BO, by Bo Schembechler and Mitch Albom

Submitted by UMFootballCrazy on September 10th, 2008 at 3:25 PM

I own too many books.  I read…a lot.  But I learned the lesson a long time ago that books are heavy, and when you have to move them, 35+ boxes of books is a lot of boxes.  Movers charge by the pound.  So I now only buy “important” books, i.e. the kinds of books that can only be found in university libraries or literary reviews.  As a result, I use my local library…a lot.  Sometimes that means waiting for books.  I am currently second on the waiting list for Steven Erickson’s new book in his series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  After catching up on my magazine reading, I was left with nothing to read.  So I hopped online and started trolling my local library catalogue.  And here in London, Ontario, what do I find?  None other than the Bo Schembechler/Mitch Albom book: BO.  (Warner: New York), 1989. It arrived at my local branch yesterday and from page one it was nothing less that fabulous.  He tells story after story after story. 


What I loved most about this book were the two chapters that highlight the 1969 season and the 10 Year War.  Bo’s stories about his first season at Michigan were fantastic and the parallels to this year with Coach Rodriguez jump out at you again and again.


He brought his entire staff with him from Miami [Not That Miami].  Upon arriving and seeing the facilities and locker rooms Bo’s first response to his staff was,


“Men, we are going to make a few changes here.” [52]


He treated the players like dogs.  In the racially charged 60’s everyone got the same treatment.  They were all equal…they were all dogs. 


Up to that point, spring practice was a series of light workouts.  They started two-a-days in the spring.  He cursed, he yelled and he kicked them in the butt.  When Dan Dierdorf first introduced himself to Bo, he extended a hand and politely offered his name, and in return Bo grabbed a fistful of his midsection and promptly told him, “You are fat.” [53]  Turn that boy over to Barwis. Eeeeeeee.


Soon Bo had them doing drills, screaming at them so much that Dierdorf ended up telling a reporter,


“The track team runs less than us. And their coach isn’t as mean.” [53]


He tells the story of how, during this pre-season, the coaches came up with the now famous slogan, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.”  Some did not stay.  And someone wrote in marker on Bo’s sign, which he paid for out of his own pocket, “And those who quit will be doctors, lawyers, and captains of industry.”  He then names the player who is now a lawyer and finishes off with:


“Didn’t think I knew, did you, John? You owe me $150.” [55]


He says this about that 1969 team:


“Of all the Wolverines I’ve ever had, they had the most right to resent me; after all they didn’t pick me, they got stuck with me.  And I killed them.  I ran them ragged.  I made them suffer every day of that first maddening season. Somehow, they believed in me. They stayed.” [55]


What Bo did that first season was key off on the Michigan-Ohio game.  Bo against his former coach and mentor.  Bo figured that gunning for Ohio State would carry his team through all the bumps and hurdles that would come.  After beating Iowa 51-6 that year in the second to last game, in the locker room the team did not celebrate, instead a slow, rising chant started among them, “BEAT THE BUCKS, BEAT THE BUCKS…”  The coaches joined in, and the scene go so intense that Bo screamed to one of his assistants, “That [email protected]#$% Ohio State better be good—or we’ll kill them.” [61]


Against a team that was labeled “The Greatest Team of the Century” and favoured to win by 17, Michigan was up 24-12 by the half and in the locker room there is Jim Young, the defensive coordinator pounding on the chalk board, “They will not score again!”  [67]  They didn’t.


Those who stayed were champions.


In the light of the Justin Boren departure and the whole “Family values” thing, another story grabbed me. Bo recounted the time when the team was grumbling a lot behind Bo’s back about practices being too tough.  One of the instigators was captain Andy Cannavino.


Bo pulled Cannavino into his office and gave him this speech, by the end of which Andy was in tears:


“Now let me tell you something.  When you were back there in Cleveland, at St. Joseph’s High School, Ohio State, where your daddy went to school, didn’t even offer you a scholarship.  We brought you to the University of Michigan.  The coaching staff made you an All-Big Ten player.  Your team mates elected you captain of the team.  And you have the audacity to criticize Michigan Football?  How dare you?


“I’d like to stand you up before all those guys who played here in the past, all those guys who won championships, went to bowl games, did all the things you want to do in college football, and I want you to tell them that your practices are too hard, that they’re hitting too much, that you spend too much time watching film!  And you know what they’re going to tell you?  Grow up!  Grow up and be a man! And if you won’t, then get the hell out of Michigan football!


“Cannavino, we have one problem on this team, and only one problem on this team, and that is you!  And until you change, we will never win.  You are the captain of this team.  What you say, especially the other players and especially the young ones will listen to. How can you possibly ruin this team by criticizing the leadership here?  You are the problem. Understand me?  You are the problem! [154]


With tears streaming down his cheeks, the young man left, and the Michigan defense, from that point forward, did not allow a touchdown in 24 consecutive quarters, eventually beating Washington in the Rose Bowl.


