Will the real Jim Harbaugh please stand up?


Remember why Quinn Nordin is kicking for Michigan football and not for Penn State?  Remember who plans slumber parties with prospective recruits?  Remember who presented the Pope with a Michigan football helmet?  Well, to be more precise, who presented the Pope with a Michigan helmet and a pair of maize and blue shoes?

 Remember who told his team not to eat chicken, a “nervous bird”?  Remember which Division I football coach wore number four as first base coach for the Detroit Tigers?  Remember which coach put together a rap video?  Remember which coach was the correct answer to a question on the Simpsons – “a sports genius that everyone hates.”  For that matter, remember which coach has a fan crush on Judge Judy.

Let’s also remember which coach was blasted for establishing “satellite camps”, 10 camps in seven states, then remember the coach who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama when bringing a camp to Alabama.  Maybe remember who stood on Omaha Beach with his team as Taps was played in honor of the 9000 American soldiers who gave their lives there on D-Day.

The truth is that last season was tough, tough on the team, tough on the coaches, and tough on fans.  Losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, an 8-5 season and 4th place in the division hurt, watching a stalled offense hurt, watching quarterbacks flounder hurt.

There were some obvious obstacles to success last year, and hopes at the start of the season were probably unrealistic, but all bets are off when it comes to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan football.  In a landscape of taskmasters and oily self-promoters, Jim Harbaugh is both a character and a man of character.

He has strong feelings.  “I drink a lot of milk … A lot of milk.  Whole milk though.  Not the candy-ass two-percent or skim milk.”  “The football gods have provided us with heat and sun to shape the body and carve the mind.”  “My default is ‘yes’ when asked to do things.”  And, perhaps the most striking, in describing his attitude toward coaching, “I’m as happy as a pig in slop.”  He wore a Colin Kaepernick jersey at Michigan’s Sacramento camp and in an interview with Sports Illustrated observed, “For Colin, and what Colin’s doing and has been doing, when you really stop and listen and know where Colin is coming from…he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He’s a special person and a hero, in my opinion.”

A column by Bill Gordon, Ph.D., in Psychology Today examined America’s infatuation with Jim Harbaugh.  Gordon considered all of the qualities already mentioned, but took the question of Harbaugh’s popularity to those who know him best.:

“…  his many humanitarian deeds add yet another level of subconscious appeal.  I asked several top Michigan related Internet social media groups, such as Michigan Football HQ, The University of Michigan M Club, Michigan Proud and True, and Big Ten Talk why they liked Jim Harbaugh. U of M alumnus, Bruce Laing, encapsulates the majority opinion: He will instill toughness and accountability in the athletes, posted Laing in the University of Michigan M Club.  Our children’s futures are vital, so we embrace the importance of education, accountability and toughness because they galvanize that future; yet  another reason America is instinctually drawn to Harbaugh.”

Michigan has an extraordinary coach, a coach with rare ability to motivate, inspire, and teach.  We need all that only Harbaugh can offer. The team faces what may be the toughest schedule in college football, and there are still questions about the offensive line, running backs, receivers, and starting quarterback.  The opening game against Notre Dame is plenty daunting enough, and there will be moments of consternation on the sideline.

And that is when fans want the real Jim Harbaugh to stand up.  Yes, measured rationality is a good quality to present during a battle, but the team and its fans need a little wild man, a little Henry V, a little “we band of brothers,” some hopping on one foot, slapping of helmets, screaming at refs, tossing of clipboards.

We want to see the competitive genius of Jim Harbaugh at a fever pitch.  We want a Jim Harbaugh who is over the top and almost too much.  Just take off the headphones, Jim, and kick something.

We believe in Jim Harbaugh and only want to see him do what he can do best.  After all, when it comes to looking at leadership at the top of the Michigan football program, “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?”

Twenty Four Days Until Kickoff

College Football, Sports history

I receive the occasional urgent message from and about University of Michigan sports, primarily alerting me to the importance of the next football, hockey, basketball, or volleyball game.  I scan them all, which is odd in that I did not attend the University of Michigan, have not sent children to the University of Michigan, and have very few friends or acquaintances who are connected with the University of Michigan.  And yet…. on game days I sit in my living room in Oregon wearing my lucky Wolverine cap and any one of my Michigan t-shirts or jerseys.  I wear a less lucky, sweat stained Michigan cap out in the world, responding to those who recognize and share my fondness for the university with a hearty “Go Blue!”.  Two of my children have grown up with my elaborate game day rituals and have become Michigan fans, slightly less likely to wear Michigan gear and much less likely to stop strangers on the street to talk Michigan football, but loyal to the Blue nonetheless.

I’m not entirely sure how it is that sports keep me sane, and my game day behavior certainly does not look like measured sanity, but for a few moments I’m not keeping track of global warming, the loss of species, political chicanery,  inequality, injustice, and the looting of America.  Thoughtful observers of my quasi-fanaticism will argue that we’re talking more than a few moments, as I do enjoy the four-day ramp up to the next game and allow myself a day or two of celebration or consolation after the last game.  I enjoy those pick up conversations as well, some of which are with fans of other programs.  I don’t have much in common with several acquaintances, but I do know that they are as captivated by sport as I am.  I know who their team faces on Saturday and am more than willing to run through their lineup even if we never get around to my current favorite topic: Michigan’s chances in the opening game against Notre Dame.

I’m not stupid.  I know that Michigan’s chances against Notre Dame aren’t great.  Well,  I know, but how can I?  Who really knows?  Hope springs eternal.  One leg at a time.  And so on.

I experience a second level of puzzling emotional instability even as I name Notre Dame or more frequently, Ohio State.  I do have friends with attachments to those universities.  They are good people; they have not poisoned my pets or stolen my identity.  And yet I loathe their alma maters with unvarnished ferocity.  This does seem marginally unreasonable.  And yet …

I’ve lived in each quadrant of the United States and have found that with one exception, each asks a newcomer to commit.  Duke or Carolina?  Alabama or Auburn?  Florida or Georgia?  I grew up in New England where state universities served their constituents well but had not attached themselves to signature athletic programs at the national level.  As I travelled through the greater world then, I had no ready rejoinder when put on the spot.  I have significant memories of the years I lived and worked in Michigan.  One of my children was born there.  Ann Arbor was within easy driving distance and season ticket holders were generous, inviting me to Michigan’s stadium, The Big House.  I sat with 107,601 rabid wolverines and gave my heart away.

It’s been a bleak summer here in Oregon; the heat is brutal and fires continue to funnel smoke into the Rogue Valley.  The Red Sox are running away with the division title and LeBron is going to the Lakers.  Bleak, I say,  and unlikely to change, but when the “24 Days to Kickoff: alert hits my mailbox, the fog lifts, the clouds part, and for a moment, all is right with the world.

I do have a life outside of Michigan football, one in which I care for my family, consider the great questions and think long thoughts.  I read a fair bit and write as well.  There’s the grounds work to do and dogs to romp.  After all, game day is just one day … except that I’ve just committed to writing for GBMWolverine again, bringing the older fan’s perspective to a young man’s game.  I think that will be ok; an hour or so a day is relatively easy to grab, especially as I have followed the Marie Kondo’s advice and actively begin the art of tidying up, keeping only those things that “spark joy”.  I’ve got another box of books in the car, mostly history books untouched since my college years.  I remember them fondly but not a lot of joy sparking when I took them down from the shelf.

I’m a work in progress.  Keep the flannel shirt?  Time to admit that I really don’t need three sets of golf clubs?  The Barbie Michigan Cheerleader set?

A work in progress.