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Column: 'Blessed be the Lord' I am not a U-M student

October 19, 2018

If it weren’t for the trademark arrogance and complacent recruiting tactics of the University of Michigan in the 1960s, I may very well be a Wolverine. As despicable and vulgar a thought that may be, I have to acknowledge I could be someone I find generally disagreeable.

And those opening sentences, as well as the rest of this column, may very well read differently this week if I were one. But blessed be the Lord, I am not. 

As the grandson of a former MSU football player, I’m going to pretend for a fleeting minute I have some sort of credence in talking about this rivalry. That somehow, that anecdote gives you more reason to listen to me. 

But this story is one of family, a rivalry and one of choices made. 

As I said, I’m the grandson of a former MSU football player. One you probably never heard of and won’t see with a placard in any athletics building. Francis Olschanski, 6’4” and 300 pounds was a force in the Catholic League in Detroit, so much so he secured a score of offers all over the country.

Among those offers, the University of Michigan. Rich in history, tradition and excellence. It’s an excruciating sentence to compose, but nonetheless, the truth. And with all those wonderful accolades, you’d think they would do a better job of selling themselves to the next generation who could carry on that tradition. 

As my grandfather recalled, they brought him and a group of other recruits down to the campus, showed them around the facilities, talked up the history, bloviating about days of the past. He recalled his guide as arrogant and pompous, a product of the general culture surrounding him. When they wrapped up the tour, the guide turned to them and said, incredulously, “This is Michigan, why would you go anywhere else? Why would you want to?”

“I’ve never liked them,” he said. “How could I after that? They weren’t even good at the time.” 

One day, my grandfather came home from school to find the smell of dinner cooking early and Duffy Daugherty sitting on his couch, chatting with his mother. Duffy came to him, asked him to come play for him and drafted up plans and schemes he would fit in to. Duffy left, full of Polish food and confident he had my grandfather. 

As soon as the front door closed, his mother came into the living room and said “I think you know where you have to go.” 

“It was a done deal,” he said. “I couldn’t say no.” 

As he recalled, no other school or coach had done what Duffy did. No school treated his recruitment without assumption like Duffy did. When all Michigan had to offer was a brand name and signature arrogance, it made his choice simple.

He only played one year, hampered by a knee injury and a sense of responsibility to his family after he came home one weekend to find his single Polish mother without electricity and the proper means to afford bills. 

But that singular year as a Spartan, under the brilliant tutelage of Duffy Daugherty and the bruising hits of Bubba Smith, was a time that stuck with him until the end. Whenever we came back to Spartan Stadium, he remembered the layout of campus and retold stories of tough practices and mistakes he made. 

During the games he would point to the National Championship plaques under the press box and say that, had everything worked out at MSU, he would have been part of those 1965 and 1966 championship teams. I asked him if he regretted how things played out. 

“Never,” he said. “I wouldn’t have my family.” 

I’ve often wondered, had U-M swallowed their pride for a few minutes, would he have been a Wolverine, and consequently would I be? Would his general demeanor and poise be different? 

It’s an ironic thought experiment as both my uncles became Wolverine fans despite my grandfather’s time at MSU, with only my dad remaining loyal to the Spartans. 

I always pondered what he would have done to the Wolverines on the field had he ever gotten the chance. I know he would have won and enjoyed it with a smile. But in a sense, he got his chance last year. 

My grandfather died during rivalry week last October, three days before kickoff. But his death was one last swipe at Michigan. And depending on the spirituality of the nurses and doctors, they may have tried to get him to hold out for one more week had they known of his Spartan blood. 

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Had they known the extent of his devout Catholic beliefs and of his charitable works being worth a few string pulls from Heaven, they’d have prayed the rosary with Jim Harbaugh every night. 

On the touchdown that gave MSU the lead for good last year, offensive lineman Kevin Jarvis was one of the lead blockers on the screen pass that delivered the touchdown. He wears number 75, same as my grandfather did. 

Maybe that was his swipe at Michigan, his one shot at them he never got. 

I’d like to think so.

Editor's note: Olschanski is a freelance contributor to The State News.

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