Who cares if this is not the best piece of literature ever written, I think next time I am in the MDen, I am going to buy this book and a couple more of Bo’s because these are “important” works.  Bo is a great read, especially this year of all years.  I highly recommend it.



September 10th, 2008 at 4:24 PM ^

My favorite Mitch Albom book is the one where he wrote 600 pages about The Fab Five (with unprecedented inside access!) but managed to not uncover the Ed Martin scandal.

Bando Calrissian

September 11th, 2008 at 12:27 AM ^

Ed Martin is mentioned in the book, but MitchMan failed to see the writing on the wall that HIS OWN NEWSPAPER had been uncovering in stories going back to 1985!  MitchMan nailed the Donnie Kirksey part of the scandal, somewhat got the basics of Ed Martin, but how he didn't see the entire extent of it is baffling.  More than anything, that book is about the rift between the Fab Five and the rest of the team, and why that rift came to be. 


September 11th, 2008 at 8:51 AM ^

There are two basic options, and neither says much for Albom, in my mind.


1. He did find out - and he decided to not write about it. This, while perhaps "honorable" for the hometown journalist, is chicken-shit. And his grandstading "I asked Webber about Ed Martin!!!!" during C-Webb's press conference when he returned to Detroit is made even more ridiculous if he decided to not write about it in the god damn book. 

2. He didn't find out - what the fuck, man? Really? You were crawling all around that team and not once, ever, did anything mildly suspicious happen that piqued your interest? 18 year old kids don't keep their mouths shut like mobsters, somebody had to have slipped sometime. 


Either way, Albom sucks. 


September 10th, 2008 at 4:37 PM ^

Despite his heart troubles, John Prusiecki is as defiant and irreverent today as he was back in more turbulent times, and I base my characterization on our recent collaboration in the tax patent realm. Prusiecki exposed with verve a dirty open secret about major college sports. Namely, that "those who stay" will face an uphill struggle in life rather than experience meaningful championships over time. College athletes in major sports face so much pressure to deliver performance in the arena that they cannot effectively avail themselves of the very educational opportunities their universities were founded for. Our universities are cheating these folks to make a buck and we fans facilitate this by demanding so much. Kinesiology major? Yeah, right. Bo was a successful football coach. His approach to life, however, as with most contemporary Div I coaches leaves a lot to be desired in terms of helping prepare college students for success after sport. Prusiecki caught onto this early and posted notice in bold writing for all of us to see.  Spot on truth there.


September 10th, 2008 at 6:01 PM ^

Someone I respect recently said to me that it is not usually the smartest, most talented or cleverest who succeed, it is often the most focused.  People driven to overcome obsticles and focus in on a singular goal.  Often they make terrible spouses, parents, friends and sometimes they will "cut corners."  Likely there is a lot of truth in the observation that D-1 college ball does not prepare one for life, and Prusiecki was no doubt right in his assessment.  He made a choice and it worked out well for him.  Others chose to pursue football.  There are few true "renaissance" men who are deft and skilled at many things, finding a gracious ballance in all things.  That is what I liked most about Carr.  His sense of perspective and ballance. Prusiecki made his own choices about what he would pursue with focus, and it was not football.  Not a criticism, just an observation.  We all make our choices. 

Bo was a character.  One of a kind.  One of those people who make life interesting. And of course the story has to be taken with a recognition that it is one man's side of things, one man's perspective.  But the book was a great read and I enjoyed it very much.


September 10th, 2008 at 11:41 PM ^

If you truly look at Bo and what he did for all of his players he prepared each and everyone of them for succesful life after football. Look at all the players who didn't go on to play pro and most of them led extremely succesful lives outside of football. As the guy wrote on the "Those who stay will be champions" sign, those who didn't became doctors lawyers and captains of industry. One of the guys who played on a Bo team became president of Steelcase a hugely succesful corporation in Michigan. There was one guy named in the book who left UM to go to Harvard Law school with a year of eligibility left and Bo wished him the best and helped him transfer. I strongly feel that while Bo pushed them hard for football he always made sure he prepared every single one for a succesful life outside of football.


September 11th, 2008 at 7:48 AM ^

I am sure that for every story of a young man unprepared for life after D-1 football, there are numerous others where these young men went on to live very fulfilled lives.    Now this was a little before Bo's time...but didn't one of Michigan's playerss become uuhhh...President of the United States of America!


September 10th, 2008 at 5:50 PM ^

...Webber was trying to buy a chicken sandwich that was battered in gold dust and topped with a slice of roast panda.  So, he probably didn't have enough scratch for that.


September 10th, 2008 at 11:37 PM ^

There was no chicken, only panda and gold.  To get fresh panda, Webber was forced to scale several fences at the Detroit Zoo and club one for protein.  He also needed to add minerals to his diet and his girlfriend selflessly sacrificed her grillwork so that Chris could have his gold.  Time has passed and I really don't see why we should delve into details about all of this as it's common knowledge.  Our university sports legacy is oh so dark ;>)  And then there is Michigamua . . . I guess that I'm a negative Nelly (did I just pimp Keith Jackson?).