should have taken them, turns out they were going for $1,000 a piece before kickoff.
Anyway, my wife said too much money, I will just stay with Erin, you and Janell go.
And lifetime memories were made as we won an exciting game and rejoiced in a perfect season and national championship, and the end of my 0 and 5 personal bowl record.
A Michigan fan sitting next to us thought to offer to take our picture, and it sits proudly on the shelf, each of us smiling broadly and holding up a finger signifying Michigan: #1.
* * * * *
So, we make it to the Atlanta hotel, which is the team hotel, crammed with Michigan fans. The whole interior is an open atrium to the top floor. From the 5th floor, Matt points out where the Robinson family hung out, where the Hardaway family gathered, where the band studied, and so on.
Still no tickets.
So I call my friend back in Ann Arbor, hey, don't have any yet, does your friend still have two?
Let me check, he says.
Back and forth on cell phones, leaving messages, eventually hook up, yes, still available, you can have them, meet us at 8:30 at a specified spot at the stadium.
Matt says hey, we are on the first bus, which, for some reason, leaves before the team, but you can stay and watch them board the bus.
Cool, says Erin.
There is an L shaped line, cordoned off, with some of the band inside, playing our favorite tunes. Maybe 70 or 80 Michigan fans press around the edge. The players and staff enter from the long end of the L, and walk to the corner turning left along the short section of the L that leads outside to the bus. Applause and camera clicks greet each personage. Horford picks up a 3 year old girl from the front row and hoists her above his head, much to her delight.
Of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I notice Mr. Brandon, decked out in a striped blue power suit, just behind me to my left, wearing a puzzled expression as he looks around at the folks in front of him.
My first thought is, he must know how to get on the bus, he would have been on it Saturday, what is the deal?
So I say: May I help you, sir?
We have spoken at events before but I am sure he will not remember me.
And he says, well, I am trying to figure out, how to, -
Then he realizes there is no restraint, just people standing along the short side of the L, and he works his way through.
Damn. I was going to jump in and part the sea for him. Oh, well.
The fan to my left, pushing age 70, says Who was that.
Dave Brandon, says I.
Who is that?
The athletic director for the University of Michigan.
Excited utterance: "He just brushed my clothes!"
* * * * *
The team is off and so should we be. Let's stop and eat, save money over stadium concession prices, and we have enough time.
As I am buying, Erin's agreement is readily secured.
Turns out I got half of a free salad at Wendy's; I stopped eating after pulling a six inch hair out of my meal. No time to order another.
Vehicles multiplying as I approach our parking lot goal when the phone rings.
My ticket connection says: Hey, traffic was not bad for us, we are here early. I look at the clock. Yeah, I think, over half an hour early.
She starts giving directions after I state my location. I am being spoken to as if I were a lifetime Atlanta resident familiar with each street instead of someone who stopped here once for a few hours in 1972.
I see an open lane and veer into it while trying to explain no, I do not know the northeast corner of whatever, when I realize the lane was free because the oncoming traffic was stopped on the other side of the light.
I yell that I have to get off as I am going the wrong way on a one way street and drop my phone on the floor.
Ahh. Calm restored as I am allowed back to the correct side of the thoroughfare, and we proceed to our destination, which looks full already.
No problem, says the parking lot attendant, just follow my directions, leave enough room for the car in the corner next to the entrance to get around you, and you will be fine. OK, spatially challenged as I am, I figure it out, I will be unblocked, in front of the other car, next to the driveway. A perfect location for the quick getaway we need.
One of the great things about Michigan is the extended twilight at our latitude, and, that we are on the edge of the Eastern time zone, so the sun sets later.
Conversely, in Atlanta, it is getting dark much earlier, as we try to locate the folks who still have our tickets, or so I think, having been told only that it is "complicated."
We eventually find each other in the increasingly massive throng pressing into the cordoned off lanes that lead into the stadium.
I am told by one of the four, two couples, that we have to get to the gate before the tickets can even be printed. Yes, that qualifies as complicated.
Even though these tickets were purchased a year ago, they can ONLY be printed when the charge card used to buy them is scanned through a contraption on the belt of the usher, which then prints out four tickets, each the size of a business card. Cool.
We are inside the stadium with the tickets in hand, having yet to be told the price. I am hoping I have enough cash to cover it; Stub Hub prices were not below $245 when I landed these.
Let's see, one of the women says to her husband. They cost $270, and there were two games Saturday, so three games in all, is $90 OK?
Uh. Yes. I pay the $180 and, so far, everything is breaking our way.
OF CHAMPIONS AND CHILDREN
Part One - Hoop memories
Time travel is possible.
In the spring, and, in the fall, especially.
As you drive north in the spring, as I do annually the first weekend in May, you go back in time. The foliage retreats into hibernation, the leaves disappear into buds into nothingness and the snow reappears, at first, in the sheltered areas, the northern exposed sides of the trees under the eternal canopy of pine branches.
