How I became a Michigan fan

Submitted by The Oracle on April 12th, 2016 at 10:19 PM

This is meant as a self-indulgent thank you. It's an expansion of a comment I once made, so I apologize if you've read some of it before.

I'm not from Michigan. My mom, however, was born and grew up in Northville. My parents met in Detroit. I visited the state just once, when I was about 3-4 years old. So why have I become a Michigan fan?

I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area almost my entire life. As a young kid, I loved the Raiders. The Immaculate Reception game remains my most devastating sports moment, probably because I was a little kid when it happened. But then the Raiders got rid of Kenny Stabler and Dave Casper, which cooled my feelings, and moved to Los Angeles, which ended the relationship. A Giants fan can't possibly root for a team from LA.

After a period of mourning, I turned to the 49ers, which wasn't hard to do, since it was the Bill Walsh era. But I'm no front runner; I remained just as much a fan through the lean years of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Singletary.

College football isn't a big deal here. Cal and Stanford have their followings, but they don't seem to have the same passion as the fan bases of the pro teams. As a sports fans, I followed the teams' fortunes, but didn't care much about how they did.

But as the 49ers struggled through successive years of mediocrity, or worse, I took note of what was happening at Stanford. Jim Harbaugh was in the process of taking a one win team and turning it into a national power. Stanford? A national college football power? Not even Bill Walsh, in two chances, had been able to pull that off. Looking at Harbaugh's young coaching career, I also admired that he had gone against everyone's advice, as well as conventional thought, and taken the Head Coaching job at the University of San Diego where, of course, he had turned that unknown program into a winner. I laughed when he ran up the score on the mighty USC Trojans, which I saw as being similar to punching the neighborhood bully right in the nose. It was clear that this guy was a rare and extremely gifted coach, and also that he didn't really give a shit about what anyone else thought. Even though I wasn't familiar with the phrase at the time, he was all about the team, the team, the team.

So when the 49ers fired Singletary, and talk began that Harbaugh was a candidate to replace him, I agonized until the negotiations were completed and exalted when he was announced as the new Head Coach. I knew that the fortunes of my team were going to change, and quickly.

He began by bringing back the much maligned Alex Smith, who the media and entire fan base had assumed had played his last game for the team. Smith responded with, by far, his best season ever. Not a coincidence. Harbaugh was the only one who saw it coming. He didn't care what anyone else thought. They went from 6-10 to 13-3 in that first year, and missed the Super Bowl only because of two fumbled punts.

The success continued with a trip to the Super Bowl the next year and a near miss the year after, but then the reports began to circulate that Harbaugh was on his way out. I doubted them, at first. In a sport where coaching is most important, how could an organization decide to get rid of one of the few truly great coaches? But then it became clear. As it turned out, Jed York and Jim Harbaugh reside on the opposite ends of the manhood spectrum. Not content with merely being stupid for firing Harbaugh, York revealed himself to be gutless as well. In an attempt to justify the idiotic decision he was about to make, York orchestrated anonymous, anti-Harbaugh leaks which undermined the Coach and the team. Then Harbaugh was gone.

That was the end of it for me as a 49er fan. York ruined it. I will never root for them again. I root only for York's continued humiliation, which began quite nicely last season. I hope it continues forever.

Now I wasn't sure what to do. I first hoped that he would stay local, sign with the Raiders, and begin the process of rubbing York's nose in the dirt at close range. Instead, he signed with Michigan.

Of course, like any sports fan, I've always been familiar with the Wolverines. I'd watched them often, including during Harbaugh's playing days. I enjoyed the HBO documentary on the Michigan-OSU rivalry. But I had no rooting interest.

Still angry at York's stupidity, but interested in seeing the impact Harbaugh's hiring was having at Michigan, I Googled "Michigan fan blog." One of the results was Mgoblog. I clicked on the link, and I'm pretty sure I've been on the site every day since.

I was immediately very pleased at how happy and excited fans were about his hiring. Or maybe excited and happy is an understatement. Even with all of his success, Harbaugh was never fully appreciated by Bay Area fans. When he was fired, a significant portion of the 49ers fan base was actually happy about it. I think that was because this region is very impressed with itself. Many people here look at themselves as smarter and cooler than people who live elsewhere (see David Shaw's quote). Harbaugh was never cool. He didn't fit the image. As we all know, he's a somewhat awkward, possibly even geeky, football maniac. It's not cool to be a football maniac here.

