Football and me

Those who know me know that football is not my Thing. Well, in fact, spectator sports writ large are not my thing, but my failings with particular regard to the subcategory of football are what seem to attract the most attention in this town. For years, I horrified my older brothers by having lived so long in Ann Arbor without ever having visited the Big House. In fact, it was one of those brothers who started me on a road to semi-sports-tolerance a few years ago when he phoned one autumn Saturday and told me that because Michigan was playing MSU and the Detroit Tigers were in the play-offs, I should just kill myself unless I at least made an attempt to become a sports fan that very day. I was duly chastened and spent the afternoon dutifully switching between stations on the TV. While it didn’t really take (I had no idea what was going on), the experience was nonetheless pivotal. I started paying nominal attention to the whole sports parade, enough to occasionally spit out some sports-related bon mot like a trained parakeet and to say “Rich Rod” jauntily when talking about the coach.

My personal evolution plateaued last year when I attended a home football game—in the company of Professors J.J. White, Doug Kahn, and Bruce Frier (the first two of whom assiduously schooled me on every development, and the latter of whom responded to my question about when he started liking football with a puzzled, “I don’t like football”)—that Michigan won. In my mind, that essentially settled all scores and allowed me to resume my life of sports oblivion with dignity.

But then last Saturday, I had a startling impulse to watch the Notre Dame game. It was a rainyish day and I had upwards of 1,500 letters to sign; the football game presented an ideal multitasking opportunity. So there I was, eyes on the letters, ears on the TV, when I heard the announcer say something about how Notre Dame had a law student on the team—and then say this was believed to be the first time a law student had ever played a big-time college game.

Oh, the heartbreak.

Newsflash: Michigan was the first. You knew that, though, right? Because otherwise, I would certainly not be writing about this. I wish to take nothing away from this Notre Dame law student, obviously an impressive fellow, but them’s the facts.

Way back in 2002, the then-dean asked me to keep an eye peeled for an application from a Michigan football player; in the event we admitted him, he told me, the dean of students needed to be involved in arranging the student’s fall schedule … because he was going to have one more year of eligibility, and he wanted to continue playing for Michigan while studying law. I remember this conversation mostly because the dean chortled as he told me that the position the student covered was called “long snapper,” and that I shouldn’t be confused and think it had something to do with fishing. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to mock the sports-impaired.

The long snapper was a terrifically strong candidate (confounding my notions of football players, and thus arguably deserving at least as much credit as my brother for starting me on the path away from knee-jerk-anti-sports-bias); got admitted; matriculated; played football; graduated; became a partner in a premiere Detroit law firm; and proceeded to live happily ever after, etc. etc.

Now, I’ve learned enough about sports to know that people take these things seriously, and I feel like I’m wading into possibly dangerous territory here. Will this post be seen as unfairly partisan? Hostile to Domers? Enlisting an outside endorsement seems prudent, but where to turn—someone from Columbus? A Notre Dame grad? How about a Notre Dame long snapper who grew up in Columbus? That’s right; turns out that once I started admitting long snappers, I just couldn’t stop. 2L Paul Kuppich had a little evolution of his own, and it landed him in Ann Arbor:

People would have predicted Ann Arbor to be the most unlikely destination for my law school experience (especially if my initial visit to Michigan, as an opponent in the “Big House,” was a representative sample of how guests would be treated). However . . . Michigan folks have refrained from spitting on me and have stopped proudly displaying obscene hand gestures while smiling ear-to-ear (at least not to my face anymore). The smiles are still there, only now they are genuinely welcoming. And why didn’t I use my last year of eligibility to play at Michigan? Well, I guess in the nicest of terms we will all understand, I possessed quite the conflict of interest.

See? We’re a bastion of tolerance.

But still, we need to sum up: sorry, Notre Dame. Maybe a b-school student would work out for you.

-Dean Z. Assistant Dean for Admissions and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies