Bo, Football, and Me
November 18, 2006

This afternoon, I'm sitting on the edge of my seat. Quite literally, as the painful wooden chair ridges in my butt are telling me. Today is my birthday and today my beloved Michigan Wolverines are about to play the game of the year, possibly the game of the decade. Yesterday, one of the best former coaches -- to some, he is The Coach -- of the Wolverines passed away mere hours after he addressed and pepped the team one last time. Bo Schembechler was a giant and he loved Michigan and he loved the game. He was the winningest head coach in Michigan football history and could boast having won or tied thirteen Big Ten championships during his twenty-one year tenure. Bo directed Michigan through the entirety of the 1970s and gave them a regular season record of 96-10-3; they were the best in the nation.

My birthday is usually a quiet affair because I don't usually broadcast it too far in advance. I don't know why, it's just not something I rattle on about. It's not that I don't want a fuss made, I'm just shy about insisting that a fuss be made. Today it won't be quiet. Today the walls of our apartment will shake with "The Victors" and tremble with my screams as I cheer and groan my team on. Some college friends called in to wish me a happy birthday before the game started, and all we could talk about was The Game and Bo's death.

Fall, football, and Michigan are forever inextricably entwined in my mind. I had my season's tickets -- a gift from my parents all my years at Michigan -- and I had my stacks of Michigan sweatshirts, tee-shirts, long-sleeved tee-shirts, and shorts. I rarely missed a game and I never lost the feeling of building excitement. It started as a ball in the pit of my stomach when I woke up in the morning and it branched up and up as we walked to the stadium from campus. By the time we got to our seats, the excitement had blossomed in my throat and tore out as a caterwaul as soon as the band struck up the familiar notes, "Hail to the Victors, valiant! Hail to the conquering heroes! Hail! Hail! To Mich-i-gan, the leaders and BEST!"

The morning I got married, I sat in my hotel room as my maid of honor fussed with my makeup and I watched the Michigan-Purdue game. I had to leave for the church before I knew the outcome. During pictures, I buttonholed my father, demanding to know if he knew the score. He said he didn't. I didn't believe him. Right before we walked down the aisle, Dad turned to me and said, "We lost, but I figured it evens out the emotions on this day." Little did he realize I had this whole Michigan extravaganza planned for the wedding.

The father-daughter dance started off with strains of the alma mater, "The Maize and Blue," which then blended seamlessly into the fight song. (Mathra's expert hand made sure it was perfect.) The place was filled not only with my college friends, but also my parents' college friends, who had made the trek from Ann Arbor to Minneapolis to help us celebrate our wedding. Fists pumped in the air and voices became quickly hoarse and by the end, my dad was wiping his eyes. In the presence of all that love and all that fandom, the Purdue loss didn't matter.

A few years later, it was my parents' 40th wedding anniversary and, with the help of some of my sympathetic college friends, I procured tickets to the home game that fell flat across their anniversary weekend. I also sent them a basket brimming with Zingerman's goodies to take with them on their RV trip from Minnesota to Michigan. They partied with the same friends that had been at their Ann Arbor wedding forty years before. Michigan lost.

Members of the Vander Weide family have started to feel as though Michigan has something against Vander Weide holidays and celebrations. And now, here it is, my birthday and we're on the brink of playing the most important game of my thirty-three years of University of Michigan adoration. (Yes, thirty-three, my mother was singing me Michigan fight songs in the womb.) My dad won't be watching the game, he can't handle the stress. My mom will tape the game and Dad will go on a long bike ride. If Michigan wins, he'll watch.

Michigan is my school. Michigan is my history. Michigan is my pride.

Michigan is undefeated.

Ohio State is undefeated.

It's the last game of the season.

Win it for Bo.

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