But he went home a hero, and I was glad to see it. His opening press conference was awesome (a lesser athlete would've gone down). I quickly found that the more time I spent reading Mgoblog, the more interested I was becoming in Michigan football. A lot of it had to do with Harbaugh, but a lot also had to do with the blog. I was extremely impressed by the guys that ran it and the number of smart and funny commenters who seemed to know every detail about the team. And then I quickly went from being interested to being a fan. And pretty soon after that, I didn't care anymore that he had been fired by the 49ers. Being a Michigan fan was more fun.

I don't claim to rank with those of you that are alums or have been fans for years, but that doesn't matter. I'm having a great time. I was able to watch every game last season and, like most of you, agonized on signing day and follow all the recruiting news in obsessive detail. I can't wait for the next season to start. I look forward to someday making the trip to see a game in person. So thank you, Mgoblog writers and participants, for showing me what I had been missing.

I've been a cop for more than 20 years. A few years ago, I went to a burglary call at the home of a young couple who were both Michigan alums. They seemed like very nice kids, but as I looked around and noticed that their entire house seemed to be decorated in U of M memorabilia, I wondered if they might also be a little crazy. Now I know that they weren't crazy. They just loved their school. Now I get it.



April 14th, 2016 at 2:52 AM ^

and thank you for sharing your history, intro to M football, and bits of all that caused you to make this wise decision. I always enjoy learning the reasons for those from other parts of the country, often times with more logical teams nearby, yet decided to become a M fan.  And it's not difficult for me to usually guess right as to whether young man is correct, given I am one of the few that, at times, still look at the FL. schools as Johnny's come lately.

A native of the state, but not a cfb fan for years to come, no doubt the roots were planted on a late November day in 1969, but with a few obligations to tend to first, specifically temporary residence in S.E. Asia, it would be a few years before I would be able to comfortably accept without realizing  just how time consuming becoming a fan can be.

However, this is  about  you. My fellow fans are correct, imo, in their feelings its a must for you to visit The Big House. Regardless of where you're from, first time visitors, not unlike recruits that make their decision due to the winged helmet, are all aware they are entering a very special place. If your  form of travel allows some reading time, I can think of nothing better than Tradition by Bo to help set the mood.

Had to laugh at your mention of  S.F. natives. I have been spending my winters in the same Mexican village for the past five years, Have met a few from that part of the country, but it wasn't until two weeks ago I caused a reaction from a native of that city, perfectly in line with what you suggested, and reminded me of a city on the e. coast where the same attitude prevails, and no, it's not NYC.

We were setting in the most unpretentious dive in the city and the majority of us visit there for that very reason. I can't recall either the question or statement that caused me to answer with the name of your city, but I decided to go with the abbreviated answer of Frisco,and this  lady very close to my age reacted in a manner that left no doubt as to whether or not she was serious. "Don't ever do that again."  "Beg your pardon," I answered, unaware of who  and how I had pissed someone off. "Call it Frisco. The name is San Francisco." Silenty laughing at the realization I was roughtly three tequilas short of what would have been my normal  response, I simply said, "I am very sorry, I had no intention of insulting anyone."  Talk about someone that is going to experience an awakening, but your statement and recollection of that evening caused me to totally LOL.

Again, thanks for sharing in such an interesting fashion, and yes, I aslo agree and have to thank you for your chosen profession.  So damn important and underappreciated. Hell, my past experience with Jim is when he was a qb here. You are way  ahead of me in realizing that special level of craziness that defines him.  I believe yours' is the first story I've read about a fan following the fired coach  of their professional team into college football. I can fully understand why someone might do that in this case, but I am so happy it introduced you into the world of cfb and specifically Michigan. Stay safe and don't delay in choosing that date to visit AA. GO BLUE!!!!!!


April 13th, 2016 at 12:05 AM ^

Cool write-up, thanks for posting.  The best is yet to come.

It still amazes me how an individual (Jed York for SF, Dave Brandon for UM) can single-handedly destroy such proud programs and fan bases with pure arrogance and incompetence.


April 13th, 2016 at 3:13 AM ^


Great write up.  I too found myself smiling throught your entire piece.  I sincerely hope you do get a chance to make it to A2 for a game at the Big House!  Cool city, iconic stadium, fantastic coach, storied history, loyal fans (you get the idea)... Make sure you get a chance to walk through both golf courses for the pre-game tail gate to truly take in the experience.  Or God willing and the creek don't rise, Tampa is nice in January.  


You're in good company, glad to have you.  Cheers

Forever Blue


April 13th, 2016 at 8:54 AM ^

That was awesome! Thanks for sharing. I'd find it facinating to read a book full of stories just like that. You listening, JU Bacon? Looking for new ideas? :)

OC Alum91

April 13th, 2016 at 9:24 AM ^

Great story.

