Friday, November 17, 2006

Godspeed Bo

June 19, 2008 Note: This is a post that originally appeared on Golden's Football Rankings and is reproduced here for posterity.

I sat in my office and cried for about an hour this afternoon.

I am generally a cynic. As a student and teacher of history, I long ago taught myself to think of things in shades of gray, not black and white. There are always two sides to every story; there are no heroes or villains, just differing points of view. When I was young, like all kids, I had plenty of heroes, from comic books, to movie stars, to sports figures. As I grew older, they faded away, as I realized that they weren’t the idealized people I’d made them out to be. All except one. All except Bo Schembechler.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Bo was larger than life. He wasn’t just a football coach, he was the best coach in the land. He wasn’t just a coach, he was a symbol for everything that made my hometown a special place unlike any other. I can remember when he was offered twice his salary here to take over at Texas A&M. For a weekend, the entire town was on edge while he decided if he wanted take the job. When he finally emerged, and announced that Michigan was more important to him than money, the crowd of reporters that were waiting broke into a round of applause, and the rest of us breathed a huge sigh of relief. When he came to speak at a pep rally at my high school, they lined up outside the school to hear him speak.

I’ve been lucky to coach middle school and high school students for the better part of twenty years now. I have always tried to pattern myself after Bo. I felt if I could be half the coach he was, I would be successful. I aimed to teach the same lessons he did, even though our games couldn’t be more difficult: Hard work and dedication should be rewarded as much as possible; Each student is taught to believe in themselves and trust in their teammates; Give of yourself, and much will be given to you; The only limits on our successes are the artificial ones we put on ourselves; What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve; Every player should be treated the same, from the superstar down to the last man on the team; No player, no coach is bigger than the team; Students, coaches, the entire community, is part of team, a program that is greater than the sum of its parts, a program that was there before they got there, and will exist after they are gone.

I’m not sure that I really care about the game tomorrow as much anymore. No matter what happens, this weekend will always be touched with sadness for me. The Godfather of Michigan football, the greatest single tradition in the history of college athletics, is gone. My last childhood hero has passed.

Godspeed, Bo.