By Joe Smith
Daily Sports Editor
Not many teenagers growing up loathed Michigan more than Dan Rumishek.
The fifth-year senior defensive lineman is an old-fashioned Irish Catholic from the Chicago suburbs, and is from a large family of Notre Dame supporters.
“I grew up as the biggest Notre Dame fan in the world,” Rumishek said. “I hated Michigan.
“It’s a love-hate war. If you love Michigan, you hate Notre Dame and if you love Notre Dame, then you hate Michigan. That’s just how it was.”
But Michigan offered the 6-foot-4, 273-pound lineman a scholarship. The Fighting Irish didn’t. And besides the fact Rumishek loved the Ann Arbor city life and the Michigan coaching staff, the scholarship sealed his early commitment to Michigan. And it’s a key reason he’ll be wearing a winged helmet instead of a gold one in this Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup against Notre Dame.
His Michigan allegiance didn’t stop everyone in Rumishek’s extended family from calling him on Sunday. He said he received nearly 30 phone calls, and had to turn most of them away by saying, “Sorry, I can’t talk right now. Let me get back to you in a week.”
Rumishek already had plenty on his mind. He’d circled Saturday’s game in South Bend, Ind. for a while, calling it “the most special game I’ll probably ever play in.” He’ll do battle against the same team he adored as a kid, on the same field he frequented as a teenager for Irish’s spring games. And he’ll be playing in front of his biggest fan, his uncle Richard Shepherd, who also claims to be Notre Dame’s biggest fan.
And he has battle wounds to prove it.
Shepherd inscribed the infamous Fighting Irish leprechaun into his flesh – in the form of a tattoo on his shoulder. But Rumishek said he’s got plans to fix that.
“My other uncles are working on their magic markers,” Rumishek said. “So they’re going to try to tackle him before the game and do some fixing.”
Despite Rumishek’s defection to Ann Arbor, he said he shares a special relationship with Shepherd. Rumishek fondly remembers when Shepherd was his first ever coach when he played basketball in fifth grade. Rumishek recalls countless number of times they both cried watching “Rudy,” – the movie about Notre Dame’s most famous walk-on – and the time Shepherd cried when Rumishek committed to the Maize and Blue.
“He was so happy for me,” Rumishek said. “He still is. He’s the first one to click on mgoblue.com or to read up on Michigan magazines.”
Rumishek is just happy Notre Dame is back in the Michigan schedule after a two-year hiatus. The two teams met every season from 1985, igniting one of the most storied rivalries in college football. And while Rumishek played sparingly as a redshirt freshman on special teams in the 1999 game at the Big House, this time around he’ll see plenty of the field – and maybe the end zone.
Rumishek leads the Wolverines with two sacks and, interestingly enough, is tied for the team-lead in interceptions with one. Last week against Western Michigan, he picked off a pass deflected by fellow lineman Shantee Orr at midfield. His eyes instantly got as big as saucers as he tucked the ball away and rumbled towards the goal line.
He eventually got caught by a Western Michigan wide receiver after a 23-yard return, and hasn’t heard the end of it yet since.
“I’m the slowest lineman in Michigan history,” Rumishek said.
He may be the slowest, but according to teammates, he’s the smartest.
Rumishek, who starred last season by leading the team with seven sacks and garnering All-Big Ten Conference first team honors from the media, apparently is the man with all the answers on the line.
“He’s one of those guys that knows everything on the field,” defensive tackle Norman Heuer said. “If I’m out there and sometimes I get confused and I don’t know what’s going on, I turn to Rumishek and say ‘What do I do?.’ He knows for every position what to do on every play.”
Rumishek also knows who Shepherd and nearly fifty other family members – who plan to be in South Bend on Saturday – will be rooting for.
Shepherd “said he would be a Michigan fan as long as I’m here but unfortunately, he’s going back to the dark side after that.
“Blood is thicker than water.”
Or, in Shepherd’s case, thicker than ink.