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Recap: The Ann Arbor Trip

I just returned from my weekend trip to Ann Arbor, where I had a little mini-reunion with some of my college fraternity brothers at the Michigan-Utah football game. (Or, as it was known to my wife, the “Mid-Life Crisis World Tour.”) Five of us old guys who hadn’t seen each other in 12 years were ready to show Michigan how aging, bald frat guys do it up right.

My gruff little Chicago buddy Hal and I pulled up to the hotel early Friday afternoon after six hours in the car. We were immediately met by our former housemate Hutton, who reportedly had done a stint in AA last year. Of course, Hutton had a beer in hand when we met up. We asked how that whole AA thing went, and he said “I’m on vacation.” Pretty sure that’s how it works.

We met up with Chris (from Jacksonville) and Rob (from San Diego), and hit a sports bar for dinner. Those guys had been ribbing me mercilessly via e-mail for my TV appearances, as if I was some kind of star in Wisconsin. They thought the whole trip was going to be like “Entourage,” where I foot the bill for the weekend. They were a little disappointed to find out that I can’t afford to pay attention.

(Actually, Rob had gained a brief amount of celebrity himself when he made SportsCenter's Top 10 plays one night. He was at a San Diego Padres game holding his son in one arm, when a line drive came screaming at him. He lunged and caught the ball with his other hand, managing to hold on to the ball and the baby at the same time.)

It didn’t take long for us to go through the whole “what ever happened to…” list. Rob and Chris have kept track of what more people are doing, so they filled us in on the dirt – primarily who had the worst wives. There’s a guy that lived in our house that always had the most horrible girlfriends that nobody could stand – and, as it turns out, his wife is a real treat, as well.

For example – and I have no reason to doubt this story, as strange as it is – this guy and his new wife showed up at Chris’ wedding, which was held on a pier on a Florida lake. This woman refused to go out on the pier, because it was… ahem… her time of the month, and she was afraid that sharks were going to sense this and attack her. Let that sink in for a little while. We spent a good half hour deconstructing how absurd the story is, and I’m still not sure I understand it. Anyway, much catty gossip was had – I almost felt we should follow up with some shoe shopping.

As it turns out, we had a tour guide for the trip – a guy who Hutton took a pharmaceutical sales class with, and who claimed to be the social king of Livonia, Michigan. His name - and I am not kidding about this – is Osama. You heard that correctly. And, I’m telling you – no fictional character has ever been written that topped Osama for pure comedy. He’s a little curly-haired gold chain-wearing Arab lothario, who boasted that he would be able to get us into any bar in Livonia. He’s like an unstoppable cyborg from the future, sent here to make sure no woman he comes into contact with leaves still wondering whether or not she has a great rack. He honed his skills by working at the sports bar where we ate, and demonstrated his substantial social gravitas by getting us free potato skins.

After dinner, we hit an arcade and played some aggressive air hockey games. We then moved upstairs one floor to do a little bowling. (Osama told us not to put his name on the overhead projector, as the bowling alley usually harasses him because they think he's kidding.) While we had a good time (I came in second with a strong 102), we failed to notice that Hutton was occasionally sneaking off to the bar for clandestine shots of tequila. As per his college days, when he drinks too much, he becomes “that guy.” Eventually, he began walking up and down the bowling alley eating off people’s pizza plates. At one point, when he was about to bowl, Osama took a running start and tackled him, sending Hutton sliding down the lane two lanes over – where a guy was just about to roll his ball. At that point, we decided we had probably better get out of there – but with Hutton so drunk, we couldn’t get into any other bars. So we dropped him off at the hotel, and went out for an uneventful couple of more hours, before ending up back at the hotel. The evening ended with Osama changing his clothes in his car, as his wife (gulp!) and two kids thought he was at work all night.

9 AM came early the next morning, as Osama had organized a catered tailgate just for us. We all felt like death warmed over on the ride over to the campus, where we parked on a golf course near the stadium. On the ride over, we opined about Hutton, and I launched into a half-assed speech about how the lesson of the previous evening was that nobody ever really changes. Ever. Nobody really disagreed with me.

