This is the 5th installment of my TBT series where I catch up with former players to ask them about their recruitment and playing days at Michigan.
You want the most “Bo” story you’ll ever read? Here goes.
This next guy was a redshirt freshman when he saw his first game action on special teams in a game on the road against Washington. We were ranked in the top 10 and playing the 16th ranked Huskies. Our boy was playing guard on the punt team. One of the things we were coached to do on punt team was to point out exactly who you were blocking and yell it to the guy next to you and to the upback behind you. So, he points to a man and screams out his number. As the ball’s snapped, he inexplicably blocks the wrong man. The guy comes through the line and damn near blocks the punt.
During film sessions on Sunday evenings, we’d gather in the team room and Bo would talk about the game, discuss what we needed to work on, hand out some awards, then review special teams film with the whole team and all the coaches. The room is dark, Bo’s sitting in the front with his long wood pointer, breaking down each play as he runs it backwards and forwards. Bo took special teams extremely seriously. He knew it could be the difference between a win and a loss and he’d be damned if he was going to let that happen. That’s why we worked on it every day, and every man on every special teams unit was approved by Bo.
When the film played this particular punt play and the guy came through the line unblocked, Bo came unglued. He stopped the film, flipped on the lights, and barked out, “Who is this man?” as he smacks the screen with his pointer. Mike was sitting in the back of the room with the rest of the freshman and the assistant coaches standing behind them, against the back wall. He raised his hand.
“Stand up, son.”
“What the hell were you thinking?”
This is the absolute last place on earth you want to be; standing in front of the entire team with Bo asking you a question that has no right answer. The naïve 2nd year player responded with “I don’t know”.
Oooof. Wrong answer.
“WHAT? Are you shitting me? What do you mean ‘you don’t know’? How do we have a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing on the punt team? HOW DO WE HAVE A GUY WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING ON THE PUNT TEAM?!?”
Bo pauses and stares at Mike as the rest of the room sits in a deathly silence. Mike builds up the courage to take a breath, thinking the worst is over.
“Reinhold, you have to be the dumbest player in the country. I want to know who recruited this son of a bitch. That coach has to be the dumbest SOB in America. Whoever recruited him is fired.”
Bo turns around, sits in his chair, barks “hit the lights” and continues breaking down the rest of the film.
Mike Reinhold grew up in Muskegon where he helped Muskegon Catholic Central win the 1980 Class B football title. His dad fostered his love for Michigan football when he took him to his first game at six years old. The young wannabe football player was in awe of the helmets, the fans, and the greatest fight song he'd ever heard. He knew right then he wanted to be a Michigan Wolverine. When he returned to school the following Monday, he told everyone who would listen that he was going to play for Michigan.
There was one guy who tried to derail those plans though: former Michigan State Spartan All-American and 3-time Super Bowl Champ Earl Morrall. Earl and Mike’s dad were best friends growing up. Each time Earl visited the Reinholds, he'd tried to sell Mike on the Spartans. Mike was always respectful and had great admiration for his dad's lifelong friend, but when he left, Mike's thoughts always returned to the Maize and Blue.
One day, word got back to Bo that Mike had committed to the Spartans. Bo called Mike's dad at work and told him, “Get your ass home and talk some sense into that kid, would you?” And Mr. Reinhold did just that. He drove home and straightened his boy out. Although, there really wasn't anything to straighten. Mike didn't commit to MSU. It was all a misunderstanding.
Soon after, Mike and his dad took a visit to Ann Arbor. In Bo’s office, the two men lit up cigars to celebrate the young Reinhold's commitment to Michigan. For a couple guys who loved Michigan, sitting in the office, smoking a cigar with Bo was the greatest day ever! Mr. Reinhold kept the the band to that very cigar for the remainder of his life. Today, Reiny keeps it in his top dresser drawer as a reminder of his dad, Bo, and the best decision he ever made.
On that same visit, Bo and Mike stood in the press box at the stadium and Bo made two promises. “Number 1, you’re gonna get your ass kicked every day for an entire year. Number 2, you come to me as a kid, but you’ll leave here as a man.” Mike had no idea how right Bo was.
Eight weeks after the blown punt in the Washington game, Michigan visited the Metrodome in Minneapolis for a night game against the Golden Gophers. It was the 4th quarter and Minnesota was getting clobbered. Mike was at linebacker when the Gophers attempted a screen pass to his right. He dropped back into his zone, and then reacted to the play. As he stopped to change direction to his right, his foot got caught in the turf. He stumbled while trying to regain his balance. At the same moment, a wide receiver came at him for a crack back block. He threw his whole body at Mike's leg that was stuck in the turf. SNAP! Mike went down. He could tell by the look on the other player’s faces that it was serious. His right leg was crossed over his left, but not at the knee. He shattered his femur. An ambulance came onto the field and rushed him to the hospital. There, they cut off his uniform and immediately began drilling a steel rod into his shin bone. Mike was in shock but he watched as doctors passed the rod right through his lower leg. After that, he was put under anesthetics and had two more rods inserted – one right through the center of his femur and the other drilled perpendicular through the leg to hold the long one in place. That was Novermber 12, 1983. He’d spend nearly a month in the hospital recovering. His leg swelled up to triple its normal size and the pain was excruciating. As you can imagine, it was the worst day of his young life. He wondered if he'd ever use his leg again, no less play football.
