The Bacon Blog

Letter To Loyal Readers

Dear Loyal Readers,  

Well, today is the day!  After putting it off and getting halfway there and putting it aside again and again to finish that pesky book, the new website is here!  (Thank you, Brandi Scharrer!) 

More good news: We now have an incredible 136,464 subscribers to the Bacon Blog.  And trust me, I’m more surprised than you are.  But once it starts spreading, that’s what happens in cyberspace, and now it’s growing by leaps and bounds every week.  So, to all of you who have subscribed and invited your friends to subscribe (often at gunpoint, I’d wager, based on the numbers above): THANK YOU! 

Now, for the SCARY PART! 

I need to ask everyone to SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEW SITE, because it can’t happen automatically.  The good news is, it’s easy – here’s the link! – and I promise I will never ask you twice.  But you need to do it soon, or you won’t keep getting your weekly Slice of Bacon.   

The motives are many, but in short, I think you’ll find this a better-looking, more user-friendly and interactive website and blog.  I can advertise on this one, too – and, you’ll notice, it now has a little “Donate” button, an idea I’ve taken from some of my favorite sites, though I don’t think many include the phrase, “PLEASE FEED THE WRITER!” 

And here’s the reason: When Steve Schram, the director of Michigan Media (which includes Michigan Radio and its stations in Ann Arbor, Flint and Grand Rapids), invited me to provide sports commentary every Friday morning way back in 2007, I had no idea how long I would do this or where it might lead.  While it now runs on Detroitnews.com, Annarborchronicle.com, and of course the Bacon Blog, in the new world order we live in, very few newspapers will pay a dime for content, fearful as they are about going under, so syndicating it myself has proven impossible.  

But I love writing these weekly commentaries, and want to keep writing them.  To do so, however, I’ll need to make some revenue to justify the day or more they usually take to research, revise and record – especially after taking three years to finish a book with a one-year advance.  (Ooh -- that hurts!)  While I’m not claiming poverty, you will not see me trading in my 2004 Volkswagen Passat for a Rolls Royce any time soon.  (A Bentley, maybe, but never a Rolls Royce.  That’s just crass.)  

But I also promise you this: no one has to pay a dime, of course, as the content remains free.   

So that’s the story.  I hope to continue to provide commentary for you fine folks, and take in your comments, for many years to come.    

And again, THANK YOU!!! 

-John 

College Football Foreign To All But Us

September 9, 2011

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Download | Duration: 00:03:56



George Will recently wrote that when archeologists excavate American ruins centuries from now, they may be mystified by the Big House in Ann Arbor.  “How did this huge football emporium come to be connected to an institution of higher education? Or was the connection the other way?”
 

It’s a fair question, one I’ve pondered myself many times.  When I try to explain to foreigners why an esteemed university owns the largest stadium in the country, their expressions tell me it’s – well, a truly a foreign concept.  

Ken Burns said our national parks are “America’s best idea.”  If so, then our state universities must be a close second.  They’re why we have more college graduates per capita than any nation in the world.  And also why we have college towns rising out of cornfields – another uniquely American phenomenon.  But when you put thousands of young men in one place, all that testosterone has to go somewhere.  That’s why football grew not in the cities like baseball or in the YMCAs like basketball, but on college campuses.   

The students loved it as much as the presidents hated it – and almost as much as they hated the binge drinking that was turning Ann Arbor into a “place of revelry and intoxication,” as one president complained, back in 1871.   

They hoped football would give them something else to do.  And that’s why there’s no drinking on campuses today.  Can you imagine what college would be like if football hadn’t ended drinking on campus forever?  I shudder at the thought.   

But football did have one very important role.  For the university’s first 150 years, state taxpayers picked up 90-percent of the tab.  For the farmer in Fenton or the factory worker in Flint, one of the best reasons to support the state school was the Big House – the university’s front porch, the one place on campus where everybody feels welcome.   

In most countries, universities were intended to serve a small sliver of intellectual elites.  In America, they’re for everybody – and football is one big reason why.  Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy once said, “A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.”  Alabama’s Bear Bryant added, “It’s kind of hard to rally around a math class.” 

Joining 100,000 like-minded strangers solves a modern problem, too.  Both the Dali Lama and Mother Teresa noted the great disease of Western Civilization is loneliness.  Yes, it’s possible to be lonely in a crowd – but not that one.  

