The Harbaughdyssey

The Harbaughdyssey

A Story by Thomas Burbank

We all know the Ancient Epic "The Aeneid," written by the famous Latin scholar Vergil. But what if the same tale happened in the modern era?


I sing of khakis and a man.  He who, exiled by fate,

first came from the Golden Gates to Michigan and to

Arboreal avenues �" talked about endlessly by print and air.

By the will of Bo and all those who stood before him,

that this man might found a dynasty, restored from ruin,

and bring back the roses to Ann Arbor and the Big House.

Muse, sing, through me, the story of how this man �" this coach �"

claimed divinity in the eyes of his predecessors,

renowned by their gloried deeds, and brought himself

to the top-most peak of the college football world.

Can there be such a man among mere mortals?


There was a wretched city, Columbus (held by degenerate fools),

south of Michigan and off the shores of the Ohio River,

subpar in education, yet ferocious in the areas of football.

Long seen as the grandest rival of Maize and Blue,

this Team, and their coach, were held in the highest esteem

due to thirty-nine consecutive victories on the gridiron

and possession of the only two existing College Football Playoff trophies. 

Mired in political controversy, both in ethics

and strictness of discipline, this Team would once again

find themselves undefeated for a second consecutive season.

On a day preordained by the football gods �"  

the Saturday after the annual Giving of Thanks, where

parades of grandeur fill city streets and respect is given

in remembrance of the founding of this sovereign nation �"

two Goliaths would soon clash in a battle of epic proportions.

Enclosed within the shoes of the Columbian Horse,

the battle-hardened Buckeyes were due to face their

Northern enemies of Ann Arbor for the 113th time,

hoping to continue their streak of four consecutive victories.


With the heavens having been ripped apart both by wind

and by storm, Harbaugh and his men make haste

on commercial coach buses for the purpose of arriving

two days before this game of perennial titans.

Weary from their travels, the Team files into the hotel lobby,

a lethargic mass of maize and blue.

Seeing his men in such a state, having been driven

to exhaustion by the raging winds, the great coach

calls together his men and says with a fierce passion:

“Fellow Wolverines, lend me your eyes and your ears.

Give to me your hearts and your souls, for I know that they

have been battered by Mother Nature’s unrelenting grief.

You stand here, today, a Team unblemished by the shame

of defeat.  You have faced the native Warriors of Honolulu

and her oceanic coasts, and you have slain the Knights of both

Florida’s central banner and the eastern shore’s Scarlet Legion.

You have conquered beasts, such as the Western Buffalo,

the Nittany Lions, and Northernmost Badgers, as all have tried

and failed to take over the place you call home.

You have even travelled to mighty Sparta, smug in her

miraculous fluke of victory over us not one year ago,

and viciously slain her mighty Spartans.

With our glory and honor having been regained in

the minds of the College Football Playoff Committee,

we have become a Team most feared by all �"

unendingly resolute on defense and savage in both

aerial and terrestrial offensive assault. 

We have earned the position of being named

the number two team in the nation, one behind the team

which we are about to face in a mere two days’ time.

Do not fear, men.  We know our enemy. 

Let us not fall for her tricks, but face her head on

in a clash of godly power and might.  Rest your eyes

and bring yourselves into the realms of sleep,

for tomorrow we commence our preparations for victory.”

With pride having been inflamed in their hearts,

the Wolverines took themselves to sleep and

much needed rest after their tiring day.


The following morning, waking from their hearty sleep,

the Team carried themselves to a practice field a few miles

from the stadium where they would be playing.

For three hours they walked through offensive

and defensive scenarios, working out their weariness.

Harbaugh observed them, weaving in and out of drills,

pointing out mistakes, keeping his players focused.

After a final speech, he dismissed his athletes

back to their hotel for the purpose of watching film

and resting themselves for the upcoming game,

which would be played at noon the following day.

He himself carried his prideful soul to the on-looking

reporters, jumping with nervous energy on the sidelines.

