My first walk started on Sybil around 7 a.m., five hours before the home opener kicked off two years ago. Around 7:40 outside the stadium, a fan saw Jon Jansen across the street and yelled, “How ya doin’, Johnny?” So Jansen smiled and answered, “Can’t wait for kickoff!”
“Me too,” the fan replied. “I couldn’t wait for kickoff last Monday.”
I couldn’t wait either. I couldn’t wait when I was 6 years old.
If I hadn’t seen anything on that walk, I might never have gone for another one. But I saw everything I ever dreamed of seeing: the sun creeping over the scoreboard at Michigan Stadium, the band warming up in the dark at Elbel Field, the Michigan legends walking the streets.
Players and coaches often describe moments in sports as some variation of “the shot you dream about when you’re playing in the backyard as a kid.” Well, this was my dream. On summer days growing up, I’d research the upcoming year’s Michigan football team and project the season. On walks to school, when I could see my breath in the cold air, I’d whisper to myself a broadcast call of that weekend’s game. One day a year, the best day, my dad and I would make the trek down to Ann Arbor and spend the afternoon in the Big House.
But the story starts much earlier, with some late nights, a house in Troy and a tired 6-year-old. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d go downstairs to see my parents. My dad would tell me to go back to bed and imagine I was in the press box covering the Michigan football team. I’d do that and go right to sleep.
The last Michigan game I attended with Dad, we sat near the 20-yard line on the east side of the stadium. Before we left, we gazed across the field at the press box, counting from the right to try to figure out where the Daily writers sat. We dreamed that I’d one day sit there, too.
When that day came, I started waking up early every Saturday to walk around. Sometimes I’d see a lot of stuff. Sometimes I’d see old friends, or meet new people. Sometimes I wouldn’t see much at all. Sometimes I’d just feel.
I exposed myself to a fair amount of ribbing from friends. Why, they wondered, did I set my alarm and wake up before sunrise on a Saturday to go … walk? Sometimes for as long as four hours? Nobody understood. Really, it just felt right. All I’ve wanted since I was a kid was to be a part of this.
I’d visit the golf course and watch kids throw footballs back and forth. I’d stop and see Tom grilling hot dogs at the tailgate at Main and Pauline. I’d say hello to Ruth and Rhonda, the elevator operators in Levine Tower, and wish them a happy game day.
I’d hear the band warming up at Elbel. I’d soak in the energy of State Street as kickoff neared and the tailgaters awakened. And the best view in town, in my opinion, is from the bridge on Stadium Boulevard, overlooking Ocker Field, the football practice facility and the rest of Ann Arbor in the distance.
I’d start walking at dawn and leave the press box at dusk, eager not to miss a minute. Each walk starts and ends at the same spot, but in between there is only one rule: You cannot rush. There is no rushing a dream.
Once, in high school, I went to see Lloyd Carr speak in my hometown. I shook his hand afterward, and he asked if I was coming to Michigan. So I told him I wanted to be a sports writer, and he told me about a great newspaper they have in Ann Arbor called The Michigan Daily. Then he signed a piece of paper that’s still at home somewhere: “Jake — See you at Michigan,” he wrote, and then he did, when I started working for the newspaper he once told me about.
Oh, yeah, I always stop there on my walk, in the brick building on Maynard Street with the stained-glass windows and wooden doors. When I first came in during high school, it was love at first sight if ever there was such a thing. That day may have changed my life more than any other. The next morning, I woke up at home, went across the hall and told Mom and Dad, smiling from ear to ear, “I’m going to be a Wolverine.”
I first came to production on the first Thursday night of freshman year, and it was the most magical thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t ever want to leave. So that became my college experience — working five nights a week, from 6 p.m. until “We made a paper,” sharing a place with people who loved what I loved. We watched sports and played chair monkey and invented more newsroom games and made papers. I laughed all night with Max and Max, sent our pages in a different language each night, told Emma what was new, answered Shoham’s bell and waited all night with The Thursday Night Crew. And I learned this: As it turns out, the best parts of a dream are the ones you can’t even dream yet.
One day, of course, it was time for my last walk. I made it my best one, circling campus a few times, watching the team get off the bus outside the tunnel, standing on the field until they kicked me off. I came down from the press box to watch the players touch the banner, and again to watch the band at halftime. I watched the snow transform the Big House into a wonderland.
After it was over, the last stories published, we went down to the field to enjoy the final scene. We threw the football around and made snow angels and ran out of the tunnel. Then I stuck around and sat in the stands of Michigan Stadium, dark and empty and beautiful.
I cried. I had lived my dream. It was pitch-black by then, so after a while I stood up, grabbed my briefcase and started to walk.
It takes many people to make a dream come true, and if you’re reading this, you’re one of them. Lourim thanks you for everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jakelourim.