December 2010 Archives

Steve Boros Was More Than Just An Athlete

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Reading the obituaries for Steve Boros, who died Wednesday night (Dec. 29) at the age of 74, defines his major league career thoroughly. For those who grew up as a Detroit Tiger fan during that era, he was considered one of the most promising players to move into a starting role.

What people might not realize is that Boros was one of the few players to make the jump to pros from the collegiate ranks. The Flint, Mich., native made that jump from the University of Michigan.

As U-M player, Boros hit .324 in his first year on the team in 1956 and followed that with a .381 average the next season. He helped Michigan to a 36-16 record in those two seasons and was named an All-Big Ten conference third baseman in 1957. H ewas named to the Michigan Hall of Honor in 1996.

He left the Wolverines for the pros after the 1957 season and started a career in sport that would span decades.

"Those things just didn't happen in those days," said former Detroit News baseball writer and retired Detroit Tiger public relations man Dan Ewald. "He stood out from the players of that time. He was a cerebral individual, a deep thinker."

The players of those days were curious about having Boros on the team. They had no idea how a collegian was going to fit into the major leagues. It didn't take long for his future teammates to find out.

"He was a gentleman and one helluva guy," added Ewald.

And while he honed his baseball talents at Michigan under the tutelage of the legendary Ray Fisher, it was probably his time in the classroom that made him the big name in baseball well beyond his playing days.

Boros was an excellent communicator. Not only did he understand the game of baseball, he could easily explain it.

It was easy to see why he managed the Oakland Athletics in 1983 and '84, plus the San Diego Padres in 1986. He also coached for four other major league teams before rejoining the Tigers as the minor league field coordinator, director of player development and special assistant to the general manager.

Of course, the story everyone talks about was what he did for the Los Angeles Dodgers. As an advance scout, he noticed that A's reliever Dennis Eckersley threw a back-door slider on full counts to left-handed hitters. Boros noted it and when Kirk Gibson stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the bottom of ninth in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against Eckersley, the 3-2 count home run to win the game for the Dodgers is still a legendary round-tripper in baseball lore.

What makes it even a little more interesting and ironic is that it was a Michigan man's information (Boros) that helped immortalize a Michigan State Spartan (Gibson).

The city of Flint, the University of Michigan and baseball are indeed appreciative that Boros "stood out as a player" and used his background to become a gentleman and become one of the big names in sports.

• Slideshow: Final Practice

There was a mix of former, soon to be former and current football letterwinners at Jacksonville University Thursday afternoon (Dec. 30) when Michigan conducted its last practice of 2010 for Saturday's Gator Bowl (Jan. 1).

The last practice is somewhat bittersweet. You have watched these student-athletes grow to adults in a four or five year time frame, and you wonder what the future will hold for the players leaving college life.

Today, they are being hoisted on the shoulders of their teammates as they are carried off the field for the final time at Michigan. Tomorrow, these same players will be headed into their 'real' lives. A career as a lawyer, dentist, sales rep, teacher, etc.

So it seemed apropos that today was also the day the U-M football M Club Letterwinners were invited to practice. This is the same group that sponsors the M Go Blue banner that the team touches as it runs out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel.

Max Richardson, a running back from the mid 70s, took advantage of the invitation. He is a close friend of former U-M running back Butch Woolfolk. He asked about Butch's son Troy, who suffered a broken leg in pre-season practice. Max asked "How he was doing."

Moments later, Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd (who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in practice in early November) walked by Max. When Max found out it was Troy, the stories came out. Max laughed and told him "I used to change your diapers!"

The two talked. Max could not wait to call Butch, and he did immediately, enjoying the moment.

Michigan's great wide receiver from the late 1940's Gene Derricotte, a member of the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, also stopped by. Derricotte not only set many U-M football records from 1944 to 1948 and was a member of both the 1947 and 1948 Wolverine national championship football team; he was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II.  A retired dentist from San Antonio, he traveled to Atlanta to meet his son before coming down for the game and the practice

His background on the gridiron and how he served our country in World War II made him a star once again on the football field, even though he was standing on the sidelines.

U-M's play-by-play announcer Frank Beckmann, an honorary M Club letterman, and others could not wait to talk to Gene after hearing of his exploits.

Equipment manager Jon Falk, also an honorary M Club letterman, made sure he shook the hand of every former player that came out, bringing a smile and a big laugh to all of them as he told a story from their era. And head medical trainer Paul Schmidt, an honorary M Club letterman, talked with many on the sidelines.

As practice came to a close, the letterwinners that stayed for the entire practice gathered to talk to Rich Rodriguez.

