When I started at Michigan in the fall of 1997, I am not sure that I had ever actually watched a football game. Sure, I had gone to a homecoming game or Super Bowl party in high school to hang out with friends. But I could not tell you the difference between a running back and a cornerback.
That year, Michigan oversold its student tickets and freshmen like me were allocated tickets to 4 games. When I showed up at the season opener against Colorado, I did not know what it meant. I did not know we were the underdog in that game. I did not know how enormous that 27-3 victory was. I did not understand the demons that were vanquished that day. But by the time that I rushed the field after Michigan beat Ohio State on November 22 — wearing the same 1979 Rose Bowl shirt that had been gifted to me … that I had not washed all season out of sheer superstition — I had been transformed.
The last paragraph on my bio for my professional career sums it up. “Alicia is a native Michigander and devoted Wolverine. She is married to her college sweetheart and has two children.” The University of Michigan gave me everything. It gave me an education. It gave me many of my closest friends. It gave me the love of my life.
My children were born in 2008 and 2010 respectively. For their first games, they were four months old and ten weeks old. Michigan fandom was not an option for them. This was a cult that they were born into. I have written before about the two religions that we have in my interfaith household — but that has always been a lie. We have three: Judaism, Catholicism and Michigan football.
But the years following the birth of my children were painful for Michigan football. There were losses and more losses and coaching changes and nonsense. And while I never wavered in my devotion to the team, I wondered if I was indoctrinating my kids to worship at the altar of Michigan football to relive my memories of the glorious 1997 team — but that they would never get to have their own memories of greatness.
That fear was erased on November 27, 2021, when Michigan finally vanquished the Buckeyes and my children (now 11 and 13) rushed the field in celebration. My husband and I just sat in the stands, smiling as they got their moments — their own Michigan memories. These memories carried into 2022 when we took them to Columbus and then last fall for another home win against The Ohio State for my son and his friend (my daughter having decided that she had enough football for the year).
When Michigan made the College Football Playoffs, we booked four tickets for the Alumni Association trip down to Houston. For two days, we ran into friends, sang Hail to the Victors, and basked in the glow of a championship contender. And when Mikey Sainristil caught the game-clinching interception, I sat down in my seat in the rafters of NRG Stadium and wept with my 15-year-old both laughing at and — I think — understanding my display of emotion. We watched the confetti fall and sang Mr. Brightside. My son decided to run off on his own to try to get the best possible view of the ceremony. My daughter, the same as when she was a toddler, seemed more excited about the popcorn (and quality time with her family?) than the action on the field. But we were there to witness one of the greatest moments in the 144-year history of the winningest program in all of college football.
As I sit here, 48 hours later, I am both physically and mentally exhausted, my responsibilities as 12th man causing strains of laryngitis. But sports, as Rich Eisen noted, also help us mark the passage of time. When I was an 18-year-old kid in the student section, I did not know that Michigan could ever lose. I lived in the blissful existence of new fandom without the scars from a lifetime of loving a team.
In the intervening years, I learned what fandom meant. It was not all roses as you rushed the field. It was sitting there as you lost to a Appalachian State. It was a botched punt giving the game to Michigan State as the clock expired.
On the bus ride back to the hotel late Monday night, my son and I talked about the end of Michigan-Ohio State in 2019. We went into the game with hope, only to be clobbered 56-27. At the end, we sat in the stands with my son and friend’s child asking why we didn’t just leave — everyone else had. But we said, no, we would sit here until the clock read 0:00. We would cheer the seniors as they left the field. We would listen to the roar of the Buckeyes that had taken over Michigan Stadium. And one day, when we won, we would remember the sting of that loss would make it that much sweeter to be victors once more.
I asked my son on Monday night if he remembered that game. He said he absolutely did and now he understood. What I understand about being a Michigan Wolverine at 44 that I didn’t understand at 18 is that this is a lifelong commitment with all the requisite ups and downs. National championships and Heisman trophies can be separated by generations. Every season brings with it the possibilities, including the possibility of heartbreak.
But now — for this fleeting moment — we are the victors and best. We have vanquished every foe. We have won every game. We are National Champions.
And the memories of this moment will live forever.