We continue to roll along here at Maize n Brew looking at some of the iconic performances in the history of Michigan Wolverines and admittedly, this one will be more of a journal entry than a retrospective of the game itself.
Trey Burke’s heroics late in the 87-85 overtime Sweet Sixteen victory over Kansas in 2013 have gone down in history as one of the iconic moments in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It’s a moment that fans of the program bring up often as a moment that fills them with joy and nostalgia. But it was more than that.
For me, it was an example of what sports can be for people in dark times.
Everyone has those snapshots in time that changed who you were and who you would become moving forward. 2013 was a pretty major step forward in my development as a human being. The first half of that year saw me begin to blog for the first time working for a Michigan site that no longer exists, but hey, sometimes you just need a foot in the door. That would obviously become a pretty big deal seeing as we are all sitting here today, but the year was more than that.
I was also in my final semester at Wayne County Community College with plans to transfer up to Central Michigan University that fall. And yes, I realize that will get audible groans from a small portion of our audience (“He’s not a real Michigan Man!”), but they had a broadcasting school and to be frank, I did not have the grades to get in anyways. I don’t feel the need to explain or defend myself for that, but given that the choice was between CMU and Michigan State, I think you guys would agree I made an acceptable choice.
I planned to major in broadcasting (and eventually still would) but I had no designs to make writing a career. But through my experience in working my way up through a smaller outlet, I developed a passion for it. Enough to where juggling it with school and a job of 40-plus hours per week was worth it to me.
I was able to do a lot of cool things early on in my writing career. I covered a five-star commitment in the form of Derrick Green, who was undoubtedly going to form a trio with Shane Morris and Laquon Treadwell to be the group that brought Michigan Football back to prominence under Brady Hoke. I did interviews with Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., and Mark Donnal before they signed with Michigan. I was writing about one of the best basketball teams in the country, led by Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, and others. Life was not too bad.
Something I remember fondly about that run through the NCAA Tournament was the second game against VCU to send them to the Sweet Sixteen. The Rams were a popular upset pick because of head coach Shaka Smart and his “Havoc” full-court press defense. I had a Saturday class at the time that conflicted with tip-off, so I watched with my phone propped up against a textbook while U-M shredded through VCU and walked out with a 78-53 blowout win. I felt equally as bad for the Rams as I did for the Intro to Political Science professor that thought they had my attention that day.
Which was very little, of course.
While this was all going on, my grandfather was in the hospital after having a fall and breaking his arm while leaving a doctor’s appointment. He was 82 at the time and had been through a litany of health problems in the decade or so that that preceded it — including being on dialysis — and the toll finally caught up to him.
On March 27, my mom had called my brother and me to tell us to come up to the hospital because grandpa was not doing great and she thought seeing us may perk him up. Deep down, I think I knew that was a way of telling us to come say goodbye.
On the morning of March 28, I awoke to a phone call from my dad that grandpa had passed away. I used to put my iPod on a dock, press shuffle, let it take me through a night of sleep, and wake up to something playing. I’ll never forget that morning the song that played as I answered my father’s phone call was “Tears” by Rush.
The loss of my grandfather was the first time I had ever experienced the death of an immediate family member. At the time, I remember it being so jarring that a hospital stay for a broken arm would lead to a passing not so long after. I was 20-years-old at the time, but I’m not sure I was mature enough to fully put it all into perspective.
When you experience any type of loss, it feels like the world comes crashing down around you. This applies double when it’s something you have never experienced before. Everything abruptly stopped in my life. I called off work, sat out class, and informed the people I was working with at the time that I’d be pressing pause on my writing career. Things going on in the world of sports were not all that important to me.
When Michigan and Kansas met in Dallas on March 29, I’m not ashamed to admit the game was not something I was really all that concerned about. We were doing some other errands as a family and I just remember listening to the first half on the radio. Michigan was down by double-digits and the Jayhawks seemed like they would prove too strong to overcome. Burke did not score in the opening 20 minutes and it simply felt like the expiration date had arrived for the 2012-13 team.
I settled in sometime early in the second half near a television at my uncles’ house, as family friends had said they wanted to come over to connect and provide some fellowship in the wake of the tragedy we were going through. It was when Burke got hot in the second half where what had originally been background noise started to turn into the focal point of the evening.
By now, everyone here knows the story of what would happen next. Burke would score all 23 of his points in the second half and overtime — including the shot that is seen now on every March Madness highlight reel — as Michigan would rally back from five-points down with 35 seconds to go to advance to the Elite Eight.
For as awesome and iconic a moment as that was, it holds an even more special place in my heart. I always took that as a sign from my grandpa that everything was going to be okay and that there was still positivity in this world. It did not heal all of the personal wounds I felt, but it did light a spark and get me eager to get back going again when the time was right to do so. The fire was still there and I wanted to be able to cover and write about moments like that.
For better or worse, the rest is history and I’m still on the that path seven years and change later.
Sports are a great unifier that can bring us together and yank us out of some very tough times. None of us will forget where we were on that night and we all have our stories to tell about that experience. My recollection just happens to remind me why I do what I do whenever I think about it.