The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 55 Ed Muransky waited outside the locker room door for me at a home game this year. He hugged me and said, 'Big Jon, I'll tell you right now, the way you treated me in my years at Michigan, and the way you treated my family, I'll never forget that.' "[Former Michigan running back] Chris Perry came in crying. He came in after a game this year and said: 'Big Jon, what do you have to leave for, man? Who are we going to see now? Who can come back and talk about the seasons when we played at Michigan?'" Falk can. He's not going far, settled into a cozy lake home 20 minutes from Ann Arbor. He's not about to stop with the storytelling. From The Falk Files Falk served as a student assistant equipment manager for Schembechler back at Miami, and continued learning about attention to detail and the gruff demands of his boss at Michigan. "Back in the '70s, we had numbers that were heat-pressed on," Falk recalled. "[For- mer Michigan offensive lineman] Mike Kenn's number got creased. Some of the rubberized number had fallen off his jersey. I didn't have a second jersey for him. So I had to put that out there for the game. "The next day, Bo calls me into the office and he says: 'Falk, this is Michigan football. This is a first-class organization. I saw Mike Kenn's number crackled and cracked during the game yesterday. Why are you letting that happen?'" The young equipment man felt stunned, embarrassed. "I said, 'I'm sorry, Coach. I noticed it before the game, but I didn't have another jersey to back it up. And I didn't even think you would have noticed that.' "He says, 'Bo notices everything. Bo sees it all. Don't ever let that happen again.' "The next day, I went out and bought a whole new second set of jerseys for every- body on the team. I carried them with me ev- erywhere we went, at home and on the road. There was always a second set with that man's number and that man's name. I learned my lesson on that." As Falk settled in, he grew in confidence and assertiveness in his job. When Schembechler demanded an answer to dealing with Ohio State punter Tom Skladany's high-hanging, 50-yard punts, Falk told him about the new "JUGS" machine, that could mimic those boots better than anyone on the Wolverines' roster. Schembechler told him to go get it, but that meant getting past the doggedly frugal Don Canham, Michigan's athletics director. Falk bought first and took the heat later, summoned to the AD's office by a cautioning secretary. "I went down to the office, and I walked in," Falk noted. "Mr. Canham says: 'Falk — what the hell is a JUGS machine, and why are we playing this much money for it?' "I said, 'Mr. Canham, it's a machine that takes a football and kicks it 45, 50 yards, so we can practice our returns against Ohio State. This machine can kick the football to the moon. Now the question I have to ask you is this: if we could buy the moon to beat Ohio State, would you do it?' "He looked at me, and he says: 'Pay the bill.'" Later in that same 1976 season, the No. 1 Wolverines lost a devastating 16-14 decision at Purdue. They'd steamrolled eight straight opponents by a combined score of 352-58, but now tasted the bitterest of defeats. Falk recalled: "After the game, Bo walks into the locker room, and he says: 'It's over. You blew it today. It's over. It's done. It's fin- ished. You had a chance. You had an opportu- nity. You blew it today.' "He looks at me and he says: 'I don't want anybody in this locker room, Falk. Shut this off. Seal it off to people. These players are talk- ing to nobody.' And he walked out of the room. "The players sat there, stunned. I walked over to Robbie Lytle and said: 'Robbie, I'm not sure what Coach is talking about, but if we can beat Illinois next week and go down to Ohio and beat Ohio, we're going to go to the Rose Bowl.' "He said, 'Is that right?' I said, 'Yeah, Rob- bie. It's head on head. It's who beats who.'" Lytle fumbled three times against Purdue, marking unprecedented ball insecurity by the All-American running back. To this day, Falk remembers his post-game vow to the team. Falk noted: "He got up in front of everybody and said: 'Men, I want you to know, I played the worst football game I've ever played in my life. But I'm promising you this. You will see me play the best football I've ever played for the next two games. I'm just asking you guys to do the same thing. For two weeks, we've got to play our best football. "'We're going down to Columbus, we're go- ing to beat Ohio State, and we're going to go to the Rose Bowl.' Everybody stood up and said, 'Yeah, we're going to the Rose Bowl.'" Falk taped a handle onto a football and placed it in Lytle's locker, calming him later when an indignant Lytle demanded to know who tweaked him so. Lytle then made good on his promise, Michigan beating Illinois (38-7) and Ohio State (22-0) to head for Pasadena. At halftime of that showdown in Columbus, even with the game knotted at 0-0, Schem- bechler declared victory, Falk recalled. A late OSU pass, intercepted in the Michigan end zone, gave him all the assurance he needed. "The players were just hootin' and hollerin' … you could just see they wanted to get back out there," Falk said. "Bo walks in, and he says: 'Men, gather around. Today, in this foot- ball game, it's Michigan. It's over. It is over today. It's going to be Michigan. We just made Woody Hayes pass the football.' "And every one of those players stood up, and they all started cheering. He said: 'I'm going to tell you this, right now. The defense is stone cold today. Stone cold. They're not moving on Michigan today. We're going to go back out there, get the second-half kickoff, take it back and score. "'Then the defense, they're going to take them out in three plays, because they're not go- ing to move that ball on us. Then we're going to go back and score again.'" That's precisely what happened. Lytle stood in the middle of it all, soaking in the rewards of responding to adversity. "In the end, Robbie Lytle scored a touch- down," Falk said. "I'll never forget Bob Ufer's voice: 'Robbie Lytle scored the touchdown in this, his All-American season.' Think about that. That one man turned the attitude of the team for two games to win the championship." A decade later, another high-profile Wol- verine made his vow a bit more publicly. Har- baugh's well-documented promise regarding Ohio State came after a situational crisis for the now veteran equipment manager. The game prior to the showdown in Colum- Falk served in his post for 40 years, wit- nessed 17 Big Ten championships and one na- tional title, and built countless relationships that have stood the test of time. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS 54-59.Retiring Legends.indd 55 6/18/14 3:51 PM

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