I’ve always been a sports fanatic, and I’ve been to many athletic events over the years, to include many in Ann Arbor, but circumstances of this game have changed my perspective going forward when watching a game in person.
My son — who by the way is a Michigan State fan, thus creating a divided house — and I were fortunate to get seats in row 8, 45-yard line, right behind the Michigan bench. Garrett would have preferred to have been on the other sideline, but nonetheless appreciative of our proximity to the field.
We got to our seats about 15 minutes before the game, and to my surprise there were numerous seats still empty. For those of you who have been to a game at Michigan Stadium, The Big House, you understand what it feels like to be a sardine in a can.
As people started to fill the seats, I noticed a group of large young men, all dressed in similar athletic gear. Recruits, I presume, but just a guess. I was painfully expecting one of them to make their way down row 8 and plop down right next to me. Luckily, they all walked by to a seat closer to the field.
Then, as luck had it, just before kickoff, a group of regular-size people entered the row and filled the rest of the seats. I leaned over to the lady sitting next to me and said to her, “I watched each of those big dudes walk by expecting one of them to be sitting right next to me. I was never so happy to see you take that seat.” I said all this while barely making eye contact with her.
When the Michigan fight song came on, we both participated, so she knew which side I was cheering for. The game was now about to begin, and her intensity increased, as I noticed her blow a kiss to the sidelines. “Hmmm,” I said to myself as I began to wonder who I was sitting next to.
Remember, my son is a Spartan fan, and he put that on display very early into the game. The lady to the right looked at me, and playfully said, “Did you bring him with you?” I told her it was a father/son defiance thing and that I hoped he outgrew his ways. She laughed and said back to me, “We’ve all been there.”
This time we spoke, I got a better look at her, and I realized I was sitting next to Sarah Harbaugh, the wife of Jim Harbaugh.
Every play on the field was felt by her eight rows up. A good play by Michigan brought her to her feet, and a bad play left her with her head in her hands. She was their most loyal cheerleader.
As the first quarter ended, I really needed a bottle of water, and made my way to the concession stand. I purchased three — one for me, one for Garrett and one for Mrs. Harbaugh. When I got back to my seat, I handed Garrett his water and offered one to Mrs. Harbaugh. She smiled and said, “Oh, thank you so much. I was just thinking how much I really wanted a bottle of water. That’s very nice of you.” I responded, “I know how much I needed one, so I can only imagine how much you needed one.” She smiled and again said “thank you” as she shared it with some kids that were with her.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t Michigan’s day, and the “fans” got vocal rather quickly. As she felt every play on the field, I could tell by her body language that she could also feel every comment behind made by people nearby being directed to the field. Undoubtedly, when you are married to a high-profile coach such as Jim Harbaugh, this sort of thing comes with the territory, but does that make it OK?
I don’t know who the small children were by her side, but they heard the comments, too. How does an adult explain that to small children? Again, probably not their first experience with such behavior, but again I ask: Does that make it OK?
Halftime arrived, and before she stood to leave, she turned to me and said, “We have to go, so you enjoy the extra space, and thanks again for the water.”
“Excuse me for asking, but are you Mrs. Harbaugh?” I asked.
She smiled and replied, “Yes, I am.”
I extended my hand and she shook it, and I said to her, “It can’t be easy sitting amongst the fans and hear some of the comments, but you handled it like a class act. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the game.”
Her response back was, “Thank you, that’s nice of you to say. I’ve had lots of practice.”
So, the next time you happen to be at a game, and you aren’t exactly happy with the way things are going on the field, give some thought to what is coming out of your mouth, as you never know who might be sitting nearby.
— By Kevin Hook, Tribune publisher