Until the Michigan football team turned things around in the second half, it seemed Michael Phelps’s appearance at the Big House would garner more attention than the actual game.
Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, was back in Ann Arbor this weekend for the first time since late June.
Phelps was the last person introduced before kickoff, after all the other Michigan athletes who competed in the Olympic Games or the Olympic Trials. Not surprisingly, the largest cheer of the pregame ceremony went to Phelps, who has become one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.
Phelps wore a Michigan hat and a blue No. 8 Michigan jersey, which represented his gold medal haul in Beijing and not an affinity for redshirt sophomore quarterback Nick Sheridan, he said.
“Coming here and living here for four years has taught me a lot,” Phelps said. “I’m thankful to have the experiences that I had here, because they’ve changed my life.”
Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, who coached the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team from 2004 until this year, was introduced just before Phelps. Bowman said he wasn’t surprised that so many Michigan athletes had a chance to compete on the highest international stage.
“I don’t think they could support us any better,” Bowman said. “(Athletic Director) Bill Martin has really committed to Olympic programs and that’s the main reason I came here four years ago. It’s just been phenomenal.”
Bowman said he and Phelps enjoyed seeing other Michigan athletes in Beijing and that the Wolverines, though they competed for different nations in the Games, had great camaraderie in the Olympic Village.
Phelps spent his four years between the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Games in Beijing training with Bowman at Canham Natatorium. He was also a volunteer assistant coach for the men’s swimming and diving team.
Phelps moved back to his hometown of Baltimore after the Olympics, but he said he’ll miss Ann Arbor and plans to return often.
“I used to live on Main Street so I could walk down to 10 amazing restaurants,” Phelps said. “It’s just little things like that, that I’ll really miss and the people, the environment. This is a college town, it’s an amazing place.”
During his 15-minute pregame press conference, Phelps talked about hosting Saturday Night Live, eating dinner with Demi Moore and helping Braylon Edwards train in the pool at Canham.
After meeting with the media, Phelps took a picture with the game officials and then entered the Michigan locker room to address the team.
On paper it was just another busy day in what has been a hectic few months for Phelps. But the smile on his face made it clear being in Ann Arbor was more a pleasure than a chore.