ROME — She hopped off the bus ready to hate him. All Alicia Sexton knew were the histrionics she’d seen on television: the tantrums, the stomping, the pointing, the raging at officials, the postgame complaints.
And then she met him.
Jim Harbaugh engaged her questions openly and honestly. He was warm. Friendly. Charming, even. He posed for pictures. He made them feel perfectly welcome.
Even though this was a Michigan football practice.
And Sexton had shown up to it wearing a scarlet Ohio State T-shirt.
Did he change your mind? Your perception, at least?
“I don’t know,” Sexton — Buckeyes Class of 2007 — told Land of 10 Thursday just before the Wolverines got down to stretching at the Olympic Training Center. “Because the only time we ever see Harbaugh is on TV throwing headsets.
“I think it made me realize that he’s actually a nice guy in person.”
Wait, wait, wait. Buckeyes alum: “Jim Harbaugh is actually a nice guy.”
That’s it. You’re banned from Columbus for life, surely.
“No,” she said, laughing. “I won’t be banned.”
“We respect the rivalry,” offered Alicia’s husband, E.J., another Ohio State alum. “She was thanking him for kind of bringing the rivalry back.”
Wait, wait, wait. Buckeyes alum thanks Jim Harbaugh.
Now you’re banned.
“Oh, I’m not going to convert to a Michigan fan, that’s for sure,” Alicia said.
“We’ll keep after them, we’ll keep after them,” Harbaugh said with a grin when asked about the Sextons after practice. “You never know.”
Alicia and E.J. were part of a group of 20 or so civilians and officers who rode the bus three hours north Thursday morning from the U.S. Navy base in Naples, Italy, to the training center.
“The travel guy on our base, the guy that’s the head of it, is a big Iowa fan,” said Alicia, who works as a teacher for the Department of Defense.
“So he was like, ‘Hey, I think we’re going to get a bus together to go watch Michigan practice.’ And I told my husband, ‘We’re on that bus.’ ”
So off they went. And when the bus emptied, Michigan coaches and players found themselves looking up in the small concrete grandstands to see this:
— Sean Keeler (@SeanKeeler) April 27, 2017
“They were kind of staring at us as we got off the bus,” E.J. recalled.
“I think they were a little confused,” Alicia added.
No wonder. While at Ohio State, Alicia was a member of Block “O” club. And of the “Beat Michigan Week” committee, for pity’s sake. She was in the stands for the epic 2006 version of The Game — 1 vs. 2, a 42-39 Buckeyes win at the Horseshoe.
But neither she nor E.J. came to troll. Honest.
Well, OK, maybe a little.
After practice ended, they made a point to say “hello” to quarterback Wilton Speight, he of the pair of touchdowns — and pair of picks — against their beloved Bucks last Nov. 26.
And No. 3’s reaction was fairly priceless:
— Alicia Sexton (@amsexton77) April 27, 2017
Conversion attempts notwithstanding, Alicia said she appreciated the time Harbaugh spent with their group Thursday, answering questions — Don’t your kids have finals? What did you like about Rome? — and posing for pictures with everybody.
Even the ones in Scarlet and Gray.
“It was wonderful, because — well, you never know with coaches,” she said. “When we were at Ohio State, Jim Tressel would always take a lot of time to talk to our student groups. Same with Thad Matta. But you never know, when you’re wearing an Ohio State shirt next to the Michigan coach, what you’re going to get.
“I thought it was wonderful how much time he took with our group and to meet everybody and take a really long time to chat with them.”
So you’re a convert, then?
Like the man said, you never know.
“Oh, not at all,” Alicia said, chuckling again. “He knew where our loyalties lie.”