Studies show our endorphins spike when we’re marching in formation, singing in unison, or cheering together in a stadium.  Where else can you be certain 100,000 people are feeling exactly what you’re feeling, exactly when you’re feeling it?  This is why such places are more important now than ever.   

Think about it.  Michigan does not play one game this season that’s not televised.  You can sit back in your easy chair right at home and watch the whole thing for free.  Likewise, every song in the world can be purchased for a few bucks, and every movie is on DVD.  Yet we still pack Hill Auditorium for concerts, Michigan Theater for movies and Michigan Stadium for football games – just like our ancestors did almost century ago.  If Beethoven, Humphrey Bogart or Fielding H. Yost visited those places today, they would think almost nothing had changed.     

We need to be together.  We need to share something with strangers.  And to fill that need, you could do worse than Michigan football.  I’ve spent the past three years following the players at close range, and I can tell you that, with few exceptions, they are hard-working, honest guys who care deeply for their school and their teammates.  For many fans, when a Wolverine running back breaks through the line into the endzone, then simply hands the ball to the ref, Michigan-style, and celebrates with his teammates, he represents our cherished Midwestern values at their very best.     

One fan, who lost his dad at a young age, wrote to Michigan’s athletic director that, “Michigan football is my father.” 

A foreign concept, perhaps.  But not to us.  

Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon

John U. Bacon is the author of, "Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football," due for release October 25. It can be pre-ordered now.


From Victim to Champion

September 2, 2011

Steve Kempfer grew up in Jackson, and learned to play hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan.  He was a good student and a good player on some very good days, but few expected Kampfer to make it to the NHL.  I confess that I was one of them.   

What chance he had seemed to vanish on an October night in 2008, when he was leaving a campus bar.  He started jawing with another student, who happened to be on the wrestling team.  Things got hot, but it was all just talk, until the wrestler picked up Kampfer and turned him upside in a single, sudden move – then dropped him head first on the sidewalk.   

Kampfer lay there unconscious, with blood sliding out of his mouth.  His stunned friend thought he might be dead.  

They rushed Kampfer to the hospital, where they discovered he’d suffered a closed head injury and a severe skull fracture, near his spine.  He woke up on a flatboard, his head in a neck brace and tubes running out of his body.   

His coach, Red Berenson, talked to him about the possibility – even the likelihood -- that he would never play hockey again.  The goal was simply to make a full recovery, but they wouldn’t know that for three months.  

Kampfer was a student in my class at the time, which met twice a week at 8:30 in the morning – not the most popular hour for college students.  Just one week after the incident, at 8:30 Monday morning, Steve Kampfer walked back into my class, wearing a neckbrace.  He never discussed the injury.  He never made any excuses.  He never missed a single class.  

But his life was far from normal.  I found out just how far only this week, when his mom gave me a paper he had written for another class.  In it, he explains how hard it was just to eat, shower, go to the bathroom, or read a book. Nothing was the way it had been – not even sleeping.   

Beyond the inconvenience, there was fear.  When he looked in the mirror and saw his neck supported by a huge plastic brace, he knew if he turned his neck just an inch, he could be paralyzed forever. Any time somebody ran toward him, it scared the hell out of him.   

After a few weeks, he started going back to the rink – not to skate, but to ride a stationary bike for five minutes a day.  Then eight.  Then ten.  It was the best part of his day, when he would imagine his bones healing, his neck turning, and himself skating again.  And on some days, he let himself dream every hockey players’ dream, of raising the Stanley Cup over his head.   

After two months, Kampfer started skating again, and got to work building up his legs, and his heart.  Instead of becoming gun-shy, he got tougher, and faster.  The next year, he had a strong senior season, earned his degree, then reported to the Boston Bruins’ top farm team in Providence, Rhode Island.   

I thought that was great, but was as far as he was going to get.  But the Bruins called him up in December, and he played very well, before he injured his knee.  Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in almost four decades, when Number Four, Bobby Orr, was still a young star.       

Kampfer had played in 38 games, three short of the 41 required to get your name engraved on the Stanley Cup.  But Boston’s general manager petitioned the league, in the hopes of getting Steven Kampfer’s name on the same silver cylinder as Gordie Howe’s, Wayne Gretzky’s and Steve Yzerman’s.  Those legends all have bigger names, of course, but not better stories.  