But before that happened, the former letterwinners watched the soon-to-be-former letterwinners get hoisted in the air and then carried off the field by their teammates.

As I watched the proceedings taking place, I -- yes, an honorary M Club letterman -- looked at our M Club lettermen and thought to myself if these players being carried off the field today have a life like those former players I have been with during this practice, Michigan and its coaching staff did their 'real' job -- building the young men to be leaders and the best.

Michigan Bowl Central

So Who Really Wants More Cowbell?

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On April 8, 2000, the actor Christopher Walken hosted Saturday Night Live. Joined by Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon, among others, Walken starred in one of the great skits in SNL history. "More cowbell" became a phrase that caught the fancy of American pop culture.

The skit took place in a recording studio, where the rock band Blue Oyster Cult was working on the late '70s song "Don't Fear the Reaper." Walken's need "for more cowbell" and the distractions Ferrell was causing by banging the cowbell made for great theater.

On Saturday, when Mississippi State and Michigan meet, the stage for cowbells will be at EverBank Field for the Gator Bowl.

The Bulldog faithful will bring in their cowbells as they have been doing since the early 1950s, and they are definitely an issue for the opposing team. In 1974, the Southeastern Conference tried to ban cowbells from Scott Stadium in Starkville, Miss., but tradition won out as State fans snuck the bells into the stadium, making it almost impossible for anyone to stop the clanging.

Michigan, of course, is preparing for "more cowbell." Cowbells have been clanging in the ears of the center and the quarterback for much of the practices leading up to the game. Watching it and listening to it, does create a few snickers on the sidelines, but this time a cowbell is serious stuff.

Cowbells at practice photo

The distinctive noise is something I have never been privy to hear at football games. I am pretty sure it won't be as bad as soccer's vuvuzela. A big day for Michigan would go a long way to get that ringing out of everyone's ear.

Interesting Note: The Michigan football team busses were locked out of the Jacksonville University this morning. The gates were locked and no one had a key. The team busses were on the street with curious onlookers wondering what was going on. After about 10 minutes, a Jacksonville police officer took a bolt cutter to the lock to get the busses and the team into the practice area.

Michigan Bowl Central

Getting Ready to Play in Jacksonville

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When the media portrayal of bowl games gets back to the schools' hometowns, pictures of beaches, games and some practice grace their platforms.

After all, there is no better way to spend a week in late December than playing in a bowl game. But the pictures are truly just snapshots. You don't see the true grit, the need to get your game back in shape and prepare to win a game on the national stage.

The bowl teams haven't played a competitive game in nearly a month. Final exams, holidays and family create an array of personal decisions that in the everyday lives of the individuals cause consternation.

Now add weather problems into the mix and the teams and coaching staffs have to be shaking their heads as they try to get teams back into game mode.

For Michigan, two travel stories involving four players typify the travel problems the Wolverines have faced on this trip. But it also tells you how these Wolverines are thinking about the team first and foremost.

Starting offensive lineman Patrick Omameh finally arrived in Jacksonville on an evening flight Monday, Dec. 27. He and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint were both in Columbus, Ohio, and when their flight though Washington, D.C., was canceled, they had to fly to Philadelphia.

There was only one seat on the direct flight from Philly to Jacksonville. The players had to decide who would take that one seat and get to Jacksonville on time for the first practice. Tousaaint knew Omameh, a starter on the offense, needed to be on that flight. Toussaint made the decision to put Omameh on the direct flight. He would take the long road to Jacksonville through Charlotte, thinking he was getting his teammate to Jacksonville first.

Ah, but the best laid plans sometimes go awry. The flight from Philly was cancelled and Omameh was stuck, and the Wolverines were without their starting right guard for two practices in Jacksonville. Toussaint, on the other hand, made to Jacksonville late on the 26th.

Junior safety Mike Williams and freshman linebacker Quinton Washington also tried to make necessary moves to help the team when they reached their connecting flights in Atlanta. Williams' flight on Delta was leaving as scheduled, getting him into Jacksonville on time for the Sunday practice. Washington's flight was delayed. Williams, who played in two games this past year, knew it was important to get the Washington, a nose tackle who has played in all 12 games, to Jacksonville first.

The players pleaded with Delta to switch the tickets, but in this day and age of travel, the airline's hands were tied. Williams made it to the Sunday practice, while Washington came in later that evening and was ready to go on Monday.

Decisions on the fly are something football players need to make on the field. These four players had to make decisions about how they would fly and the value to the team of their fellow teammates.

