Jeff Holzhausen laughed when he heard that Jim Harbaugh might be interested in joining his yearly tradition.
Each year since 1997, Holzhausen has gathered a group of Michigan fans to walk to the graves of former Michigan announcer Bob Ufer and former Michigan coach Fielding Yost before the Wolverines play Ohio State. Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s grave was added in 2007 after he passed away before the Ohio State game in 2006.
But never had there been a participant of Harbaugh’s stature.
Holzhausen first heard of Harbaugh’s interest in attending six weeks ago, but he didn’t fully believe the Michigan football coach would actually show up until he did. His appearance meant a great deal to Holzhausen.
“You’re going to tell me the guy’s a flight risk to the NFL when on a Tuesday night before the biggest game of the year, he’s out here?” Holzhausen said.
Holzhausen estimated that 200 people showed up to the Forest Hill Cemetery Tuesday night. Harbaugh joined in right as the group arrived at the grave of Schembechler, his former college coach.
When Harbaugh arrived, Holzhausen said, he spoke a few words about Schembechler. He attributed all of his success to things he learned from Schembechler, and discussed how much his college coach meant to him.
Then Holzhausen handed Harbaugh a maize and blue hammer and a buckeye nut. It has been a tradition for Holzhausen and his friends to smash a buckeye nut when they tailgate before Michigan football games, and they did the same thing when they first walked to Schembechler’s grave in 2007. Harbaugh joined their ranks in the tradition Tuesday.
But after Harbaugh left and much of the crowd dispersed, there was one more surprise visitor for Holzhausen. That was Michigan fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock, who also showed up at the cemetery. As a transfer to Michigan, he had never taken part in the tradition, but his father told him about it when they talked on the phone Monday.
“My dad had found out about it and said it’s just a pretty cool thing,” Rudock said. “He’s never heard of anything like that.”
Rudock has made his mark on Michigan history in his lone year playing for the Wolverines, becoming the first quarterback in team history to throw for more than 250 yards in three consecutive games Saturday. But while he’s in Ann Arbor, Rudock has also taken the opportunity to learn about Michigan history. His family members frequently tell him new facts, and he hears tidbits from fans as well.
Tuesday night, Rudock got to experience the history firsthand. He walked to Schembechler’s grave, and like Harbaugh, smashed the buckeye nut.
Rudock then walked with Holzhausen and the group to the graves of Ufer and Yost. The fans in attendance made sure to watch out for Rudock when he walked on the icy trail of the cemetery, just days before the biggest game of his career.
“If Jake slips, someone throw yourself under him,” one member of the group joked.
Rudock paid his respects at the graves before heading back to the rigor of game week. Holzhausen was impressed by both Harbaugh and Rudock during the tradition.
“Both of them, it talks about their commitment to Michigan, their love of Michigan,” Holzhausen said.
After the coach and his quarterback showed up, it will not be difficult for Holzhausen to rank his favorite moments from the 19-year tradition.
“1A and 1B,” he said.