I didn't know that people had written Alex Smith before Harbaugh got there.

I left CA to go to school at UM. I knew nothing about college fb fandom, just the Steelers. I was amazed at how many kids grew up fans, so passionate.

The Blog is an amazing central source of UM info.


April 13th, 2016 at 10:42 AM ^

I've been trying to connect with a soccer team over in Europe for years now. And have yet to do so. To me, it is the lack of pain I feel in a loss. That is when you know your stuck. 

That MSU game this year is the type of loss that cements your fanhood. To live through it, and proudly be a Michigan fan still, I cannot question your love for this team. Every bit the fan I am imo.

Welcome. May we suffer less and celebrate joyfully more!


April 13th, 2016 at 10:43 AM ^

and even more for your public service.  After graduating, my career took me to the Bay area in the 90's but I have since moved back East.  I will always miss those early Sat morning M games on TV - especially the  "Judgment Day" ass-kicking @ Happy Valley.  JH is going to take us all on a wild and fun ride the next decade.  Enjoy it and welcome aboard. Go Blue!


April 13th, 2016 at 2:03 PM ^

Cool story, interesting to hear how someone becomes a fan.  I was born into it and never stayed a fan of any other organization so this is all foreign to me.

Goggles Paisano

April 13th, 2016 at 3:17 PM ^

Thanks for sharing man!  If you can, try to make it a priority to get to a game in Ann Arbor - there is nothing like it.  I live in Florida and make it up every year for a game (occasionally 2) and it is always the best weekend of my year.  


April 13th, 2016 at 6:30 PM ^

interesting story.  welcome.  you no doubt jumped in at the right time!  

and good for you on the career path.  im friendly with quite a few cops, mostly in and around philly.  its a tough but noble profession - trying to make your neightborhood a safer, cleaner place can be difficult (as im sure you well know), especially given the recent national climate.  im gonna guess youre not in the 10% that direspect the badge and give the other 90% of solid cops a bad name.  nothing political here - i just appreciate good police (and good EMT, fire, teachers, etc).

more importantly - im not as old as you but when i reach that age im hopeful ill find a hobby and have enough passion to jump in with both feet like you have with m football!


April 13th, 2016 at 8:21 PM ^

Raised Notre Dame fan. Dad did not allow hated Mich. on his TV or radio. Thankfully he worked OT one saturday in 1968  and I saw my first Mich game as Ron Johnson ran for 347 yds against Wisky...that and the winged helmets is how I became  Maize and Blue forever.

Welcome to the family and Go Blue.


The Mad Hatter

April 14th, 2016 at 11:50 AM ^

Like other posters have said, make it a priority to get to a game (any game) at Michigan Stadium.  Get a cheap flight on a shitty airline (I know what cops make) and find someplace to crash for a few days while you're here.  I'd offer my couch, but you're going to have to take off your LEO hat while visiting.

Seriously, there's nothing like a game at Michigan Stadium.  Especially when we're pounding the hell out of a quality opponent.

The Mad Hatter

April 14th, 2016 at 11:11 PM ^

I turned down a job offer in your neighborhood a few years ago. They offered me double what I was making here. Sounded like a great offer, until I realized I was going to live in a smaller house in a city not nearly as nice. And I'd be renting that house since there was no way I could afford to buy it.

But since you're doing so well, maybe I'll crash on your couch if we ever get around to scheduling a home and home with Stanford.

An Angelo's Addict

April 15th, 2016 at 7:28 AM ^

Welcome to the Michigan Family! And don't ever think you don't rank with us alums or fans of the program for a long time. All fans of Michigan are equallly blessed to have arrived at the decision to root for the best program in the country


April 15th, 2016 at 10:53 AM ^

Careful, or sparties will call you a wal mart wolverine or something. And I'm guessing pretty soon Michigan will be playing a bowl game in your state so seeing a game in person may be easier than expected

SD Larry

April 16th, 2016 at 6:43 PM ^

Great stuff, thanks for sharing.  Glad to have you as part of the fan base and thank you for your service.  Know this is before your time but I spent some time in Northern Cal as a kid listening to Lon Simmons do radio for the 49ners when John Brodie was QB, and Giants baseball when Messrs. Mays and McCovey ruled Candlestick.   Had the opportunity to meet Coach Harbaugh when he was at USD and know I am biased but imho, he is the real deal, a great football coach, and truly home, though I am sure he loves the Bay Area as well.