Michigan v. Ohio State, 2 v. 1, us v. them, win or lose we will all miss Bo Schembechler

November 17, 2006

The day before what is perhaps the biggest game ever in college football we lost a legend. Still, the epic rivalry known as Michigan verses Ohio State lives on. It lives on now with both Woody and Bo coaching from above…

In 1981 the Michigan Wolverines beat the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl. Bo Schembechler was the Michigan coach. That year I caught a ball in the end zone. No kidding. It happened. Take a look at the tape. I’ll remember that moment the rest my life. From the instant I turned and saw the ball coming towards me I knew I would catch it. Guys were closing in all around me. It was going to be a tough catch. I could only manage to get my right arm extended, but that was enough. I caught it. My parents were in the stands. It was perhaps their proudest moment.

What was so amazing about my catch was that I didn’t drop the Pepsi which I had in my other hand. Even though I was only a high school senior and even though I was in the stands and even though the ball I caught was on the other end of a 25 yard field goal by a guy Ali Haji-Sheikh, I wondered if Bo saw my catch. To a boy from Michigan, Bo Schembechler was football.

Bo died today. Bo knew football. Bo was football. If Bo did in fact see my catch he was too busy beating the Huskies to take notice. Still, Bo impacted my life. Bo impacted the lives of everyone in Michigan, if not in the Midwest. Today football fans everywhere lost an icon. Bo taught all of us it is OK to aspire to win, in fact always. Perhaps more importantly he taught us to lose with grace. He always respected the other team.

Several years after my catch I met my brother-in-law, an avid Iowa Hawkeye fan. The first thing he told me was he hated Michigan and he hated Bo Schembechler. Having sworn off dropping my hockey gloves in social situations, I simply asked him why. Why would a guy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa hate a team, hate a guy so much? I’m not quite sure I understood his explanation. I do remember he wasn’t happy when I explained that in Michigan the rivalries go as follows: 1st – beat Ohio State, 2nd beat Michigan State, 3rd beat Notre Dame, and 4th beat everyone else. In retrospect, I guess it is possible that I said something about the Big 2, Little 8. Still…

Bo was not a man to hate. Bo was a man to admire. Bo was loyal. Bo was Michigan. Bo was football. Bo was many things that we should all aspire to be. He made boys into men. He inspired a state if not a nation to believe. He gave us hope. He was our guy. He respected competitors. He was Bo…

On the eve of the 1989 NCAA Final Four it was Bo, then Michiganathletic director, who replaced Wolverine basketball coach Bill Freider with Steve Fisher, a Michigan assistant coach. Freider had announced he was leaving after the NCAA tournament to coach at Arizona State. Bo immediately showed Bill the door and named Fisher interim coach. Bo told the world “A Michigan man is going to coach a Michigan team…” Much to the surprise of the entire nation, underdog Michigan, under interim coach and ‘Michigan Man’ Steve Fisher, won it all. Bo knew Michigan. Bo was loyal to Michigan.

In the late seventies Bo turned down the head coaching job at Texas A&M. Texas A&M was offering Bo an amount of money unheard of in those times. Bo knew football. Bo knew Michigan. Bo was loyal to Michigan. Bo was football. Bo turned down the job. Money came in second to loyalty.

Now I don’t know much about football. I am just a fan. However, I do know this one thing. Tomorrow at the what the Wall Street Journal has heralded “The Biggest Game Ever”, Coach Carr will honor Bo Schembechler. Bo deserves it. Mark my words, in typical Bo-style, tomorrow on Michigan’s first play under center, QB Chad Henne will hand the ball to RB Mike Hart who will square up his shoulders and run off tackle (up the middle). If Bo has anything to do with it, Hart might just go all the way…

Thanks Bo. You were without question the best there ever was.