First post on here, I know there have been multiple senior day posts already so if a mod feels this is too redundant feel free to delete.
As I look forward to Michigan’s final home game against Iowa tomorrow I reflect about why I care about this sport and this team. Most people, I’ve been told, prefer the professional leagues because of the “superior product” on the field. But I don’t watch sports just for the best product. I watch and enjoy sports the most when I have a rooting interest, when I can be passionate about the outcome, when I care about the team.
I have cared about Michigan athletics as long as I can remember. My family has had season tickets to Michigan football since the 1970’s and for the first part of my life we had season basketball tickets as well. No one in my family has ever attended Michigan, but those who know me well would probably argue I am just as passionate if not more so about the University. I attended my first football game when I was three years old as Michigan took on Purdue. According to my Dad I refused to leave my seat until the last second ticked off the clock and I am proud to say I have never left a Michigan football game a second early win or lose.
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When we would play football in our backyard on Sunday afternoons people would argue about who got to be Woodson or Tuman or Streets. One friend and I came up with whole sets of plays named after Michigan greats who had run those same routes, just in front of a few more people…
Over the years my passion for Michigan football and fall Saturdays spent in Arbor has only grown. Some of the devotion comes from the history of the place. Moments created before I was ever born, but relayed through the voice of Bob Ufer or Bo Schembechler. I read a story today from Gary Moeller about Bo.
“Hey Mo, come here. I wanna show you something.” The band was already out on the field and the players were coming out of the tunnel, and they’re playing The Victors and all that stuff. Bo said, “Now there—isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life? Look at the fans, look at band and look at this team coming out here. That’s what Michigan is all about.”
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There are so many reasons I love college football more than the NFL. The traditions, the rivalries, the bands, the stadiums, they all just stand out more to me. But to me the biggest reason I cheer for Michigan football and no one else is the players. Not that players anywhere else aren’t great people, but because once a man commits to Michigan he truly does seem to become a part of a larger family.
I remember the 1997 National Championship season as a 10 year old kid, looking up to Charles Woodson, Brian Griese, and so many others. I remember Tom Brady leading a comeback against Alabama in the Orange Bowl and my Uncle asking what if their kicker misses, right before he shanks the game tying extra point. I remember Mike Hart, Jake Long, and Chad Henne coming back as seniors. I remember reading BO so many times the pages were starting to tear and then crying the day I found out he had passed away.
As I’ve grown up my relationship to the team and individual players has changed. No longer do I look up to the players as just incredible athletes and guys to imitate in my backyard throwing around the football. But I began to appreciate their stories and what they go through and connect in some way on a deeper level.
With Senior Day tomorrow I sat and thought about what some of these guys have been through. They have been through the worst stretch of football in Michigan history. They were part of the first ever “major” NCAA violations. They went through two or three coaches and still stuck with the program.
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There are players that no fan will ever forget. Desmond, Woodson, Brady, Denard, and so many others stick out because of their on field play. To me some of the seniors this year will always be remembered but for completely different reasons.
Patrick Omameh, the man of great works. Such an incredible high character person off the field and such a fun Mantai Te’o blocker on it. Jordan Kovacs, the walk on whose incredible story of walk on to captain tops Rudy’s by far. Roy Roundtree, the last minute switch from Purdue who made the winning catch against ND in the Under the Lights game. Everything Denard, from cheering on the basketball and hockey teams to his keynote speech at Big Ten Media days. So many more players with so many other great stories on and off the field.
But the one story I guarantee I will never is the story of Elliot Mealer. By now every Michigan fan has heard the story of the Mealer family, the Christmas Eve accident that took the life of his father and girlfriend and left his brother paralyzed from the chest down. It hit particularly close to home because of events in my life. The night of high school homecoming my twin cousins were in a car accident that took one of their lives. The number of times I have reflected and cried about either situation is to many to count at this point. The strength it took from Elliot Mealer to recover and play football on Saturdays is something beyond me. As he and the other seniors run out of that tunnel for the last time on Saturday, hear the Victors in the Big House for the last time, and as they hopefully celebrate their last victory I will probably get a little choked up. Some would probably call that silly or stupid, but to me that is just part of my loyalty and allegiance as a fan. You see to me, its more than just cheering about a team, but it’s cheering for individuals who have stories that I can relate to and appreciate. And at the end of the day they aren’t playing for anything but their school, their teammates, and themselves. And that is one more thing that I love.
As Bo Schembechler once famously said,
“You can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a Team again. You'll play for a contract. You'll play for this. You'll play for that. You'll play for everything except the team, and think what a great thing it is to be a part of something that is, The Team."
So as I watch this team for the last time in the Big House I will be there cheering them on and rooting for their success both on and off the field, both now and in their lives to follow.