The True Success of Michigan Football: A Father-Daughter Story

Leon Halip

Michigan won on Saturday, but that wasn't the only successful thing they were able to accomplish.

Devin Gardner didn't commit any turnovers on Saturday. No Wolverine committed a turnover. Gardner's passing was beautiful, and seeing Devin Funchess on the outside was something to behold. And, everyone saw that pick-six at the end, right? Wonderful.

None of those things are what made Saturday so successful; Michigan accomplished more off the field than they did on it. The Wolverines and Michigan Stadium held the interest of my eight-year-old daughter, Sofya. She's the oldest of my three girls (yep, all girls, and I wouldn't have it any other way), and Saturday was her first time at the Big House. She wasn't sure about going at first; in fact, she changed her mind numerous times. Yeah, I had to bribe her just a little bit: "Sure, I'll buy you some stuff when we get there." And off we went.

As we got closer to Ann Arbor, I could tell that she was getting more excited...to get out of the car. As if the 4 1/2 hour drive from Madison to Holland wasn't long enough on Friday, but then driving another two hours from Holland to Ann Arbor on Saturday is hell on a kid. Once we started the walk from Scio Church Road to the stadium, though, she was actually getting excited to just be there. Living in Madison, she's seen a big football stadium before, but this was something different. The people, the size of the stadium, the annoying crossing guard on the P.A.; it was all new to her, but she wasn't overwhelmed or scared. She just wanted to eat and get whatever it was that I said I would buy. Well, she got her Team 134 shirt, a ponytail thingy, a couple necklaces, some chicken tenders, and a frozen lemonade. She couldn't have been happier.

We got there pretty early, so we were able to take our time and just walk around the stadium and talk. I don't remember about what, specifically; probably everything (well, actually, I do remember how she kept talking about the dude she saw driving his car without a shirt; it grossed her out). It was a long day, and she likes to talk. It was just nice. After a while the band came out onto the field, and I could tell that things were changing for Sofie. The "M", The Victors, the National Anthem. She soaked it all up. Sofie knows all the words to The Victors, so she (quietly) sang it with me and clapped and pumped her fist at the right moments. She was starting to get into it. When the Gophers were going through their drills, she actually booed them! I told her not to do that, and that there are only certain teams who we can boo; Minnesota is not one of them. She said, "Yeah, but you like Michigan more, so you need to boo Minnesota." Eight-year-old logic is beautiful.

Once the game started, she was watching, but not necessarily into the game itself. However, when S.N.A. came on the speakers, she was stomping her feet. She learned how to chant "You Suck", but she didn't really like it. She danced during the terrible musical interludes. She chanted "Let's Go Blue!" from time to time, with some urging from me, of course. She's a quiet and shy kid, like her father was (and still is to a certain extent), but she was getting used to the surroundings. I think the wave was her favorite part; that she went into whole-hog, laughing the whole time. She was enjoying the atmosphere rather than what was happening on the field.

Why am I writing about this? Because, it reminded me of my first time in Michigan Stadium (although I was twenty-two, not eight). We've all had a first time in that stadium, and each one of us has had a different experience, but I'm willing to bet that they were all wonderful. I can only hope that Sofya has similar memories of her first time visiting the Big House. I ask those of you who have attended many games and are a little jaded (it's okay to admit it if you are), to remember your first time in that stadium. From now on, pretend that it's your first time each time you walk in; you may actually find yourself truly enjoying the experience again.

The other reason I'm writing this is because it also drives home another major point, which is somewhat connected to the first. Football is just a game. Sure, you and I love the game; we sweat and swear over it. And we love this team. Here at MnB we've done a lot of writing and wringing of hands over how Michigan has performed so far this year. We even said that the Minnesota game was going to tell us about the rest of the season. But you know what? I found myself spending more time talking with my daughter, laughing with my daughter, and just enjoying my daughter, than I did watching the game. Of course I watched it and got frustrated at certain parts, but Sofya was there with me saying something goofy or asking a question to bring me back to earth. Sometimes she did simple things like just put her arm around me, or grab mine to put around her.

As we were driving away, I asked her, "What was your favorite part of the day, Sof?" She said, "Well, I like the stuff you bought me, but I'd say my favorite part was just spending time with you." Just that little sentence brought tears to this guy's eyes. Yeah, what a successful day indeed.

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