Michigan fans who had watched the game and saw the gruesome injury drove to the hospital on Thanksgiving night to drop off turkey dinner for him. We had just beat Ohio State the previous Saturday and were slated to play Bo JAckson and the Auburn Tigers in the Sugar Bowl. It was a good day in that far away Minnesota hospital room. And as Mike recalls, it was those people's kindness and compassion that helped him get through the days.
When he returned to campus, he was down 45 pounds so he’d wear two sweatshirts to training table just so he wouldn’t look so skinny. He used to bench 350 pounds. Now he couldn’t lift 135. He wasn't sure he'd ever play football again.
For the next year and a half, he rehabbed and had surgery to remove two of the rods (the 21” long one in the center of the femur remained). He swam, biked, lifted, ate right, and got his ass kicked by Mike Gittleson every day. He was determined to come back.
In the summer of ’84 while hanging with friends back home in Muskegon, his buddies started to ask if he'd ever make it back to the field. He was doing everything he could, but this was a tough injury to come back from. And he still had a rod in his leg. All of it just got to be too much. He went home and sat in his room, thinking about what was and what might be. At 3am, he went for a run. A long run. All along the way he smacked every overhead sign and mailbox he came across. He jumped, cut, skipped, shuffled, and every other move to test out his leg. When he made it home, he was convinced he could do it. He could play football again.
The next step was convincing the doctors to remove the rod in his leg. Eventually they did, and when the surgery was complete, the steel rod came out bent.
In the spring of ’85, Reiny was back. He was in pads and ready to participate in spring ball. However, his days as a linebacker were over. He was moving to noseguard, splitting duty with the talented Billy Harris (RIP). Mike had to learn a new position, new techniques, and new responsibilities but none of that mattered. He was back on the field with his teammates. I’ll never forget one of his first days at Nose when he came off the field at a practice in the stadium and said, “Playing nose is like going to a party every day that you aren’t invited to.” (I used that line countless times whenever I talked to a player who wanted to play noseguard for me when I was coaching).
Obviously 1985 was a special year for Mike. He was playing again, his leg was holding up, and our defense was kicking everybody's ass. We didn’t allow a touchdown in the first 6 games. The only ones we did give up before the Ohio State game were late game, garbage time scores against the 2nd and 3rd stringers. Well after he had retired, Bo would proclaim the 1985 defense as the best unit he ever had.
(Last week, MGoBoard member Dr. Sap made a post titled “The Longest Goal Line Stand Ever”. It features Mike prominently. You should definitely check it out if you haven't already.)
We ended the season with a big win against Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, and Mike had one of his best games ever as a Wolverine. With the Huskers trailing on their final possession, Mike came through the line and had a clear shot at a game-clinching sack on freshman QB Steve Taylor. But Taylor was too slippery, and he dodged the oncoming rush. The pressure, however, was enough to force an errant throw that landed in the hands of Garland Rivers. Game over. Michigan won 27-23 and finished ranked #2 in the country.
For 3 years, one of Mike’s roommate was some guy you might’ve heard of, former QB Jim Harbaugh. He says he could write a book chronicling their days in Ann Arbor. (I’m sure most of their free time was spent in the library and occasionally at church). Reiny also roomed with Clay Miller, Brad Cochran, Paul Jokish, Paul Schmerge, Ricker Peterson, Jerry Quaerna, Jim Scarcelli, and Jack Walker. All guys he keeps in touch with today. He also keeps in touch with Deiter Heren and Mike “Moose” Kraus. Mike recalls a particularly memorable play against Michigan State when Moose – an offensive guard - was on the backside of a sweep play going the other way. Nobody paid much attention until the whiste blew, and there was Kraus, 10 yards behind the play, throwing haymakers on a helpless Spartan he just obliterated. The sideline erupted in laughter and cheers as Bo glared from the sidelines while flags flew from every ref on the field.
Mike’s 5th year (1986) was plagued by more injuries, twice rupturing his Achilles and needing to have his kidney removed. Those surgeries would linger and wreak havoc on his life for years following graduation. Since his playing days, he's had knee surgery and 3 neck surgeries. And in 2006 while attending a game at the Big House, Mike needed immediate medical attention and was rushed to UofM hospital. While in the hospital, Bo and his wife Cathy visited. Bo hadn’t seen his former noseguard in 15 years but he never forgot a player and is known for being there when one of his own needed him most. Bo stood at Mike’s bedside and comforted him. They shared some laughs, talked about the time he and his dad smoked a cigar in his office, and asked, “if he could, would he do it all again?” Without hesitation, Mike said "yes". Bo looked at Cathy and said, “What did I tell you? To a man……”
Six weeks later, Bo was gone.
Mike has 3 adult kids now. His oldest is in Tuscon AZ finishing his CPA certification. His next son is in Chicago working in finance. And his daughter is a hell of a pitcher for Grand Valley State University. All the kids were excellent students throughout high school and college.
It's Mike’s relationships with his former teammates, the dinners from the fans in that Minnesota hospital, and the visit from Bo and Cathy that serve as further affirmation that choosing Michigan wasn’t just the right decision. It was the only decision.
Those who stay….
Mike played from 1982-1986 and wore #45
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor is Gander Dancer and Bell's Pizza ("the best 2am meal EVER!")
The best dish he makes is Grandma Reinhold's Fried Chicken.
Yes he allowed his sons to play football. "The life lessons learned in the game far outweigh any risks. (And this is a man that knows a thing or two about the subject).