Last week, Steve Kampfer got the Stanely Cup for a day, one of the NHL’s most cherished customs.  He could have held his party in Boston or Ann Arbor, but chose to take the greatest trophy in team sports to downtown Jackson, surrounded by his friends and former coaches and teachers.   

Naturally, they all wanted to get their picture taken with Kampfer, hoisting the Cup over his head – and that sucker weighs 50 pounds.  I saw him do it over a hundred times.  I had to remind myself this was same kid who, just two years ago, couldn’t lift his own head.    

After Kampfer’s friends took their last picture, I said, “Hey Steve -- you must have gotten a hell of a work out tonight.  Are you feeling it?” 

“No way,” he said, with a deeply satisfied smile.  “This thing never gets heavy.”


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Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon

John U. Bacon is the author of, "Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football," due for release October 25. It can be pre-ordered now.



Hello Loyal Readers!

Hello Loyal Readers!
 
We’re back for the fall – in full force!
 
And, in addition to the upcoming book, Three and Our: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, I have some more news: A new website host, starting next week!
 
We’ll tell you how to jump over to it in a few days.  It will have more features, more color, and more ways to interact.  It might also allow me to make a living doing this.  (Novel concept, I know.)
 
We’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, George Will reviewed the new book:
 
When, several millennia from now, archeologists excavate American ruins as archeologists have done those of Carthage, they may be mystified by the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. How did this 109,901 seat football emporium come to be connected to an institution of higher education? Or was the connection the other way? Without waiting 2,000 years, readers can join John U. Bacon on his eye-opening, and occasionally jaw-dropping, report on the weird world of college football.”
 
You can PRE-ORDER the new book by calling Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor:
 
Nicola’s Books
2513 Jackson Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48103-3818
(734) 662-0600

or by ordering from amazon.com.
 
 
See you in a week – and as always, THANK YOU!
 
-John 

No column this week -- sorry!

8-19-11

Dear Loyal Readers, 

No column this week -- sorry! -- as I train to Chicago, plane to LA, plane back to Chicago then train back home by Thursday.  But the other and more important reason is, we are re-tooling the site -- or, more accurately, building a completely new one.  This was inspired by the fact that we have cracked the amazing number of 120,000 RSS subscribers, and thought we should Go Pro with the project.  

So, yes, new and improved!  (Although I realize that's completely a contradiction in terms, since it can only be one or the other, yes?) 

In the meantime, Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) can be pre-ordered on amazon.com.  I am planning the fall book tour now, so if you know of any group which would like a speech, reading, Q&A and/or book signing (such as UM alumni clubs, service organizations, corporations, and the like), and is willing to guarantee the purchase of 50 books (discounted by the publisher), let me know, and the publisher will likely spring for the trip.  

In the meantime: Be Cool -- and, of course, Don't Go Changin'.  

See you in September!

-John

Goodbye to a Store Like no Other

August 12, 2011

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Download | Duration: 00:03:22



It’s tough for any sports writer to get a book published – but it was a lot easier with a friendly bookstore on your side, from start to finish.     

It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to buy a book, there was no Kindle or Nook or amazon.com – or the internet.  There weren’t even big-chain book stores.  You had to go to one of those narrow stores in mini-malls that sold paperback best-sellers and thrillers and romance novels.   

But then the Borders brothers changed all that.  They decided to go big, opening a two-story shop on State Street in Ann Arbor.  They stocked almost everything, they gave customers room to relax and read, and they hired people who weren’t just clerks, but readers. 

When I applied for a job there in college, they didn’t just hand me an application, but a test on literature -- which I failed.   

But if they wouldn’t let me sell books there, they still let me buy them, so perhaps it was just as well.  I bought everything from Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.”  Typically, I’d walk in for one book, and walk out with four – an hour later. I spent over a thousand dollars a year there, then a few hundred more on book shelves.   

When Borders became a national chain, we Ann Arborites took an unearned pride in seeing the rest of the country love it as much as we did.   

But Borders conceded the internet to amazon.com, then seemed to embark on a strategy designed not to create a stirring comeback, but a slow retreat.  Finally, Borders announced it was going out of business this summer.   