As he approached them, the reporters’ inquisitive cries grew

to such an extent that they formed one incomprehensible roar;

the first reporter to project his voice above all others

was the first to seize an answer from the stoic Michigan coach.

“Alas, Harbaugh, how have you, in the previous weeks,

prepared yourself and your Team for the undefeated Buckeyes �"

winners of thirty-nine straight battles?”  A hush fell over

the fervent crowd as they awaited the Wolverine’s answer.

After a few moments of silence, Harbaugh raised his chin,

high in confidence, and spoke with a hardness that bespoke

integrity and complete belief in his exceptional Team:

“We have surpassed all expectations made for us these past

few years.  I came to this depleted program as it was suffering

a perilous and tiresome drought of eight years

out of the national spotlight.  Michigan had lost its identity.

There was plenty of talent �" it just needed to be released

and groomed into the impenetrable force we are today.

Last season we surprised everyone with gritty defense

and efficient offense, but three losses wasn’t good enough �"

I hold this Team to a higher standard.  We did not win

the Big Ten title; we did not win the National Championship;

we did not even beat either the D’Antionio-coached Spartans

or the team we will face in hostile combat tomorrow.

This year, however, is different.  We have iron instilled

in our minds and in our bones; we have defeated all those

who’ve stood in our path, including the Spartans, and aim

to maintain that perfect record.  Bo would be proud of how

this Team has come together and played the way

he would’ve wanted in their journey toward perfection.

We have kept our heads all year, and I’m honored of how

these boys have held themselves each and every game.

We’re going to treat this game like any other �"

there just happens to be a lot more on the line.

There’s a reason this battle of two perennial powers

is called The Game �" football truly doesn’t get any better than this.”


For the next hour Harbaugh answered additional questions about himself

and the team he coached until one final inquiry was launched

in the waning minutes of the press conference:  “Coach Harbaugh,

you once guaranteed victory over the vaulted Buckeyes of Ohio.

Will you be giving any such promises today?”

With a glare that could melt marble and cause the bravest of men to quiver,

the khaki-clad coach stared the brave reporter dead in the eyes

as he uttered his deathly calm reply:  “Michigan

is the best Team in College Football this year.

We have played harder, better, faster, and stronger

than anyone in the country and we will prove that tomorrow.

I shouldn’t have to stand and proclaim triumph

to the heavens; my Team will do the talking tomorrow.

Last year, they were young, still educating themselves

under the reign of a new ruler �" faultless in their misfortune.

Ohio travelled to our homeland, met us on hallowed ground,

and ripped our beating hearts from our chests.

Those vile Buckeyes stole our honor �" we have come to regain it.

My past as a player and as a coach hold no favor over this game;

it is up to those who fight, those who lay their lives

for their brothers, those who wear their hearts on their sleeves,

to determine who shall prevail in illustrious glory.

I can’t allow myself to be swayed by false pretenses

when I have much grander goals for this Team.  This is

but one step on our journey to a National Championship.

Thank you for your questions �" I’ve got a game to win.”

With his mind full of football and hope of conquest

in the upcoming game, Harbaugh departed from the field

and journeyed back to his room for the purpose of relaxing.

As day turned to night and Diana’s chariot took hold of the sky,

Jim gathered his players before breaking to one final night’s rest.


As his mind drifted into sleep, it was visited with dreams

of his past, telling tales of his great career.

He saw the Pacific shores of the Palo Alto coast as he coached

his Cardinal program up from the ashes and into the spotlight

of three straight Rose Bowl appearances; he saw his brief

journey north to San Francisco as he performed

the same promising methods at the professional level �"

bringing the pitiful 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games,

even making a Super Bowl appearance in 2013.

He saw the battle against his older brother as he faced John

in the familial Super Bowl XLVII, losing by five points

on a last second defensive stop at the goaline.

He watched his alma mater, his pride and joy,

his Michigan, fall from grace as he coached teams out west.

