by Paul Knepper
When the University of Michigan fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez a few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about him not being a good fit for Ann Arbor. Boosters and alumni complained he wasn’t a “Michigan Man.”
So what exactly is a “Michigan Man?”
The term dates back to legendary football coach Fielding Yost in the early part of the 20th century, though long-time coach Bo Schembechler brought it to prominence in 1989. When U of M basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted the same job at Arizona State University prior to the NCAA tournament (a tournament Michigan won under interim coach Steve Fisher), Schembechler, in his role as athletic director, dismissed Frieder immediately, stating that “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan…”
Since then, the term “Michigan Man” has generally been used to refer to somebody who played or coached at Michigan under Schembechler (who incidentally was born, raised and began his coaching career as an “Ohio Man”). The school’s fight song, Hail to the Victors, is somewhat vague on the subject, referring to Michigan men as simply “the leaders and best”.
As a graduate of the University of Michigan, I have my own idea of what it means to be a “Michigan Man.” I believe a Michigan Man or Woman is somebody who excels in their professional and personal life, is a leader in the community and represents the university with class and dignity.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.
I was the same year as Woodson at Michigan and watched him lead the Wolverines to the 1997 National Championship, while becoming the first predominantly defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Thirteen years later I can say unequivocally he’s the greatest football player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching on a regular basis.
But don’t take my word for it. Last season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Woodson: “I don’t mean to offend anybody by saying this but he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve never seen anybody dominate a position the way he has.”
Woodson was drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth pick in the 1998 draft and immediately established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2003.
Then his career hit a snag. He suffered through several injuries over the next few seasons, and the losses in Oakland mounted. After the 2005 campaign, he signed with the Green Bay Packers, where his career was rejuvenated.
Woodson led the NFC in interceptions in 2006 and the NFL in 2009, a season in which he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has returned 11 interceptions and fumbles for touchdowns over his career, just two shy of Rod Woodson’s record, and is headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Charles’ versatility is what sets him apart from other defensive backs. He is one of the few shut-down corners in the league, and unlike many DBs, is an excellent tackler who does not shy away from contact. In addition to cornerback, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers lines #21 up at strong safety, free safety and on occasion, outside linebacker.
More impressive than his performance on the field is his leadership in the locker room and the community. Charles is a spokesman for the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, scheduled to open in 2012, and in November, 2009, donated $2 million to the hospital.
In June 2009, Woodson delivered a speech introducing then governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle at the state Democratic convention. In early 2011, he offered public support for Wisconsin workers who were protesting a proposal by Governor Scott Walker that would force employees to pay more for health insurance and pensions. His political leanings aside, Woodson’s willingness to take a stand in an era in which athletes are terrified of damaging their “brand” is admirable.
At age 34, Woodson is still at the top of his game and has become a vocal leader on a Packers team that is set to face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Many sports fans have seen video of Woodson calling out President Obama following the Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Prior to the matchup, the President, an unabashed Bears fan, said he would attend the Super Bowl if the Bears made it.
In a postgame speech to his teammates Woodson said “The President don’t want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We’ll go see him.” He closed it out with “White House on three. One, two, three. White House!”
However, most publications omitted the first part of that speech, in which Woodson told his teammates: “Think about one thing. One. For two weeks, two weeks, think about one. One mind. Let’s be one heartbeat. One purpose. One goal. One more game. One.” Those are the words of a leader, a trusted voice in a locker room full of professionals. On a team with several Pro-Bowlers, Woodson was the one who stepped up to the mic.
Woodson’s star status and propensity for witty quotes will be on full display during the massive media hype build up to the Super Bowl. U of M students, alumni and fans should be proud.
Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.