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Those who stay will be SuperFans

Marissa McClain/Daily
Fans at Michigan Stadium Buy this photo

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 2, 2011

With the winningest football program in NCAA history, the most national championships in hockey and basketball’s infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan sports fans — that’s 500,000 living alumni and more than 40,000 students — have a lot to boast about.

If you asked, you’d probably get about 540,000 answers as to who is the Wolverines’ biggest fan — but can they go toe-to-toe with superfans like John Levinson, Dottie Day, Jeff Holzhausen or Patrick Brown?

Probably not.

Where were you on Jan. 1, 1976? John Levinson was on his couch as Michigan stumbled to a 14-6 loss against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“I absolutely hated it when I was watching on TV, and to be perfectly honest missing that game … drove me to want to do what I do,” Levinson, 60, of Commerce Township, Mich., said.

So what has he done?

The real answer lies in what he hasn’t done — miss a game.

Last Saturday’s win over Minnesota marked Levinson’s 432nd consecutive game he's attended in the Big House and across the country. To put the streak in perspective, Levinson has been to seven Rose Bowls, saw five Michigan coaching regimes and has been a part of 16 outright or shared conference championships.

Levinson’s streak of 308 consecutive home games attended dates back to 1964, nine years before he graduated with a B.B.A. from the School of Business.

“We all need hobbies,” Levinson said. “It’s my hobby. I guess that’s the easiest way to put it. A long time ago, I knew myself well enough that I said, ‘If I don’t find some hobbies, I’ll work all the time.’ The Michigan games give me a schedule.”

Levinson, the president of RheTech, Inc. — a plastic company based 20 minutes outside of Ann Arbor — has deep University roots. He attended his first game in 1959 with his grandfather, who graduated from the University in 1917.

Except for his years sitting in the student section, Levinson has watched every home game from midfield in section 22, row 76 — his grandfather’s original seats dating back to 1956.

“I’m pretty into the game itself,” Levinson said. “I yell and scream. I’m not one of the old grey-haired blues.”

Levinson played on Michigan’s lacrosse team — then a varsity club sport — from 1969 to 1974. A year later, he earned his second University degree, an MBA.

His wife Kathleen has sat beside Levinson at 431 of the 432 games. She's only missed a 1978 game at Iowa. The couple has no kids, which according to Levinson, has allowed the streak to continue.

The self-proclaimed “young 60-year-old” remembers everything, but nothing rivals Michigan’s November 1969 upset of top-ranked Ohio State — considered one of college football’s biggest upsets.

“I will still remember that until the day I die because it was so raucous,” he recounts. “I’ve never, in any sport, felt what I felt that week leading up to the game. The whole attitude on campus that week was … kind of like a volcano. You could feel the eruption coming, and then, come Saturday, it all came out on the field.”

Even family and work can’t get in the way of football.

“In the family, during football season, they know that if they want me, they better schedule around it,” he says. “As far as work, the guy that I originally worked for in this company 25 years ago, that was a part of the first interview. I said, ‘I will not be there during football season.’ ”

Fortunately for Levinson, the interviewer was a Michigan fan.

“I am the true definition of a diehard fan, there’s no doubt about that,” Levinson said.

But is he a diehard in the in the truest meaning of the term?

When Levinson missed his last game in 1976, he was saving money to buy a house while his wife had yet to graduate college. So what will cause him to miss his next game?

“I’ll be dead in my grave. I won’t know.”

Nobody’s perfect. We’ve all been told this.