This week I visited my local Border’s store, Number #1, right downtown, one last time.  I toured my favorite sections, literature and history, but also stopped by the children’s department, where I bought Dr. Seuss books for my nieces years ago, one of whom is now in college.  I visited the travel stacks, where I planned trips to Turkey and Thailand, Spain and South America.  I also picked up books to teach me just enough of those languages to get me in trouble, but not quite enough to get me out of it.  I must have bought the cheaper ones.   

But I didn’t need to get on a plane to go places.  Pick up a good book – completely portable, no plugs or batteries needed – and you can go anywhere you want, even back in time, in just minutes.   

In 1989, at the original store’s reference section, I picked up a copy of Writer’s Market, because my teacher told me it was the bible for free-lance writers. I saved it.  In the back pages I listed all the publications where I sent my articles, and which ones rejected them.  That first year, all but one did.  Thank you, Motor Trend.  I bought ten copies of that issue at Border’s, too.   

But I kept buying Writer’s Market and sending out my stories.  After a decade, I published my first book.  I wrote my second book in Borders’ café, where I also listened to readings by my friends, and the famous.   

A few years ago the Borders in downtown Ann Arbor sold more copies of my last book, on Bo Schembechler, than any store in the country.  I spent hours signing them, and the staff became colleagues, even friends.   

During my last visit, one of them said, “Hey John, can I help you find anything?”  

“No, thanks,” I said, then waved my hand over the entire store.  “I just came to say goodbye to an old friend.”   

I shook his hand.  “Thanks for everything.”  

He nodded, but kept a stiff upper lip, and walked off to help someone else. 


Tiger Woods Raises Ratings - and Questions

August 5, 2011

Tiger Woods has missed most of the season due to his injured left knee.  In the past decade, he’s fractured the tibia, torn the ligaments, and had it operated on several times – turning it into the kind of hamburger more commonly seen on NFL running backs.   

But he returned this week to play in his first PGA tour event in months.  This is big news in the golf world – because without Tiger Woods, there’s barely any golf news at all.  Watching golf on TV without Tiger Woods is like…watching golf on TV.   

Woods returns ranked 28th in the world – his lowest mark since he was just getting started 14 years ago.  So what?  The TV ratings will skyrocket.   

People love him, people hate him – but few are indifferent.  His first decade was arguably the greatest any golfer ever had in the history of the game.  After winning his 14th major tournament in 2008, the question wasn’t if he would pass Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major titles, but when.   

But a funny thing happened.  Well, maybe not that funny – especially if you’re his ex-wife.  Since Tiger’s sex scandal, he has not won a tournament.     

Bacon Theory #342 maintains: You can fool the fans most of the time, and the press some of the time, but you can never fool the guys in the locker room.  They know exactly who you are – and they don’t like Tiger Woods. 

Actually, they don’t even know him.  Woods flies in on his private jet, plays his round, then flies out, without talking to anyone.  In the clubhouse, every golfer wants their rivals to sign golf balls and flags for their tournaments back home, but Tiger almost never does.  He is simply not a good guy.  

But they don’t dare say anything, because they need the ratings boost he gives the game, which boosts their prize money and their sponsors.   

But I think everyone is still missing the central question.  It’s not his affairs.  He’s a professional golfer, not a priest.  The scandal cost him plenty of popularity and money, but not a single tournament.   

It’s not even his left knee.  Yes, it might prevent him from beating Nicklaus – but I doubt it.  This is a man who won his last major on one good leg.     

No, it’s Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who was arrested in 2009 for allegedly giving performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.  Fine, that’s his problem – but it might become Tiger’s problem, too.  Tiger admits he met with the shady doctor at least four times that same year.  Woods has always claimed it was for a special blood thinning technique, not performance enhancing drugs, which would make calling this particular doctor one of the dumbest decisions Tiger has ever made -- and he isn’t dumb.  But we have little choice but to take him at his word, because Woods has never tested positive. 

But in golf, there is no drug testing.  It is the only major sport where you are not only encouraged to call penalties on yourself, but expected to.  And they do – every week.  But run afoul of that honor code, and golf will not forget.  Hall of Famer Gary Player is still haunted by the accusation that he moved a leaf by his ball in a 1983 exhibition.  It was never proven.  It doesn’t matter.   

That’s why, if anybody ever proves Tiger has taken a performance enhancing drug, he will find both his competitors and his sport uniquely unforgiving.  He has no safety net.  Who would stick his neck out for this man?  His fellow pros?  The tour officials?  Or his incredibly loyal caddy of 12 years, Stevie Williams, whom he just fired last month?  Good luck.      

