Last month, Wilson and I traveled to Michigan for a college reunion with his fraternity brothers. He went to U of M in Ann Arbor– let’s just say, many years ago (the number is too painful to put in print) — and has remained very connected to the school and his pals.
Since graduating, Wilson has tried to make an annual pilgrimage back to Michigan to see football games with a few of his buddies. Five years ago, a bunch of them put on their organizing hats for an extravaganza reunion weekend that was so well attended and successful, they wanted to make it an every-5-years tradition.
Out of about 26 brothers of Sigma Alpha Mu (aka Sammies) in their graduating year, an impressive 20 came to the reunion this year, with many wives, and kids in tow.
They’re an accomplished group– with careers in law, business, medicine and media– with partners and probably more than 50 kids among them. But they put that September weekend in Sharpie on the calendar because — as any alumnus will tell you– Michigan bonds are mighty.
One of my best friends from high school, Deb, went to Michigan and I used to visit her in January because Michigan went back to school a week earlier than Tufts. Wilson and I have figured out that we were definitely at the same Sammy parties. Amazingly, he lived off campus senior year in the same house Deb lived in the following year when we were seniors, and I spent a weekend there back in the day.
So I have some nostalgia for the place, but it’s nothing compared to the cultish enthusiasm Michigan instills in anyone who’s walked the diag or sang Hail to the Victors in the Big House.
We met at the stadium Friday afternoon, where everyone got t-shirts and hugs as the brothers and their families streamed in. Many of them hadn’t seen each other since the last reunion so as we strolled through the stadium on a private tour, everyone was making introductions, catching up, and snapping pictures.
And laughing. Remember how much you laughed in college? Good times.
Some genius hired a professional photographer to capture all of it and he found a way to make a bunch of 40-somethings look great.
Although I’m never all that impressed by the inside of an empty stadium, even I was awed when we got to go on the hallowed field. The precision of the lines, the professional air of the place, and the enormity of standing on the very turf of the storied Michigan football program was cool. Some of the kids tossed a football around, making plays and tackling each other, just cause they could.
We had a terrific dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, where everyone got a chance to move around and chat. The food was great and the video montage– with pictures from college to the present– made everyone verklempt.
On game day, the guys were giddy. They got up early, donned their maize and blue and hurried to campus, as excited as the first game freshman year.
We walked around Ann Arbor and campus, and spent too much money buying Michigan swag at MDen.
Side note: Everyone was wearing Michigan colors: t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, headbands, hats, jackets, sneakers, jewelry, even nail decals.
I would not have even considered showing up at the tailgate without an M on. It’s just bad form.
Catered by the famous Zingerman’s deli (the bread is to die for) the tailgate had a full bar and coolers stocked with beer. Just like old times, only more civilized.
Some of the brothers now have kids who attend Michigan or plan to apply, which made me feel old. In my heart, I don’t feel that much older than those kids running around campus. But the perfect antidote to that is spending the weekend reliving our college days, hanging out in a parking lot on a sunny day with nowhere else to go, drinking and eating more than we’d allow at home. Our tailgate kicked ass.
The game was a disaster. No more needs to be said about that. We all met for one last dinner at Pizza House where we tried to finish all the interrupted conversations sprinkled throughout the weekend and check in one last time before the bear hugs and goodbyes.
Some of the wives went to Michigan too so they see these men and must recognize the boys they once were: pontificating, teasing, laughing, like they did many years ago.
I didn’t know them as boys, only as the amazing men they are now, but to see them together– gives me a small glimpse of what they must have been like then. The dynamics of leadership, the old personality traits, but more than anything the affection and love– real love– they have for each other.
It’s a rare and special connection. I feel grateful to be a part of it, if only by marriage.
As we were leaving the restaurant, Wilson and five of his buddies looked across the street at Rick’s with a nostalgic nod. After getting the ok from the wives, they entered the bar for one last round of shots, just like they used to. They toasted to friendship.
The high from the weekend lasted a few days after we returned and we eagerly scrolled through the photos, trying to hang on to the buzz. It takes an exceptional group of people to pull off a weekend like that. These guys are leaders and best.