A great man, generally regarded as a legend, passed away on Friday morning.
Bo Schembechler was not only one of the greatest college football coaches in history, he was brilliant and caustically funny, a loving husband and father. I have been aware of Bo for as long as I can remember. One could not grow up in Ann Arbor, Michigan without being aware of him; Bo coached our beloved Michigan Wolverines football team from 1969 until 1989, and always remained close to the program. In fact, Bo spoke to the team this past Thursday night, as they prepared to take on the number 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. The venerable coach passed away the following morning.
I first met Bo when I was 12 years old (1982), the year I started Middle/Junior High School with his son, Shemy. Shemy and I were were good buddies throughout High School and most of our college years.
Toward the end of High School (and headed toward Art School), I was becoming increasingly “goth.” The black clothes, pointy skull boots and long hair (often dyed in bright colors)… I was all-out punk.
My appearance was appalling to Bo, but he was still Bo to me. However, he refused to call me by my given name. Instead it was, “Shem! Your friend Mary is here!” or “Hey, there, Suzie. How ya doin’?”
He never wavered, to my recollection, always inventing a new woman’s name to replace my own. Sally. Beverly. Sarah. This went on for years, and I loved it. Bo was a “man’s man.” A diminutive force who caused 6-foot tall, 300-lb linemen to quake in his presence. I shared their respect for the man, and took great pride in the fact that I was worthy of his humor.
Bo is a hero to many, many people.
Here is why Bo will always be a hero to me:
One difficult night in December 1987, I was a 17-year old Junior in High School, and home alone. My parents had traveled out of state to attend the funeral of my wonderful grandfather, may he rest in peace. I had spent the afternoon and evening with my brother, then a student at The University of Michigan.
I came home that night to find that our house was in the process of being burglarized. After a thorough search by the cops, it was determined that the burglars had made it out the back of the house, slipping into the night.
The police asked if I could stay with someone for the night, just to be on the safe side. Good and terrified, I was relieved by their suggestion. I immediately called my buddy Shemy.
The Schembechler house was like Disney Land to a teenager; It was huge. It was always stocked with amazing food. There were enormous televisions (something my family had intentionally gone without, for a long time), video games and even an upright pinball machine. It was like Heaven on Earth.
It was pretty late when I called, and I felt guilty in doing so. Bo answered the phone. His wife Millie had taken Shemy out of town, so Bo, too, was home alone. I’m sure this down-time — a chance to kick back and enjoy an empty house — was something Bo had looked forward to and relished. But no matter. Bo took me in and took care of me, gathering bed clothes and towels. “You hungry? Help yourself to whatever you want.”
That was quintessential Bo. A complete hard-ass, demanding and uncompromising. Yet filled with love and generosity.
That same year, Shemy and I attended our Junior Prom. Our friend Greg joined the fray and we split the dinner, limousine and hotel costs. My dad sent me this photo from that night in 1987 (this is before I became a girlie-man in Bo’s eyes).
|Left to right: Benjamin (me), Bo, Shemy and Greg|
Bo Schembechler was a brilliant coach and an amazing man. He will be missed by everyone who was aware of him, and cherished forever by those lucky enough to know him.
Bo, thank you for everything.
(Guess you never thought of that name, didja Bo?)