The seeds of Tiger’s tragic fall might already have been sown.  And if it comes to pass, he will lose everything he loves most.  No, not his ex-wife, his kids, or even his millions.  But his 14 major tournaments.   

And that, to Tiger Woods, would be a real tragedy.   

Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon

 

NFL owners turn millionaires into martyrs

July 29, 2011

I hope you missed this, but the National Football League owners had been threatening to lock out the players for months, until they finally agreed to a deal this week.

Normally, I wouldn’t care about this labor dispute.  Scratch that – I still don’t.  When billionaires bicker with millionaires, you’re better off cleaning your bathroom than giving this skirmish one minute of your attention.  

But I am tempted to make an exception.  Usually it’s just a battle between spoiled brats – and as often as not, I go away concluding the players’ salaries are insane, and the owners are insane to keep paying them.  That was the case during the NHL lock out, which killed the entire season a few years ago, and it will likely be the case if the NBA owners lock out the players this coming season.  

But this time, the difference was too glaring.  On a very relative scale, the millionaire players were getting exploited by the billionaire owners.

Here’s how their old labor contract worked: The owners kept the first billion – with a “b” – dollars of profit, then the players got 60 percent of everything thereafter.  Since the NFL made more than nine billion dollars last year, you don’t have to break out a calculator to realize everybody got filthy rich.   

But the owners can keep their franchises for decades – and keep them in their families even longer.  When cities and states build new stadiums for their teams, the owners benefit more than anyone, and can really cash in when their teams’ value soars.  For the owners, the NFL is a cozy club, and virtually risk free. 

But for the players, it’s all risk.  The average players’ career lasts just three years.  And if he’s injured – and football provides the best odds of that –  his team will take away the remaining years on his contract.  Only the NFL does that.

But he can almost certainly count on a lifetime of aches and pains, arthritis and fake hips and knees - and worse, we’re now learning, the devastating effects of concussions, including depression and dementia.  The average player lives to be 55 – an age when owners buy their first team.  

The more you learn about this sport, the harder it is to watch.   

All that would be bad enough.  But the owners did some research, and they discovered that two billion dollars is more than one billion.  So they decided they should be getting two billion dollars before they give the players a cent.

The owners paint themselves as rugged individuals, self-made men and died in the wool capitalists.  But they’re not even close.  They want all the benefits of socialism with their fellow owners – an iron-clad monopoly, no economic competition, strict revenue sharing, and no real punishment if their teams stink – while behaving like ruthless robber barons with the players.  I’m not sure if even John D. Rockefeller was so brazen to insist on doubling his take just because – well, because it’s twice as much.  And that’s more.  So that would be better.

If nothing else, you can’t fault their math.

The two sides finally settled on a compromise – perhaps Congress should be paying attention here – and guess what?  Everybody involved will become even richer.  But the players still won’t play any longer, their bones won’t heal any faster and whatever damage is being done to their brains won’t be known until it’s far too late.

As a rule, it’s very hard for me to feel sorry for millionaire celebrities playing a kid’s game.  But the NFL owners make it a lot easier. 

Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon


Thomas Jefferson on Teacher Bashing

July 22, 2011

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Download | Duration: 00:03:31



Teachers in our country rarely get the respect they deserve -- a uniquely American pathology.  But this year they’ve endured not just indifference, but disrespect – and from Congressmen, no less.    

Teachers are now blamed not just for falling test scores, but failing state budgets and rising healthcare costs.  

There was once a politician who took a different view.  In 1787, Thomas Jefferson's Northwest Ordinance – what some scholars believe to be one of the three most important documents in the founding of America, along with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – provided funding for public schools and universities. In it, he declared, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”  

The idea is so central to American public education, the University of Michigan has it engraved on the façade of its central building, Angell Hall.  But few of the people walking by Angell Hall even know the line is there, or why.  Ignorance makes it easy to take what’s good for granted.   

While Congress rewarded Wall Street’s “Masters of the Universe” with millions of taxpayer dollars after they ran the economy into the ground, the same politicians tell us the real economic villains are public school teachers, who educate our children for an average of $45,000 a year.   

I don’t think George Orwell himself had the power to imagine such a twisted interpretation of reality.   

