Michigan, My Dad and Me

Written after the 1998 Ohio State–Michigan game, published in the Buckeye Sports Bulletin in Letters to the Editor.

Sometimes I feel sorry for my dad. He lives in a horrible place — central Florida — where the only football he hears, sees, or reads about is either Florida, Florida State, or Miami. The only place worse would be Ann Arbor, and he would rather chew off his right arm than live there. ESPN provides highlights of his Buckeyes, but rarely does a whole game grace his picture tube. I suppose that’s the price he pays for wearing shorts year round and not having to own a snow shovel.

This isolation doesn’t sit well. Every time I talk to him in the fall he’s crabbing and moaning about the Florida teams getting all the attention. He always vows that next year he’ll spend the extra money to see the games on premium cable, but he never does. It’s a pretty hard cost to justify.

Still the worst thing is that he hasn’t been to a game since he moved. We’re both President’s Club members and before he moved we’d been going to games together since the seventies. We didn’t go all the time, but we went. He still buys tickets which he sells to me. But I doubt he’ll ever again sit in the horseshoe, because to do so would require walking and climbing that his knees no longer allow. The prospect of the exertion is tiring to him, let alone the exertion itself. Time and change have tolled poorly for my dad in this regard. He is rightfully happy in his Florida life, though I feel a twinge of sadness for him during football season.

It was this sadness I carried to the past Michigan game. I sat through three and a half quarters waiting for the bottom to drop out, as it had in so many Michigan games in recent years. But it didn’t. And as the last of the doubters began to realize that we could win, the fervor in the stadium swelled; we were on the verge of something wonderful. Everyone was standing. You could feel Michigan losing hope, feel the Buckeyes salting one away for the ages. The noise grew deafening as our hearts filled to bursting with the joy that came with finally beating Michigan. Everything was perfect; everything except Dad.

With a couple of minutes left I looked down the row to where he would have sat — where my friends were sitting then. My only wish was that he could be there to celebrate his Buckeyes with us. And then I realized he could. I pulled out the cell phone and called. I could barely hear for the noise but I could tell he answered.

“Hi Dad,” I shouted. “I can’t hear you so don’t talk. Just listen.” And as I held up the phone so he could hear the joy, I managed to squeeze one more body into that sold out stadium. I closed my eyes and imagined him amid the sea of scarlet and gray, smiling in understated contentment. I could feel the bonds that united us crackling across airwave and wire. I could fully rejoice because Dad was finally there.

As the final seconds were counted down we were together for that most cherished of moments. We would talk later, but now I just let him hear, and I hoped feel, what ninety five thousand of us were experiencing. And as I held that phone high above my head it occurred to me: though Dad and I had sat together before for victories over Michigan, I don’t think I’d ever felt so close.