He watched with burning eyes as the likes of

Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke failed to become

‘Michigan Men,’ losing again and again to Little Brother

and That Team Down South.  Who could save them?

Who, in desperate times, could lead the team he once played for

back to prominence, to the Rose Bowl, to the National Championship?

Why not him?  Why not he, who performed miracle

after miracle for these struggling Pacific programs when

they were at their weakest, begging for mercy, step up and take the reins?

He knew what Michigan football was supposed to be;

he knew how to get his Ann Arbor Empire back.

No need for those of Maize and Blue to grieve �" Jim would come home.


He would lead them to three straight shut-outs

in just his first season, and would suffer with his players

as they lived the most heart-breaking loss in Michigan history �"

to the god-damned Spartan ruffians.  He’d suffer

a fourth straight loss to the Buckeyes on his home turf

embarrassed as nearly thirty points distanced themselves

as time expired and the Scarlet and Grey staked claim to their honor.

As he saw these images, Harbaugh was startled by a figure,

ghostly in appearance, emerging from his memories.

Shimmering before him, now stood the translucent image

of Michigan’s greatest coach �" Bo Schembechler.

Wearing his iconic flat-rimmed, block-M baseball cap,

old-fashioned sunglasses, and customary maize and blue jacket,

Michigan’s hero smiled at the bewildered Harbaugh and

opened his mouth, speaking in his humble voice: “Come,

Jim, walk with me �" I have something to show you.”


After a few moments staring, transfixed, at the image of the deceased coach,

Harbaugh jolted out of his reverie and followed the legend.

“How are you here, Bo?  You, who have fallen to the perils

of age and disease now appear before me clear as day,

as if you still lived in our world.  How can this be?”

With a twinkle in his eye, the great coach calmly replied:

“I come to all those who are worthy, Jim.  I have watched

my Team fall from grace.  But I kept believing.  I stuck

by them, hard though it was, because that’s what you do �"

you stick by your Team.  As my past self once said �"

‘Those who stay will be champions.’

Even in death, I have stayed loyal to my Team and so have you.

You, who returned to preach my style of football;

to coach my type of players, instilling your values and care in them.

You indeed are worthy of being called a champion.

For deep down, your players must know you care.

That is what’s most important �" you could never have done

what you’re doing now if your players felt you did not care.

They know, no matter what, that you will be by their side,

fighting tooth and nail to make them the best athletes �"

the best men �" that they can possibly be.

You’ve brought back my greatest teaching, echoing throughout

the Big House every Fall Saturday for the past fifty years:

that ‘no man is more important than The Team.

No coach is more important than the Team �"

The Team, The Team, The Team �" and if we think this way,

all of us, everything you do, you must take into consideration

what effect does it have on my Team?’ 

You have an opportunity here, Jim, to write yourself

into the renowned history books of Michigan lore.

I see your future, and it is bright, bright as the sun

that shines over the flaunted Great Lakes and

upon the Big House every day of every year.

You will be victorious tomorrow; you will see

the face of your next defeated opponent

in the Big Ten Championship and continue on to

the College Football Playoff.  There you will carve

your name into history and lead Ann Arbor to the highest peak

in all of College Football �" I have seen this �" and so shall you.”


Having been instilled with fiery passion from the words

of his idol, Harbaugh, at last, took in his surroundings.

He had not noticed their travels had taken them to a place,

glittered in gold and filled with images,

much like that of the apparition before him.

Years flashed before his eyes as Game after Game came and went.

Coaches of Teams’ past bellowed in pride as their Teams won

and shared tears of anguish as efforts played out in vain.

The likes of Fielding Yost, Harry Kipke, Fritz Crisler,

Bennie Oosterbaan, and Bump Elliot took command of their

men and sailed their ships to exaltation, just as Jason and his

Argonauts sailed to Colchis in wake of the mythical Golden Fleece.

