Max Bultman: Harbaugh's fantasy comes alive on signing day
It started with his usual rallying call.
Host Randy Sklar introduced the man of the hour, the day, the week and the year, and out came Jim Harbaugh, ready to put on a show.
“Who could possibly have it better than us?” Harbaugh asked the crowd, firing them up while also reminding them that on Wednesday especially, the answer was nobody.
Harbaugh put on a spectacle to be remembered at Hill Auditorium, as his National Signing Day special event “Signing of the Stars” repeatedly crossed back and forth from being completely surreal to being too Harbaugh-esque to not be true.
Ric Flair was there, reminiscing about a weekend spent at the Beta house while on a recruiting trip to Michigan, where he apparently signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Bump Elliott. Former Michigan quarterback Jack Kennedy rapped to open for country singer Josh Gracin, who opened for Sklar. Tom Brady and Derek Jeter sat on a couch and introduced high schoolers, and then Todd McShay, Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz analyzed their film on a studio set. Jim Leyland dabbed. Let me say that again, just so it doesn’t get lost — Jim Leyland dabbed.
This was Jim Harbaugh’s vision, overset onto the reality the rest of us inhabit. With the auditorium filled to capacity, Harbaugh created a weird, fascinating and fun signing day carnival that had a little something for everyone.
Brandon Peters, Harbaugh’s potential quarterback of the future, was elated to meet Tom Brady. Kareem Walker, one of the nation’s top running back recruits, was most starstruck by Migos. Sklar was taken with Flair, Brady and Jeter, but also by meeting one of the early enrollees, linebacker Carlo Kemp.
The fans got their dose of Harbaugh, which will sustain them only until his next idea gives them an opportunity they literally cannot get anywhere else. The team is going to Florida for spring practice in less than a month, and you can bet there are more big ideas on the horizon.
“This is a perfect example of how Jim Harbaugh’s mind operates,” Desmond Howard said after the conclusion of the event.
And it was a perfect example. But it was only a slice of his imagination. Signing of the Stars brought so many aspects of Harbaugh’s first year into one big event, including a peek inside Harbaugh’s mind, which is at once a total mystery and squarely in the spotlight.
Wednesday, he took a vision, propped it up into 3-D, and made it come alive.
Even as silly as it was at times, Wednesday was a spectacle. Michigan’s early enrollees mingled with Super Bowl MVPs, MLB All-Stars, NFL coaches and analysts and more backstage. Ric Flair charmed and disarmed the crowd, and every player had a cardboard cutout of himself in the lobby. In fact, with less than 30 minutes remaining in the ceremony, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Rashan Gary committed to the Wolverines. By the time the ceremony ended, there was a cardboard cutout of Gary in a Michigan uniform standing in the lobby.
These things are uniquely of Harbaugh’s conception because, if anyone else had the idea, they would dismiss it as a fantasy. Harbaugh embraces his ideas and turns them into reality.
One recruit Skyped in to talk about Harbaugh’s sleepover at his house. Harbaugh threw a pass into the stands and shot jokes across the stage with Lou Holtz. His brother, John Harbaugh, was there, shaking hands with Jim’s new players and telling a story about how, when Jim sent him a picture of new tight end signee Nick Eubanks, John told him to send Eubanks straight to the Ravens. And for the love of God, Jim Leyland dabbed.
While all of this was happening, Gary was going through the final moments of his selection process. Gary, of course, committed to Michigan, leading the fans to chant GA-RY, GA-RY, even though the coach couldn’t publicly comment on him yet.
Gary missed the spectacle, but by signing up with Michigan, he won’t miss the next one. No one’s really sure what that will be, but with Harbaugh at the helm, it’s sure to be weird, it’s sure to be wild, and it will probably be a roaring success.
Max Bultman did not dab with Migos or sign a letter of intent on Wednesday, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @m_bultman.