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Those who stay will be champions

BY SCOTT BELL

Published November 18, 2006

That was Bo Schembechler's cry to his players when he took over as head coach of the Wolverines in 1969.

With disciplinarian tactics, Schembechler whittled down a squad that started with about 140 players to 75 before the 1969 season even started.

Why? Because Bo coached on his terms.

He could have been the nice guy, gotten everyone to like him and settled for a few decent seasons.

Instead, he was the bad guy - when he needed to be. He earned everyone's respect and settled for nothing less than excellence.

After 13 Big Ten titles, 10 Rose Bowl appearances and the rejuvenation of a rivalry with Ohio State, I'd say his way was probably the right way.

Still not convinced? Every player who entered Bo's system and stayed for four years left with a Big Ten Championship ring on his finger.

Bo kept his word: Those who stayed really did become champions.

His stubbornness wasn't exclusive to the football field, either.

On and off the field, Bo was Bo, and he always demanded to do things on his terms.

On Friday, Bo did exactly that: went out on his terms.

Would you expect anything else?

His personal physician and cardiologist told him to tone it down during the fall, because he knew what football did to the legendary coach.

Even though Schembechler had been separated from the football program by title for 17 years, Michigan football remained in his blood.

On Thursday, Bo's physician wanted to meet with him about slowing down. What did Schembechler do instead?

He addressed the Michigan football team, just two days before the biggest game of the players' lives.

Why wouldn't he? Bo was Bo - he always did things his way.

He knew about his health condition. In fact, in his 1989 biography, he predicted his fate.

"Will I die from a heart attack? I've pretty much accepted that," Schembechler wrote. "I'll probably go through another episode before I'm finished here on Earth."

But that didn't stop him from living the only way he knew how: full steam ahead.

Of course, Bo ended up being right when he predicted he'd have another heart episode.

In late October, he complained of dizziness during the taping of the same show he was going to be on yesterday. He ended up going to the hospital, and on Oct. 23, doctors implanted a pacemaker and defibrillator.

But Bo fought through that, and less than a month later, there he was, doing his duty for Michigan football.

Last Monday, he came to the Junge Champions Center for the Michigan-Ohio State press conference.

An athletic department representative offered him a stool to sit on for his press conference. Bo rebuffed him, saying, "I don't need this."

And of course, he was right. He didn't need it - Bo was Bo.

After he addressed the media at the podium, Bo headed for the door, but a smaller group of reporters gathered around him before he could leave. I took this as my chance to speak with a legend.

So there Bo was, standing in front of me. He had his car keys in hand (of course Bo drove himself to the press conference) and kept sharing memories of Michigan-Ohio State matchups of the past.

He told all kinds of tales and stories and appeased the journalists around him. Like the time he had his water shut off at the hotel in Columbus the night before The Game. Or about the game in Columbus where he was convinced - and still was on the day of the press conference - that a field goal ruled no good was actually good. Or about how much he respected Woody Hayes and cherished what the two went through to make this rivalry what it is today.

There I sat, just awestruck, looking right at the reason why Michigan football is Michigan football. It was something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

As The Game approaches today, it would be foolish not to put things into context.

All week long, the only thing people on campus, and hell, football fans all over the United States, were talking about was the game taking place on Nov. 17.

But yesterday, talk of The Game came to a complete halt. Discussion shifted to The Coach.

To the man who was the reason today's game is The Game.

He was a champion in every sense of the word. On the field, off the field, he was the personification of a Michigan Man.

Bo was Bo. That's really all that needs to be said.

He stayed as long as he could, and he left on his terms. Now it's time for him to grab a seat next to Woody for today's game.

He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Scott Bell can be reached at scotteb@umich.edu.


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