Of course, an hour later at the tailgate, I found myself involved in a couple of majestic games of beer pong. These Michigan college kids had challenged the master, and in both games, I came from four cups down to win. In the middle of my trash talking during my second dramatic victory, Chris came over to me and said “you remember that speech you just gave us about how people never change? You’re playing beer pong and trash talking people.” I have to admit, he had me.

After my two wins (which may be the pinnacle of my athletic career), I turned to one of the girls Osama had rounded up to tailgate with us and said “that was like the Miracle on Ice of Beer Pong.” She looked at me blankly, and said “Uh. Oh.” Clearly, she had no idea what I was talking about. I then ingested a bottle of lighter fluid and some hot coals.

As I talked with people during the tailgate, one theme seemed to pop up with most of the Michigan fans - they all seemed to be miserable living in Michigan. Every single person wanted to move somewhere else. This seemed to be the exact opposite of Wisconsin, where it seems like everyone loves living here, and people think that everyone else should live here, too. Regardless of ideology or background, Wisconsin people love Wisconsin - and it took meeting just a few cranky Michigan fans to make that clear.

The tailgate stretched on from about 10 AM to game time, at 3:30. We left at about 2:30, just to make sure we got in on time, as Michigan Stadium is under construction. I was shocked at the number of Utah fans there – apparently thousands made the trek from Salt Lake to Ann Arbor. And I think Hutton talked to every one of them. The extended tailgate made him a little chatty. I had always questioned the policy most colleges have of refusing to sell alcohol at their games. After sitting with Hutton for a game, I am 100% in favor of dry games. Had he continued to drink, the only way he was getting out of there was in a body bag. He seemed to enjoy taunting 107,000 Michigan fans, who would have absolutely no second thoughts about throwing him over the top of the stadium.

As for the crowd, I was a little underwhelmed. As a neutral observer, I can say that the Camp Randall crowds, though smaller, absolutely put the Michigan fans to shame. They sat dead quiet, for three quarters, until their team started to make a run at the end. Granted, they didn’t have much to cheer about, but you could almost feel their air of superiority – as if they knew they were going to win, so there’s really no reason to waste their breath until it actually mattered.

Fortunately, they didn’t win, and as the game moved along, the crowd in our section turned ugly. Profanities rained down on the Utah fans from behind. Even with little kids omnipresent in the crowd, some crude fans launched into tirades that would make an Ol' Dirty Bastard CD seem like the Osmonds. There honestly is no place you can take your kids anymore. Most of the bile was aimed at a black Utah fan sitting two rows ahead of us, who was cheering a little too aggressively for their taste. Alluding to his ‘80s haircut, he was serenaded with profane versions of things like “sit down Carl Weathers,” “go back to Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton,” and “You suck, Lando Calrissian.” This went on all game.

Of course, Utah won – and since I barely remember going to school there, I was happier to see the Michigan fans in pain than to see my alma mater victorious. All day the heat was oppressive, and we were dying to get out of the sun and back to our hotel. (Osama had kept his car running with the air conditioning on through the whole tailgate, but only ladies were allowed to join him in there for chats.)

On the way back from the stadium, I told Rob my story about trying to potty train my son using jelly beans. He said his strategy was to throw a "potty party," complete with party hats and whistles, every time his son went on the toilet. I told him I thought this was a little extreme, but in his defense, every good party should end with your pants off.

Saturday night was time to recover – tired from the game, we ate dinner and hung out in our hotel room, watching some of the unspeakably awkward videos I had from our college days. We said our goodbyes and went to bed, although I couldn’t sleep because Hal’s snoring sounds like a grizzly bear getting a vasectomy.

So now I’m back in one piece for one night, ready to head up to Minneapolis to cover the GOP convention for Wispolitics and WPRI. I don’t even have to unpack my bag. Make sure you head over there and check it out – I am going to bust my ass to make it adequate.