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SportsMonday Column: I want to go back to Michigan

Photo courtesy of Christine Rohan
Tom Rohan, Dad, pictured with Tim, at age 4. Buy this photo

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 15, 2012

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry it took four years for me to apologize.

You were in the kitchen, remember? I told you to shut up, like the punk who used to say things like that to his mother.

It was just as we were leaving the house, on our way to Ann Arbor for my freshman year, and you were singing:

I want to go back to Michigan,
To dear Ann Arbor town,
I want to go back; I got to go back,
To Mich-i-gan.

I didn’t know I would be humming the famous Michigan Glee Club tune in my head as I drove back, without you, three years later for my senior year. Maya took me back, but now I wish you had, too. I’ve shared this place with so many people, but you were the first.

That day, before freshman year, you were smiling wide, I remember, and pumping your fists, and I was shushing you.

I'm sorry.

Back then, I hadn’t sat and talked all night with people who would be considered strangers, if only we hadn’t gone to the same university. I hadn’t shown up at a friend’s Seder as a practicing Catholic, expecting to know two people, and known the whole dinner party from somewhere or another. I hadn’t gone on a midnight slushie run with Matt Campbell. I hadn’t dropped everything, on one of those brisk spring nights to play midnight games of one-on-one and to catch up with Joe Stapleton on the basketball courts outside of the CCRB.

I hadn’t known how lucky I would be to have a mother who shared her school with me.

Mom, thanks. It’s been long overdue.

Wandering one afternoon — while I probably should’ve been studying (sorry) — I went out of my way to find your old room in South Quad. It’s still there. So is the Tri-Delt house where you once lived; so is the old engineering school that you pointed out when you first brought me here.

I was no older than 14, and James must’ve been 12, but we were too naïve to appreciate those places. I hope you weren’t too mad at us.

Racing through the Law Quad while you reminisced, James and I tossed the football back and forth over Tappan Street. You wanted to stop and look around; we wanted to keep going.

Now, I get it. I’m older, more mature, but I’ve also lived here for four years, trying my best to channel my inner Ferris Bueller, who said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It seems easier now to live like the wheels in a clock, constantly moving forward while witnessing and living in the present and smiling at the past.

It’s easier for me, I think, because Dad died when I was 7, when he was first diagnosed, and taught me to appreciate life up until he passed away my freshman year at Michigan.

Mom, thanks for raising James and me as best you could.

And don’t blame Dad, but his Parkinson’s disease drove me to find something worth loving to do for the rest of my life. I found The Michigan Daily.

Mom, I’m sorry I’m not the engineer you wanted me to be, but the Daily never felt like work.

I know you're holding out hope, hinting not-so-subtly how grad school is an option “down the road, Timmy.”

But writing sports, I get the same warm, fuzzy sensation Taylor Lewan described after winning the Sugar Bowl: “It’s the feeling you get when you see a box of kittens.”

My box-of-kittens passion is to tell stories, to meet people worth telling others about, to stop, to look around, and to make sure I don’t miss a single moment.

I think that’s why I have come to (somewhat) amicable terms with graduating — I’ve spent my four years trying to find stories either to write about or to live out.

I’ve seen Notre Dame Stadium go from deafening to silent in the span of one Denard Robinson miracle drive. I’ve seen Red Berenson explain to Michael Florek and me how today’s hockey pucks are made. I’ve seen another Robinson miracle, a pass heading right toward me on the sidelines, land in Roy Roundtree’s chest, foiling Notre Dame again.

I’ve quarterbacked the Daily to a comeback win over The State News. I’ve lost my starting spot and have been berated, and we still beat the Michigan State student newspaper. I’ve been undefeated in four years against them, and I’ll be damned, Mom, if our seven-year winning streak doesn’t continue once I’m gone.

I’ve seen Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey lock arms with their teammates, swaying together as the entire Horseshoe serenaded them in front of me, for my own personal Buckeye fight-song concert as I stood in the endzone. What I heard in my head was the version you used to sing, with as much vigor as “The Victors”:

Down with Ohio State
It’s a know-nothing par-ty school

Mom, thanks for funding my roadtrips and my unpaid internships — thanks, really, for funding this passion that you still aren’t a fan of. Thanks for believing in me.

For a critical thinker like you, it doesn’t make sense that your tuition money wasn’t spent entirely on classroom schooling. If I claimed that, I’d be a liar. To be honest, it wasn’t all about the Daily, either. It was about those things, and the characters, who filled out the cast and made this Michigan, my Michigan.

On the day I wrote this letter, I went to lunch at Zingerman’s Deli for the first time at the urging of Zach Helfand, Everett Cook and Neal Rothschild. I had the No. 54, a chicken sandwich, the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. Too full to move after lunch, I drove my friends down to Michigan Stadium and pointed to the Big House and to the under-construction Crisler Arena. I told the two aspiring sportswriters and economics whiz-kid a lesson I came to learn when Dad died: prioritize as you wish, but there is more to life than what happens in those two buildings.

Stop and look around every once in a while.

Mom, I’ve run into Jed Moch on a Thursday afternoon and cancelled my day’s plans to head to Dominick’s. I’ve spent most of my Friday afternoons at the IM Building — where you used to swim laps — playing basketball with Matt Kautz and Nick Mattar. I’ve stayed up until six in the morning freestyle rapping — with varying levels of coherency — with Abhi and Tepatti and Kondo and Benavides and Nelson.

Hopefully not too far from now, everyone mentioned in this letter and those not will come back and reminisce, having shared this Michigan with each other. I wouldn’t have been here without you, and now, as I’m leaving, I realize my Michigan is your Michigan as yours is mine. And the next time we come back together, you and I, we’ll sing together and the words will mean something to me.

I want to go back to Michigan,
To dear Ann Arbor town,
I want to go back; I got to go back,
To Mich-i-gan.

Love, Tim

—Rohan wants to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to read his sometimes offensively long, always carefully crafted stories. He’ll be writing this summer at The New York Times and can be reached at trohan@umich.edu or on Twitter @TimRohan.

Dad, I miss you. Mom, thank you. Grandma and Grandpa, thanks for reading. Little bro James, good luck. Patches, thanks for keeping me sane.

To everyone else, it’s been real.


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