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The School Behind the Scores: The legend of Slippery Rock

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 11, 2012

“I know what a rock star feels like. I know what a celebrity feels like.

“Too often, the big guy is too enthralled with just who they are and what they are, who cares about any little person. And Michigan is not that way. They’ve embraced Slippery Rock University and we really appreciate the fact that they announce our scores, and we just wish every score could be a winning score.”

As game time approached, he got up to leave, but not without saying something that likely has never been said in a big-time football stadium before.

“Here’s the thing,” Mihalik said with a laugh. “You guys have any play suggestions, I don’t have a problem with it. Just give them to me before the game and not after. Alright?”

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The unlikely marriage between Slippery Rock and Michigan began in 1959 when Steve Filipiak, Michigan’s public address announcer, saw the funny name on the wire service ticker. Wanting to inject life into a boring game, Filipiak read the score. The fans loved it.

“It got a humorous reaction from people because a lot of people didn’t even believe there was such a place,” said Art Parker, who worked in the control room that day, as he has for 425 consecutive Michigan games.

The scores became a regular occurrence. The wire ticker eventually was replaced by the telephone, and that required Parker to call each day to people like John Carpenter, Slippery Rock’s sports information director, for scores. On his first day, Carpenter had never heard of the tradition, and puzzled, he asked the inquisitor from Michigan why he wanted the score.

As Carpenter related to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “I said, ‘Why do you people want to know what the Slippery Rock score is?’ And he said, ‘If you hold on a minute, I’ll tell you.’ The guy held the phone near the public address announcer, and then I heard, ‘Here’s the score you’ve all been waiting for: Slippery Rock 27, Waynesburg 7.’ And the place went berserk.”

In 1979, Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham invited The Rock to play a game in Michigan Stadium, something Slippery Rock officials are hopeful will happen again.

Slippery Rock optimistically expected 15,000 people to show up for its game against Shippensburg. Instead, four times that number, 61,143, attended, a Division-II record. Canham gave the team sneakers and cleats. Bo Schembechler addressed the team, according to Mihalik. They played in the Big House again in 1981.

Bob McComas, Slippery Rock’s current sports information director, remembers being unimpressed with Michigan Stadium’s sunken design. That is, until he walked down the tunnel.

“We see this light toward the end,” McComas said. “The whole group stopped breathing. You look up and go, ‘Wow.’

“You would’ve thought we were big-time dignitaries. We’re just some Division II school from Pennsylvania.”

Yet for a few years, Slippery Rock grew evasive, and Parker struggled to get the scores relayed during games. He theorized that Slippery Rock felt like it was being mocked. But that feeling soon passed.

Nowadays, the Slippery Rock scores appear around the nation, from Michigan to Texas. When McComas fails to text the score in, Michigan fans grow irate. McComcas recalls one instance when the Michigan radio station called him, saying its callers were demanding the score of the Slippery Rock game.

“They think it’s a joke that Michigan and Texas announce the scores,” McComas said. “But it’s amazing. They want to know. The people want to know.”

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The locker room here is cramped, with lockers in the middle of the room to maximize space. Before the game against Kutztown, the members of the Slippery Rock football stepped away from their rickety stools and small lockers. They gathered in the middle of the locker room and said the Lord’s Prayer.

Most here don’t have a scholarship. Slippery Rock only awards 18, half as many as the teams in its conference.

“If you want to play football, they’re going to come here,” said Ronald Steele, the equipment manager who also serves on the town council and works for the fire department. “We’ve got kids on our team now that aren’t getting a dime to play football. They love to play football, and they love to play for Slippery Rock.”

Mihalik stood in front of these football players, these students.

“I haven’t seen that look in a while, fellas,” he said.