The claim that teachers are under-worked, overpaid parasites could be made only by people who have never taught.  I would be hard pressed to name any group that gives more and takes less from society than do teachers – who, after all, prepare us for what we’re going to do next.  Even politicians.     

Teaching is one of those jobs, like waiting tables or coaching sports, that everyone thinks is easy – until they try it. True, teaching is one of the easiest jobs to do poorly – but it’s one of the hardest to do well.   

Part of this problem the teachers’ union brought on itself, by defending the worst teachers to the hilt, and not even allowing principals to watch their employees work without making an appointment months in advance.  At my high school, one teacher set what I hope is a record by showing movies and film strips for 170 of the 180 school days.  

But we also had college professors who decided teaching high school students was more important, and others who could have done anything they wanted – one of my English teachers had a law degree -- but devoted their lives to teaching us.    

And it wasn’t just out of noblesse oblige.  When I was student teaching, I learned the job is not just demanding – it’s intellectually challenging.   

But because the unions didn’t make the obvious reforms they should have made, now they’re at the mercy of overconfident, under-qualified politicians, who wouldn’t last a week in front of the classes I taught – let alone the inner city classrooms now packed with 35 students six hours a day, thanks to their budget cuts.   

I can still name almost every teacher and coach I’ve ever had – and I bet you can, too.  But we’d have a hard time naming our last three Congressional representatives.    

I learned about Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance from Ed Klum in U.S. history, the same year I read Orwell’s “1984” in Jim George’s class.  I learned how to write from Dave Stringer and Andrew Carrigan.  And I learned critical thinking from all of them – which is why it’s not too hard for me to figure out what Jefferson would probably think of those teachers, and the politicians who bash them. 

Which brings me to my final line, something public school teachers hear far too rarely: THANK YOU.


Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon



Heisman Winner Better than Hype

July 15, 2011

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Download | Duration: 00:03:22



Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said.  When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy.  In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.  

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place.  Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940. 

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise.  Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.”  When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.   

In the modern era – when Notre Dame’s Joe Theismann started pronouncing his name as Theismann to rhyme with Heisman, and Oregon paid big money to put a huge poster of Joey Harrington on the side of a Manhattan building – Michigan’s policy was positively anachronistic.   

Bo didn’t care.  “That is not how a Michigan man earns his hardware.”  After all, he promised, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” not, “Those Who Stay Will Get Their Faces Painted On New York City Skyscrapers.”  

But in 1991, Howard got the nation’s attention anyway, starting with his leaping touchdown catch against Notre Dame.  You can still see it painted on the walls of local bars 20 years later.  By the last game, Howard had already piled up so many points, all the tailbacks and quarterbacks and kickers couldn’t catch him.   

But that last game was still worth watching.  Michigan beat Ohio State for the fourth straight year – Howard never lost to his homestate school, winning four Big Ten rings – but that’s not what people remember.  No, in the second quarter, Howard caught a punt at the seven-yard line.  He sliced through the first wall of defenders, then faked a few out by cutting to the left sideline, leaving only the punter to stop him.  “And that wasn’t even fair,” he joked years later.  

On his way to completing the longest punt return in Michigan history, with the Heisman Trophy all but sewed up, Howard had to make a decision: Should he strike the familiar Heisman pose, or not?  He finally realized he’d never get another chance.  He flashed the pose, just for a second, but that was long enough to create one of the most famous photos in football history.   

Michigan used to keep the stadium open during the week for visitors.  When I used to run the steps, I’d see visitors from all over the world looking around.  They invariably did three things: ran out of the tunnel to touch a banner that wasn’t there; they dived in the corner of the endzone to mimic Howard’s leaping catch against Notre Dame; and they re-enacted Howard’s punt return against Ohio State – usually pausing at mid-field to catch their breath – which they always punctuated with Howard’s Heisman pose.   

When two of the three things fans did when they thought no one was watching were inspired by one guy— well, that guy isn’t just a great player.  He is an icon.   

But for me, what happened after all that was better: Desmond Howard graduated on time, he married an attorney, and now their daughter is enrolled at Michigan, too.  She probably won’t win the Heisman – her odds are even longer than his – but she doesn’t have to.  The Howards already have one more Heisman Trophy in their home than anybody ever thought they would.  

Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon


 
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