ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Save for the chiming of the bells, members of the Michigan football faithful joined together quietly about fifteen minutes before 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
One little boy wore a Jabrill Peppers jersey.
A college-aged woman cradled a bouquet of yellow flowers in the crook of her right arm.
A man in his 40s wore a replica Michigan letterman’s jacket.
Ten years after the death of Bo Schembechler, and a few days before the 113th meeting of the Michigan and Ohio State football teams, they met at the foot of Burton Memorial Tower, in preparation for the annual Grave Walk.
The walk from Burton Memorial Tower in the central campus to Forest Hill Cemetery is about a half-mile in length. Some years, the grave walk draws only about 50 people. This year, about 200 people made the walk from Michigan’s central campus to the burial plots of three names synonymous with the history of Michigan football: Schembechler, Bob Ufer and Fielding Yost.
This year’s walk was especially poignant, as it came only a few days after the 10-year anniversary of Schembechler’s death, and on the 10-year anniversary of the 2006 game, when Ohio State defeated Michigan 42-39 in a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“Our mom thought Bo Schembechler was one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Sydney Shuk said. “She idolized him growing up. She was always passionate about the University of Michigan, and we grew up in a home where Bo was a household name.”
Shuk, Victoria Zakrzewski, Adam Kogut and Monica Shuk met through the university’s Polish Student Association and their interest in football developed into a passion. They joined others Tuesday to walk from campus to the cemetery on the outskirts of campus.
“My uncle used to come to the Grave Walk when he was in the area, and he always thought it was a very memorable experience,” Sydney Shuk said. “He wanted me as a student to experience it, and I brought everyone else along. It became a thing for us, too.”
More joined at the cemetery gates, and ambled to the first of the three notable headstones — that of Schembechler, who coached Michigan from 1969 to 1989.
Then, they meandered through the dark and cold, and up a winding path to two more headstones: Ufer and Yost, whose burial plots sit only a few yards apart. Ufer was the broadcast voice of Michigan football for 36 years, from 1945 until his death in 1981 of cancer. Yost coached football at Michigan for 25 years, won six national championships and was the school’s athletic director from 1921 to 1941.
“This isn’t really a well-known event that goes on,” said Kogut, who participated in his first Grave Walk on Tuesday. “You know what it is, but when you come up here, you get the best fans and the most passionate ones.”
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The Grave Walk began as a singular tradition.
Jeffrey Holzhausen grew up a Michigan football fan, and still can recite, word-for-word, Ufer’s call of the 1979 Michigan-Indiana game in which Anthony Carter caught the game-winning touchdown for the Wolverines as time expired.
When he enrolled at Michigan in the fall of 1992, he hoped to find classmates who shared the same passion as he did for Michigan football. Some, he found, didn’t even know who Bob Ufer was.
It dismayed him. However, he also learned that Ufer was buried a short walk from Michigan’s campus, and went by himself to pay his respects to the late Michigan football announcer. He continued to do it each year he was a student at Michigan, and his friends began accompanying him to the cemetery in the fall of 1997.
Holzhausen now lives in Chelsea, Mich., about 15 miles west of Ann Arbor, he but has continued the annual tradition of the Grave Walk.
“You try to gravitate to those who think like you,” Holzhausen said. “When people heard what I did each year, they were right on board. The group got bigger.
“Nobody’s ever questioned why. Now, you’re paying your respects to three of the four people who, if there was a Mount Rushmore for Michigan football, they would be on it.”
In 2007, a year after Schembechler died, Holzhausen led the group to Schembechler’s grave.
That group has come to include longtime Michigan football fans, former Michigan athletes and even current members of the Michigan football program. Michigan quarterback John O’Korn and former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock discreetly joined this year’s Grave Walk.
“These guys did so much for the program, and I’ve gotten to know Tom (Ufer), Bob’s son, over the last year or so, and this means so much,” Rudock said. “And I know how much of an impact Bo had on Coach (Harbaugh), so I’m just paying a little respect to them.”
Last year, the Grave Walk had a unique visitor. Each year, at each headstone, Holzhausen delivers a presentation on what Schembechler, Ufer and Yost mean to the lore of Michigan football. At the end, last year, he asked the crowd if anyone else would like to share their memories of Schembechler.
Then, he heard a familiar voice.
Last year, Harbaugh took a maize-and-blue hammer and with a quick flick of the wrist, took a crack at one of the buckeyes that sat on a blue mat.
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This year, after visiting Yost’s headstone, O’Korn spoke a few words.
John O’Korn video link here: img_0809
This year, there was no appearance by Harbaugh, though the many who surrounded each headstone may have hoped for a glimpse of Ann Arbor’s most famous resident.
Yet at Schembechler’s headstone, Holzhausen held up a cell phone. On the line was Shemy Schembechler, Bo Schembechler’s son, calling from Columbus.
Schembechler video below:
At Ufer’s headstone, the audio of his call from the 1979 Michigan-Indiana game was played, and a gentleman stepped to the front of the crowd and began talking about Ufer. Many there knew him only as “Dennis from the O.C.,” a frequent caller to the Michigan Insider, a morning radio show on local sports-talk radio station WTKA-AM.
At Yost’s headstone, Dan Chase, a videographer, told the crowd he was making a documentary on Michigan’s football legends. He then produced a horn that Ufer used each time Michigan scored — three honks for a touchdown, two for a field goal and one for an extra point.
The urban legend is that the horn once belonged to General George S. Patton — a famous World War II leader for the United States, who was immortalized in the 1970 movie “Patton” — and was inherited by Ufer.
Before the crowd dispersed, there was one final song to be sung: “The Victors.”
“All of this is every overwhelming,” said Victoria Zakrzewski, a senior at Michigan. “You think about what Bo Schembechler did for the program, and then to have this year’s team go through the Brady Hoke era and accomplish what they’re doing now, it’s really awesome.”