INDIANAPOLIS — A Big Ten Championship, a 17-year title drought and a chance at the College Football Playoff lay on the line Saturday. There was absolutely no need for extra motivation.
And yet, the shoulder of every Michigan football player, coach and staff member bore a patch: a block ‘O,’ with the initials ‘TM’ and the number 42. It was to honor Tate Myre, a 16 year old high school student who played football and wrestled. A student that passed away in the shooting in his high school on Tuesday in Oxford, Mich.
After the tragedy, this game found far more meaning than championship hopes. It was about being there for a family in its time of need, and this team — like it has on the football field nearly every time this season — rose to the occasion during its title-clinching victory over No. 13 Iowa.
“You know, it’s a community that needs all of our prayers, every one of them,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And we just, we wanted to offer that up. We wanted to offer our prayers. They’re a community that desperately needs it and offer them up to the one who conquered death and also honor Tate Myre and his bravery, his courage.”
Besides just wearing the patch, the Myre family was also in Indianapolis and joined the team for the coin toss.
So, with the biggest game of its season coming up, Michigan had its eyes focused on something else: the Myre family. And, as always, the Wolverines’ leader stepped into the foreground. Senior edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, less than a week after making a Heisman Trophy statement game, thought the team needed to honor Tate.
So he went to Harbaugh.
“And so, you know, when the players — when Aidan came to me — and wanted to dedicate this game to Tate Myre, (I said), ‘You know, yes, let’s do that,’ ” Harbaugh said. “Let’s do that. That was, that was huge.”
These Wolverines have never needed anyone to motivate them externally, but, as their repeated exclamations of ‘2%’ and ‘6-6’ came bursting out of the locker room on Saturday night showed, a little outside motivation couldn’t hurt. To play for a community in Michigan, in a team made up of leaders from Michigan, that dedication pushed the Wolverines to play as best they could.
“We talked about it last night,” Harbaugh said. “What more, how much more can we pile into one game, the importance of one game.”
Graduate student center Andrew Vastardis added: “And on top of it, we wanted to play for 42, all those that tragically lost their lives in that community and everything.”
After beating Ohio State, Saturday’s game became about tempering emotions: Following such a high where Michigan finally threw the monster off its back, how would they respond and focus on the next game? Then, the tragedy in Oxford added even more to that emotional turbulence.
So, when Donovan Edwards dove over the top of a pile to score the Wolverines’ sixth touchdown of the game and Jake Moody hit his sixth extra-point down the middle of the uprights to make the score a 42-3 statement, it meant more.
“Goosebumps,” Hutchinson said.
“Chills,” Vastardis said.
Now, instead of 42 just on the shoulders of Michigan to honor Tate Myre and Oxford, that number will be written into the history books.