It is six a. m. Monday April 7, 2013, and I am on the road south from Detroit to Kentucky to pick up my second oldest daughter, Erin, on the way to Atlanta to watch my school compete for the NCAA basketball championship.
As Erin works six days a week managing a horse barn for a large farm outside Lexington, we have a compressed timetable. Fortunately, Monday is her day off. When the game ends, we will have 5.5 hours of driving time to get back to Lexington, where she starts work at 7 a.m.. Pillows and sleeping bags are strewn across the back of the now back and middle seats removed mini-van for purposes of slumber.
Being self-employed, the boss gave me the OK to take the time off.
It has been 21 years since we were in the title game; if it takes another 21 years, I will be 80, and, perhaps, too, well, mature, for a road trip like this.
Erin is in her first year out of UK, which she attended over U of M because she loves, horses. But is still a huge Wolverine fan, having returned home for the Big Chill and the Under The Lights football game with Notre Dame, among other sporting events.
I have not seen her since Christmas, and am not sure when the next time will be, as she just started this job in February, so it may be awhile before she accrues any vacation time.
As I travel through the Worst State Ever, the flora turns greener, first buds, then leaves, then flowers, appear until we are a month and a half into the future, into the full bloom of spring in Atlanta.
The first four hours are shared with Sam on WTKA radio from Ann Arbor, via I Heart Radio on my iPhone sitting on the empty seat next to me. He is in Atlanta, and all the talk is about The Game to come. Well, and whether the Fab Five will re-unite in the stands. Sam has an interesting live interview with Jimmy King. Ahh, the memories flow.
I am becoming concerned with how many callers are on their way to Atlanta, like me, without tickets. I see Michigan plates with Wolverine insignia displayed, others with Michigan hats at gas stations and fast food places along the way. I did work my way through college hustling football tickets, so I figure I can come up with something. Friends are keeping their eyes peeled for me as well.
One suggested Craig's list, whose ads were cheaper than Stub Hub, so I posted my request on the Atlanta list.
I don't care where we sit; if I wanted the best view of the game, I would watch on TV at home. I did set the DVR.
Getting more fired up, and knowing the call lines to WTKA are usually not exactly backed up, I called in with my tale of travel to the title tilt.
In response to Sam's query: "how are you doing?" I answer: "If I were doing any better, I would have to sit on my hands to keep from clapping." Not hearing the chuckling reaction I expected, I asked if I were on the air, and assured, yes, I was. Well, I will cut him some slack; he must have been tired from all the Final Four festivities.
Sam's show ends at ten, so I flip around the car radio dial for another sports show. I stop at Dan Patrick's.
Today's poll question: “Should Chris Webber attend the game tonight?”
Geez, enough already! It seems this is a national issue? Somehow.
Weather was great, made good time into Lexington, found my daughter's residence without making a wrong turn. Which, for me, is good. Well, remarkable, actually.
Of course, she has wireless, so I check my email on my laptop, and find a response to my Craig's list ad, would I be interested in a pair? Wherever? You bet, I reply.
Ooops, just sold them, comes the response. Ahh, well.
Erin gets to drive to Atlanta, I rest some in the middle seat, but am just getting too damned excited, immersed in Michigan basketball.
Hey, Erin, what do you know about the Fab Five?
"Just that they were a bunch of really good players who came in and did not with the title and then there was some scandal."
Well, how do you feel about being stuck in a vehicle being subjected for hours to my memories of Michigan men's basketball?
She hesitates. "Well, if it is about sports, I don't mind."
. . . . . . . . . . .
I remember when only 16 teams played in the NCAA basketball tournament, with regional games on the MizLou network, or something. Not all the way back to Cazzie, but not too long after.
Back in the early 70s, lots of good teams went to the NIT, when ALL the games were in Madison Square Garden, so there was a definite New York tilt to the invites, and, most of the games were not televised in those benighted days before cable and ESPN.
One year, Al McGuire did not like the region assigned by the NCAA , and Marquette rejected the NCAA invite in order to play in the NIT.
They changed the rules after that one.
A bunch of us freshmen in Wenley House, West Quad, bought season basketball tickets for the 1972-73 season. They were so cheap I do not remember the price, for comparison, student season football tickets were $18 for 7 games. Yeah, I know, I am older than dirt.
I remember listening, no TV, of course, to Ohio at Michigan basektball the year before, but we lost the game, finished second in the conference. Unranked. We did get to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
The schedule was crowded with December games, around finals, it was a long, cold walk to Crisler, and I did not get student season tickets again.
We were supposed to be good that next year, but did not live up to expectations, tying for third at 9-5 and no post-season bid.
I was more of a hockey fan, though I only went to one game as a freshman, the last season at the Coliseum, which featured cyclone fencing instead of plexiglass. And an abysmal team.
I remember the 1973-74 hoop season, we were one game behind Indiana but looking like we had no chance, given the schedule as the season wound down.
Bobby Knight's Indiana had to play at Ohio, which was having a down year, though still coached by Eldon Miller, who had a national championship, which were yet in the future for Mr. Knight.
