From the time I was eight years old, Michigan football had been a love my Dad and I shared together. We have watched more than 25 years of football together from our seats in the corner of the end zone. Like regulars at a bar, we became familiar with our seatmates, not the least of which were Richie and Charlie, the two lifelong U of M fans who sat in front of us and made a point of celebrating Michigan touchdowns with healthy hits from the schnapps bottles they had smuggled in past security. When Michigan won, my father and I exulted. When it lost, we despaired.
If you had asked me one year ago what I love most about University of Michigan football, I might have had a hard time deciding. Was it the famous winged helmets known far and wide? Was it Michigan’s 111,000 seat stadium, unofficially nicknamed the Big House? Was it watching legendary coach Bo Schembechler rip off his headset in order to better excoriate an errant referee, using language so rich it turned the air blue? For an ardent Michigan fan such as myself, it would have been hard to pick my favorite thing about Michigan football.
In January 2006, my father was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a tough disease. Over the last year, my Dad has lost the ability to speak and now must use a ventilator to breathe, a wheelchair to move, and a speech synthesizer to speak.. As time passes, he will lose much if not all of the ability to control his body.
This year, for the first time, my Dad and I watched a Michigan game not from our traditional seats, but from the wheelchair section. For all I know, it may be the last game we ever attend together in the Big House. As we sat at the game, I reflected on what it was I loved so much about Michigan football, and I realized it wasn’t the helmets, nor the stadium. It wasn’t singing Hail to the Victors and it wasn’t watching Coach Schembechler offer a referee some free advice interspersed with helpful four letter adjectives. What I love most about Michigan football is watching it with my Dad. ALS can take a lot of things away from you. But it can’t take your eyesight. And if ALS requires that my father and I share Michigan games by watching them on television at our family’s home, I won’t miss a thing. This isn’t something I merely believe — it’s something that I know.
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