On Saturday against Indiana, Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart suffered a seizure on the sideline.
What followed was — as the Wolverines implied — scary. Memorial Stadium fell silent, players went to their knees and it felt like a dark cloud took the place of the ocean-blue sky.
After minutes of confusion and concern, Hart was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital in an ambulance. At the time, many of the facts around the situation were unknown — to media, to players and to nearly everyone in attendance. The event was jarring, and the energy in the stadium seemed to leave with Hart up the tunnel. For a moment, I forgot there was a game of football below.
Then both teams kept playing.
As my game notes page fell stagnant, my mind wandered back to Wednesday afternoon, with Hart at the podium in Schembechler Hall. He smiled, he joked, and he repeatedly talked about family.
He talked about his two daughters, and his son. He talked about his wife, Monique, and her kindness. He talked about how important they were to him, and he talked about the type of guy he’d want to marry his daughters.
But he also talked about his other family. He talked about the Wolverines and his running backs room — junior running back Blake Corum the primary subject — and what they mean to him.
And sometimes, the two intertwined: The time Corum spent Thanksgiving with the Harts, when Hart’s kids ask “when Bwake is coming to the house,” referring to Corum, and the shared moments they would all have off the football field.
“Blake, in my opinion, I love the kid,” Hart said. “We do have a special relationship.”
Pulling out from the memory, my eyes went back to the game in an attempt to do my job. But when Corum was handed the ball to run mere minutes after Hart’s incident, I thought back to Tuesday. Corum, this time, was the one at the podium.
“When it comes to football and outside of football, I really really look up to (Hart),” Corum said. “I’m so appreciative for him. I’m so glad he’s my coach and I’ve learned a lot from him. … I couldn’t say enough nice things about him. I’m just so glad to have him here. And we’ve formed a relationship that we have (that) is gonna last forever.”
Corum, expanding on the relationship, later added:
“He sent me Bible verses in the morning if he (knew) maybe I’m going through something outside of Schembechler Hall, and he’s always there to lift me up. If I ever needed anything, he’s there for me. … I love that guy and I will go to war with Coach Hart any day.
“I mean it — from the bottom of my heart.”
The impact of what happened to Hart, and the swirling weight of not knowing his condition, must have been eating away at Corum, not to mention the other players and coaches that Hart is close with. Corum — along with everyone else Michigan provided postgame — was hesitant to share his thoughts and feelings, and understandably so. The tragedy of it all, paired with the shock of the moment, is immeasurable.
Hart is just 36. He was a college and NFL running back — certainly no slouch in terms of physical health. But that didn’t stop the unexpected from befalling him. Whether it was random chance, an improbable event in the worst circumstances or an act of God, it wasn’t in anyone’s control. No one did anything wrong; no one took a bad step on the field, no one made a dirty hit and no one caused it to happen.
That’s the scariest part.
Thinking of Hart, and Corum, I couldn’t help but conjure anxieties of my own friends and family.
My parents are older than Hart by over a decade, my grandparents more than that. I have aunts, uncles, friends and mentors that I care about deeply. A seizure, or any kind of unexpected emergency, would turn my stomach inside out and send my head spinning.
I assume the same goes for you.
If that happened to someone I loved, I’m not sure how I’d respond. I have to ask myself: Would I go to classes that day? Would I work my shift at The Daily? Could I cook? Could I even eat?
Meanwhile, Corum and the Wolverines weren’t given the luxury to even consider those types of questions — they had a football game to play. No information, no reassurance, no choice.
To them, Hart might as well be family. But once that family member in peril was out of sight, the cameras demanded the show to go on, and so it did.
Imagining myself in that situation, I’m not sure how I’d get back into the mindset to take the field. The only thing on my mind would be Hart and his condition. For Michigan and its players to do that took a lot of strength, and all I — and anyone else — have left to do is empathize.
So that’s what I’ll do, and I invite you to do the same.