There is a different feel to each bowl game, but in many ways they are quite similar when it comes to what the cities want to portray. The committees try to get the PR photos that will showcase their cities: the beaches, the top video game rooms, the great food and everything the Chamber of Commerce can showcase. The media will eat it up, sending back snapshots of what the team is doing on the side.

And despite the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce to show their cities as a place for play and enjoyment, the real scene for a bowl team is getting ready to play and, in some cases, getting everyone to the bowl site.

Michigan Bowl Central

The Big Chill: A Special Event Leaves the Big House

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For those that grew up in a family based around the tradition of the Christmas season, the saddest day was when it was time for the Christmas tree to come down.

The anticipation of the holiday season and the excitement of Christmas morning had come and gone. Rudolph and Santa were names I wouldn't hear in the house for another year, another time.

Early this morning, I went to Michigan Stadium. And for some reason, I felt like a little boy watching the Christmas tree coming down.

The ice rink at the Big House was being dismantled piece by piece. The dasher boards were down. A crew was using sledge hammers to break the ice. And only the Big Chill logo at center ice and a hastily made snowman in the southwest corner of the field gave one a semblance of what really happened on Saturday (Dec. 11).

And when I looked back on the Big Chill and the weeks leading up to this event, it was indeed just like another Christmas season for me, the players and individuals that were able to play or skate at the Big House plus the 113,411 fans that witnessed and enjoyed a one-of-a-kind event.

I watched the ice go in during the Thanksgiving weekend. I watched the athletic department and ice rink event management group work and worry about the Big Chill -- day and night --- similar as a mom would work and worry about everything for a holiday event.

There is something about sport that brings out the little kid in all of us, and even more so during the holiday season. I noticed the wide-eyed youngsters, excited to step on the ice and play a game or skate in the Big House. It was wonderful to see the same wide-eyed look on the adults.

It didn't matter who you were -- Red Berenson, the Michigan or Michigan State team -- this was more than a game, for fans and players alike. Last Saturday and the days leading up to The Big Chill were special, and everything went off without a hitch.

Oh, we got lucky, no doubt about it. Mother Nature delayed the rain, then the snow and frigid temperatures just enough to let us enjoy the game and the event. Even Central Collegiate Hockey Association Commissioner Tom Anastos brought mom into the effort saying, "All this proves is Mother Nature is truly a hockey mom."

I don't know when I will see an event like this again. So, like a little boy who knew Frosty and Santa were names I wouldn't hear for a long time and who watched mom take down the Christmas tree, this morning I watched the high-lows putting the boards away. And I knew Scooter and Patrick, who were among the men who put the ice down, were names that I might not hear for a long time.

The rink was coming down just like the Christmas tree I remembered as a boy. This special season was over.

Fortunately, we can all now sit back and enjoy the real holiday season, thinking back to the fun we had the last few weeks and looking forward to another favorite part of the year: bowl season and the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.

Humble Soccer Coach Gets U-M To College Cup

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Steve Burns is Michigan soccer. And if you tell him this, he will shy away and tell you he has been blessed just to be a part of the program. He is a humble man who has taken every step of the journey within the sport of soccer to get his team where it is today.

He knows what it means to win championships. He also knows that every step up the ladder you take, the more you have to work to win those championships.

He won national championships at the club level here at Michigan in 1997 and 1998 and then found out that going varsity in 1999 was tougher than he thought. He knew the game and recruiting would change, but he had to find out how it would change and learn from his mistakes.

In 2003 and 2004, the team went on to play the NCAA Championship round and then once again, he was humbled when he found out that this wasn't going to happen every year. Once again, the game had changed, the stakes were higher.

A program is not built in one year, it is built around successes -- year after year. Now, Burns was getting ready to impact on the hardest part of his career -- taking a Michigan program that he nurtured from infancy to making it a true collegiate power. In 2008, he made it back to the NCAA Tournament and he knew going into the 2010 season that this was a year U-M could do it again.

But even early on in the year, Burns was humbled. This time the Wolverines lost to a highly ranked Akron team, 7-1. He had to quickly figure out what happened and how he could get the U-M team to rebound quickly. Piece by piece, he did just that. The Wolverines haven't lost a game since that evening.

It has been a long road, but Burns has persevered. Now, he has his team readying itself for the most important weekend in Michigan soccer history.

On Friday night (11 EST, ESPN2), Burns will be taking the U-M team to its first final four of the College Cup. And this time, the U-M team takes on that same Akron team it lost to on Oct. 19 by that 7-1 score.

The Wolverines are ranked No. 15 and the Zips are No. 2. A win would once again humble Steve Burns, but not in the way he has been humbled before. It would be a perfect "humble" for a humble man and a great team.

Go Blue!