My grandpa, one of the truest Michigan football fans I’ve ever met in my life, had gameday traditions that I’ll never forget.
A steaming pot of calico beans that he somehow managed to keep warm for the whole three-hour drive to Ann Arbor, a couple ice-cold Budweisers, his giant yellow radio headset and a cassette tape he’d blast through the speakers of his conversion van.
The tape was looped, and it repeated Bob Ufer’s all-time best calls.
Walking across the Crisler Arena parking lot yesterday, I heard that raspy, half-gone voice — the one that practically pleaded for a Michigan victory for 37 years on the radio — the one so passionate, it almost felt like Michigan had 12 guys on the field.
Ufer’s voice was wafting through the cool, November air, and it screamed, “And now Woody Hayes is running out onto the field! I’ve never seen anything like this in all my days as a commentator!”
I hadn’t heard that voice in a long time, since my grandpa stopped coming to games because of old age. My ears perked up, and I listened for its source.
After a while, I realized it had to be coming from beyond the steel fences of Schembechler Hall’s practice facility. The Wolverines, who have been known to play songs like the GS Boyz’ “Stanky Legg” before practice to get pumped up, were listening to old tapes of Bob Ufer calling the “Ten Year War” between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.
Let me repeat that — Rich Rodriguez is blasting Ufer’s game calls of the epic battles between Michigan’s and Ohio State’s most iconic coaches. The man whom many have accused of shunning Michigan’s great tradition is using it to his advantage for the single most important week of the year.
A little Ufer during Ohio State week? Sounds good to me.
For those of you who don’t know — and I’m sure there are plenty of you, since Ufer’s legacy hasn’t quite held the same test of time as Fielding Yost’s, Fritz Crisler’s or Schembechler’s — Bob Ufer was something special.
He shucked journalistic integrity for his “Bo ‘George Patton’ Schembechler scoring horn” and an all-encompassing homer attitude. There is still a foundation in his name that gives back to the Ann Arbor community. His grave plot at the Forest Hill Cemetery on Observatory Rd. is about 30 feet from where Schembechler and Yost lay.
“Bob Ufer was Michigan football,” former defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann told the Daily in 1995. “That’s what he lived and died for. I think he would have liked being described that way.”
And if Rodriguez is using him as a team booster, then that means the West Virginia transplant is obviously doing his homework — and clearly honoring the vast and special tradition that is Michigan football.
Rodriguez is a man that doesn’t like to dwell in the past. And Michigan traditionalists, who revel in the past, were immediately skeptical of that. But that doesn’t mean the man can’t respect and honor it, which is clearly what he was doing with yesterday’s motivational technique.
And if you’re not pumped up to play Ohio State after listening to Ufer — “Oh the humanity, the unmitigated gall!” — you’ll never be.
Since Rodriguez came to campus 707 days ago, he’s had to field questions about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. There are still skeptics out there that believe he doesn’t understand what it means to be a part of The Game.
Rodriguez practically pleaded with the media Monday to understand that he “gets” the rivalry. He told the story — probably for the 500th time — of the time that someone snuck a “Beat Ohio State” pin in his pocket.
“Just because I did not coach here before, I did not play here, I’m not from the state of Michigan, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the rivalry,” he said. “I understand it as well as any coach can understand it.”
So, Wolverine Nation, can this tired, old concern please be put to rest?
You and I may never know what happens behind closed doors at Schembechler Hall. But one thing is for sure: As Ufer’s powerful voice drifted across State Street yesterday, Rich Rodriguez may have proved — finally — that he gets it.
This team is going to be plenty fired up at high noon on Saturday.
— Reid can be reached at email@example.com.