The Ten Year War ravaged his eyes with animalistic fury

as Harbaugh witnessed Bo fight Woody Hayes

for the right of passage to Pasadena and smelling the roses.

Of Bo, coming to Ann Arbor in his first season as leader,

vanquishing the heralded defending National Champion Buckeyes �"

a feat Harbaugh had failed to emulate his first season.

Of the infamous 1973 tie, where those of the Grey and Scarlet

tore down the ‘Victors’ banner as they took the field.

Of blood becoming triumph, boys becoming men,

and greatness becoming legend, as year after year

these two armies clashed in tempestuous brutality.

He watched himself, in former years, as quarterback to the Wolverines,

promise those of the pen a win come that Saturday against Ohio.

Watched Loyd Carr bring Ann Arbor its last Championship in 1997.


He saw defeat.  The turn of the latest century brought only pain,

as year after year Wolverines laid their swords onto the battlefield

ashamed in defeat as Buckeye victory plastered thirteen

of the last fifteen arduous Games �" up until this season.

Just as he had told his Team, he watched, in awe,

as game after game unfolded before him.  Then,

it appeared before him �" The Game: 2016.

He watched, teary-eyed, as his comrades of maize and blue

walked into that Columbian Horse and win back their pride.

Bands of Arboreal fans littered the amphitheater with cries

of approval and roars of excitement as touchdown after touchdown

struck those of the Buckeye could only look on in defeat

as their wretched city burned with flames of disappointment.

While waning seconds ticked off the clock, Harbaugh could see

the sun break free of cloudy chains and shine onto the field

basking warmth and glory onto the face of Harbaugh and his soldiers.

They had walked into the valley of the shadow

of Buckeye Scarlet and Grey and feared no evil �"

for Team 137 were the strongest men in that valley.


As Harbaugh, face glistening with tears of pride, looked at Bo,

the ghost of Michigan’s past spoke, “You see, Jim?

You must only seize what is rightfully yours for the taking.

Do not waver in your decisions, do not falter in your steps,

your Team is destined for greatness, and fate has ordained

them champions �" it is already written.  Go now, wake,

and tell your Team what their future holds.  Spark

their pride, light their hearts with the fervors of victory

and lead your Team, as I have done in past years, to glory.

I leave you, now.  Seize the day, Jim, for your day has come.”

With a final nod of respect and wisp of smoke, Bo vanished.


Strengthened by the dream he’d dreamt the night before,

Jim now stood to speak, mere minutes before

the clock struck noon �" the room quieting in an instant.

“Last night, I dreamed of our past; of last year’s losses

not only to the Spartans, but to the team we play today.

I saw my history of a coach, how I’ve successfully

led every team I’ve coached to a divisional title by my second season.

This, gentlemen, is my second season here at Michigan.

Yet, perhaps the most miraculous part of my dream last night

was a visit from the great Bo Schembechler.  He came to me

and told me of our destiny �" it has been written

that we will be champions, not only today, but every game

for the remainder of our outstanding season.

Fate has name us champions, men, and it is up to us

to seize the day and take what is rightfully ours.

I believe in all of you �" you are all great men,

great athletes, a great family.  You have done

all that has been asked of you and more.  Ready your hearts

and play one more game here today as if it is your destiny to win �"

because it truly is.  Emulating the man that has spoken to me

through death, I say to you: ‘We’re gonna believe in each other.

We’re not gonna criticize each other.

We’re not gonna talk about each other.

We’re gonna encourage each other.’

You are all brothers out there on that field.

You are all facing our greatest rivals.

You are all playing in the Game of all Games.

Right outside of that tunnel is glory �" seize it.

For we are…the University of Michigan.”

© 2016 Thomas Burbank

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Added on June 1, 2016
Last Updated on June 1, 2016
Tags: aeneid, harbaugh, michigan, epic, funny, humor, football, sports


Thomas Burbank
Thomas Burbank

Ann Arbor, MI

Undergraduate Researcher at the University of Michigan more..