The common theme among all these guys I’ve written about, aside from my good fortune of being their teammate, is a great admiration I’ve had for them as intelligent men of high character. They were all great football players, that’s a given, but they all stood out as leaders by way of their action. They did less talking but more “walkling”. They worked hard, performed at the highest level, and competed every day for a shot at a starting job. Then, when they got there, they remained grounded and became outstanding examples for the young guys behind them. They showed from their actions how to go about your business and always put the team first. It’s no surprise that these guys have all gone on to leadership positions in their chosen fields and have remained successful while being held in high regard by their coworkers. You’ve heard the term “Captains of Industy”. They all fit that description.
This next guy fits it to a tee. He came into the program a highly sought after QB, with lofty education and athletic goals. He was a hard worker by nature, liked by all his coaches and teammates, and handled one of the most pressure packed moments you could imagine. He went on to marry a Michigan women, further his education with TWO master's degrees, and is now an administrator at one of the most respected health care providers in the entire world.
Russ Rein grew up in Oak Lawn Illinois, having played for Marist High School. He was recruited by just about every school, including Alabama, Duke, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and Brigham Young. Clearly academics played a major factor in his college decision.
When he visited Michigan, he planned on becoming a doctor, either a physician or ophthalmologist. When he arrived for his visit, he was taken to a house of an ophthalmologist who worked for the university hospital. There were almost a dozen other doctors present who all came out to greet the prized recruit. (Another example of a page Harbaugh took right from Bo’s playbook). Of course a young kid with medical aspirations would be awed by the “chance” meeting, but it was deeper than that for Russ. He saw the collective dedication to excellence that permeated the room; the presence of brilliant doctors who had great respect for their field and their fellow doctors. To say it left an impression would be an understatement. That moment would resonate with him in his life after college football.
While he was taking his time narrowing his college choices, Bo was seeking an answer. Time was of the essence, and solidifying the roster was no less stressful for coaches then as it is now. Being the kind of guy who wouldn’t make a hasty decision, Russ planned a visit to Provo Utah to tour Brigham Young and meet with legendary Coach Lavelle Edwards. Bo had other plans. He wanted a commitment. He called Russ and used the tried and true recruiting tactic that still gets used today: “Son, we have limited scholarships available and if you take that visit, I'm afraid we’ll have to give your scholarship to someone else.” If Russ felt intimidated or pressured, he didn’t show it. “I’ll think about it and get back to you” he said as he hung up the phone. Ballsy move for an 18 year old. Ballsy but not risky. Russ knew as soon as he hung up the phone he was going to Michigan. Shortly thereafter, he called the old man back and pledged his allegiance to the Wolverines.
He arrived on campus in 1983 as part of a stable of QBs that included Steve Smith, Rich Hewlett, Jim Harbaugh, and Chris Zurbrugg. That’s a crowded room. Smith and Hewlett were seniors but Harbaugh had 4 more years of eligibility. Today, a highly rated quarterback might look at that roster and seek a more convenient path to the playing field. Not Russ. He had been a hard worker his whole life, clocking hours at his parent’s convenience store on the southside of Chicago since he was a young boy. He wanted the challenge that Michigan offered, both athletically and academically.
His first game action came sooner than he and just about everyone associated with Michigan expected. October 6, 1984. Ranked #13 in the country with a 3-1 record and facing in-state rival Michigan State in the Big House. You all know what happened. Trailing 13-7 midway through the 3rd quarter but with the ball and driving, Jamie Morris got hit and fumbled at the 35 yard line. Harbaugh dove for the loose ball at the same time a State defender got there. Broken arm. His season over.
Next man up: Russ Rein.
Talk about sudden change. One minute you’re standing on the sideline, casually watching the game, confident Harbaugh would lead the team for the go-ahead score then - snap - Bo yells, “Rein! Come here.”
Russ said he wasn’t really nervous when he entered the game. He was excited yet calm, though admittedly not quite as prepared as he would’ve liked. As a matter of fact, he recalls staying up quite late at the hotel the night before, studying for a final the following week. Lack of sleep for a football player at Michigan knee deep in academics isn’t really a unique problem. But things change when you’re suddenly thrust into the starting QB position unexpectedly.
As everyone knows, the game didn’t turn out the way we would have liked. Russ’ first pass was a long out route intended for Vince Bean on the opposite sideline. The cornerback broke on the route and made a hell of a play on the ball.
His first collegiate attempt was intercepted. It was that kind of day.
Funny story about that Michigan State game: as already mentioned, Russ’ family owned a store in Chicago. Three or four times a week, this nice old man named Mr. Ortho Cortz would come in to get a coffee and a newspaper. He’d always have a smile, say hello to Russ and his brothers, then go on his way. He’d been a regular customer for years. When Russ trotted onto the field for the first time in that Michigan State game, an official walked over, tapped him on the shoulder, and with a wink said, “Good luck, son.” To Russ’ surprise, it was Mr. Cortz, head of Big 10 officials, and referee for that game. In all the years Russ saw him at the store, he never knew he was a football official.
Practice the following week was grueling. We had a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. Bo needed to get one of his QBs up to speed while the defense needed to figure out how to get off the field. By the time toe met leather the next week, it was #3 under center. He led us to a convincing 31-0 win over Northwestern in front a much happier Michigan Stadium crowd. In that game, Russ threw his first career touchdown pass to Tight End Eric Kattus. Guys like Kattus, Eddie Garrett, Rick Rogers, Clay Miller, and Art Balourdos were all instrumental in helping Russ prepare for the game and kept encouraging him during it. It was a great feeling leading the team to victory and hanging 31 points on the scoreboard.
Another interesting thing in that game: Russ faced a familiar old foe in Northwestern LB Jim Torkelson. The two had faced each other in the Illinois High School Football playoffs two years prior. Torkelson’s Homewood Flossmore team was leading Marist late in the game, but Russ had his team driving. In the last minute, as he dropped back for a potential game winning TD, Torkelson knocked the ball out of Russ’ hand and pounced on the ball. The refs ruled it a fumble. Russ still disagrees.
The two still maintain a friendship by way of a mutual friend (and former Wolverine) John Balourdos. They all get together in Chicago when Michigan invades Ryan Field every couple years.
At this point, it appeared the dust had settled from the shake up at QB. The defense pitched a shutout and we were back in the rankings at 4-2 heading into the second half of the season. Unfortunately, it would not go well. You know the story. 6-6. Blah Blah Blah.
After matriculating from the University of Michigan, Russ furthered his education with master’s degrees in Health Administration and Business Administration. After working in St Louis for Barnes Hospital, he moved to Minnesota and began working for the Mayo Clinic. He’s been there 25 years and is currently the Administrator for the Department of Cardiology. And like that feeling he got at Michigan as a recruit when he met all those ophthalmologists, Russ feels equally grateful for the opportunity to surrounded himself with legends in medicine and wonderful people who are committed to a common goal of helping other people.
Russ is married to Janet, whom he met at Michigan. Monte Robbins (former punter from Kansas) and Russ were sitting in a Linguistics class when he noticed a smart, beautiful co-ed sitting at the other end of the room. He couldn’t stop looking her way. When the class met again, Russ looked over to the same side of the room but to his chagrin, she wasn’t there. Monte leaned over and said, “she’s sitting behind you.” A few years later, she’d be standing right next to him.
In 1991, the pretty girl from the Linguistics class became Mrs. Russell Rein. They have two children: Sarah is a senior at the University of Minnesota, and JT is a freshman at the University of Utah.
Those Who Stay…