Lo and behold, Ohio pulled the upset, both Michigan and Indiana won the rest of their games, and finished in a first place tie.
Only the champ could go to the NCAAs, so a playoff ensued.
Guess where that game was played?
Showing that puzzling moves by the conference are nothing new, the Big Ten held the game on Monday night in Champaign, Illinois. I think there were over 10,000 there, but, not a sellout. Tough trip on a weeknight.
Another upset, Michigan wins!
I had to Wikipedia this, but there were 25 teams in the NCAA that year. Don't ask me how they worked it, but we got a bye, then upset Notre Dame before losing to Marquette in the regional final.
1975 - Big news! The tournament expands, and, for the first time, two teams from the same conference get bids. As with the 1975 football season, we finished second, but still got a post-season bid.
And were rewarded by getting to go to the West region in: Idaho? For what was called the UCLA regional, what with the NCAA still following (roughly) geographical lines in assigning teams to regions. Ergo, UCLA was always in the West. And this was still in the days when UCLA won everything. All the titles, and, it seemed, more often than not, all their regular season games as well.
We got them in the first game and were big underdogs. Nevertheless, we battled to the wire, and, with the game tied, C. J. Kupec launched a long jumper that, clanged off the rim as time expired.
We were smoked in OT, 12-2. UCLA went on to beat Louisville by one in the semis, and Kentucky by 7 in the final, for its tenth title in 12 seasons.
Knight had a great team, won every game, but lost to Kentucky in the regional final 92-90 after Scott May broke his arm.
1976 - Indiana wins all their regular season games, though eyewitnesses (again, no TV) to the Michigan game at Indiana swear the officials bad calls on the game ending play stole victory from Michigan.
I was announcing some hockey games for the student radio station WCBN, so I had a nice little blue card press pass for Yost. I wanted to check out the Hoosiers live, and, mirable dictu, I flashed the pass and they let me into the sold out game. (full disclosure: I have made up for this transgression with many athletic department donations since, and do not condone this sort of theft. anymore.)
I stood and watched Kent Benson go 14 for 17 in an easy Indiana victory. The Pistons thought he was a great player and made him a high draft choice. Turns out he was one of many players that Knight's system made look better than they were.
Michigan finished second in the conference, again, got a bid and made it to the Final Four. The only Final Four with two unbeaten teams. We pinned the first loss on undefeated Big Ten rival Rutgers to reach the title game against Indiana. Ahead at the half, tied with about ten minutes left, but lost by double digits to a clearly superior team.
It is improbable bordering on impossible for another team to go undefeated, so that 76 Indiana team will likely be the last.
Knight's comment? "It should have been two." meaning the 75 team should have won first.
Back in the day, all Big Ten hoop games were Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, maybe one or two a week Saturday night. Our traveling partner was MSU, so we would travel to Purdue and Illinois, the same weekend, and Purdue and Illinois would travel to Ann Arbor and East Lansing the same weekend.
Hockey was always Friday and Saturday night. Yost was as Canham found it; seating over 8,000 for hockey, though you could not see the entire rink from the top corners of the North end zone, and some other seats were obstructed.
We were the conference powerhouse in 76-77, beating Marquette at home in the last game, ranked firts in the final poll ahead of Georgetown and St. John's, the Big East powers who had been #1 most of the year.
On the Saturday when we hosted Northwestern hoop in the afternoon, the hockey team sold out for Michigan Tech Saturday night, and outdrew the basketball team.
We beat Holy Cross and Dick Vitale coached U of D, before being upset by Cornbread Maxwell of UNC Charlotte in the regional final.
In 1980-81, I was back to living in Ann Arbor, and got season tickets with a friend, in the blues, about 7 rows up in the corner.
We lost 7 of our last 8 to finish 7th, still won two preliminary NIT games, which were now being played outside New York.
The next year? Not a good team, not hard to get good seats. We trounced Northern Michigan to go 1-10 in the non-conference, upset a ranked Iowa team late in the year. Bill Frieder was just getting started.
We kept our tickets a few more years, had an NIT bid or two in there, until winning the NIT title over Notre Dame in 1984, the first tournament Michigan won outside the state borders. We used to host our own tournament in early December.
Then the 1985 Big Ten title, with a disappointing second game tournament loss, and the 1986 title, reminiscences of which I previously shared.
The 1988-89 title season is well remembered by all.
Steve Fisher and the miracle run.
Next year, again, we were supposed to be good, with most of the champs returning,
The big recruit nationally that year was Montross, who had U of M ties. He ended up at North Carolina, and the knock on Fisher was sure, he can coach, but he can't recruit. Yeah, right.
He let his players talk him into running with Loyola Marymount, coached by Paul Westhead, whose philosophy was, every seven seconds, shoot.
Their star player, Hank Gaithers, had died of a heart attack the week before, and we gave up a still record 137 points in losing.
Well, turns out ole Fisher could recruit after all.
TO BE CONTINUED