ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The first time Thomas Hislop went to the Inside Michigan Football Coach’s Show, he had an ulterior motive: Stalk Jim Harbaugh.
Hislop’s persistence, however, had a purpose. As president of the Michigan Spirit Association, Hislop was prepared to extend an invite to Harbaugh and the Michigan football team to a pep rally the organization planned to host for homecoming weekend.
To his surprise, Michigan’s second-year football coach didn’t bristle. Instead, Harbaugh accepted the invitation. And two weeks after his initial approach of Michigan’s charismatic coach, Hislop returned to Pizza House Monday night as a guest on the weekly radio show show to discuss Friday’s homecoming event on the Diag.
“I walked up to him as he sat at the podium, and asked him, and then I got to come back and talk about what we’re doing,” said Hislop, a senior at Michigan who studies public policy. “This is just such a cool event, and you look around and see so many dedicated fans here.”
At 7 p.m. Mondays during football season, the second floor dining room of Pizza House on Church Street in Ann Arbor bustles with Michigan fans and and brims with Harbaugh’s energy. During the first half hour of the radio show, Harbaugh discusses everything from the development of the football team to its next opponent.
Sometimes he gets a little introspective. Other times he gets a little offbeat. Monday night, Harbaugh discussed the 80-degree day in Ann Arbor — “Global warming is good for Michigan! It’s good for recruiting!” — his recent recruiting trip to California and Michigan’s recent kicking woes and its ensuing competition among its kickers.
In front of him, many of the patrons in the second-floor dining room sipped pints of beer or noshed on deep-dish pizzas, crocks of french onion soup and chipatis, an Ann Arbor invention of a salad stuffed inside of a bread pocket.
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But the real star Monday night wasn’t Harbaugh. Nor was it Hislop, or defensive coordinator Don Brown or assistant hockey coach Billy Powers, or Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon — Monday night’s guests on the weekly show.
Instead, it was Addison Harbaugh, the Michigan football coach’s 8-year-old daughter, who sat dutifully by her father at a high-top table as he traded quips with host Jim Brandstatter during the first half hour of the show.
“She is the offensive coordinator of the Harbaugh family,” Brandstatter said of Addison Harbaugh, as he introduced her to the crowd at Pizza House.
Addison Harbaugh sipped a chocolate milkshake, and about five minutes into an animated conversation with Brandstatter — who is also Michigan’s football play-by-play announcer — a waiter handed Harbaugh a chocolate milkshake, as well.
(Which begs the question: was that milkshake made with whole milk? Or Fairlife milk?)
Harbaugh even answered a few listener questions – some of the same questions he fielded Monday afternoon during his weekly press conference, and offered a World Series prediction.
Monday night’s crowd at Pizza House was a mix of longtime fans, Michigan graduates, season-ticket holders and a small group of students, including Hislop and his friends, and a group of Michigan club baseball players on the other side of the room, who sat underneath an autographed black-and-white photo of Harbaugh affixed to the wall.
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The dearth of students, however, initially surprised Hislop. Then he considered the makeup of the student body — and the cost of dining out on a student budget.
“Plus,” Hislop added, “Pizza House is more of a late-night set-up for students.”
But what draws people to the coaches show? And what brings them back every Monday night?
Bob and Sandy White are Ann Arbor residents, Michigan graduates and have been Michigan football season-ticket holders for more than 20 years. They sat together at a back table at Pizza House, nodding, grinning, and talking to other Michigan football fans around them during the hour-long show.
Mondays, Sandy White explained, are devoted to Michigan football. In the mornings, the Whites go to Weber’s Inn on the west side of Ann Arbor for the weekly coaches luncheons hosted by the U of M Club of Ann Arbor. Monday evenings, they find a table at Pizza House and sit together, clad in maize-and-blue polo shirts and baseball caps.
The engagement between the program and its supporters, Sandy White explained Monday night, is vital.
“You have to have that interaction, because it makes the experience of being a fan so much more personal,” she said. “With this, you get to see all sides of what the football program is about. The coaches, the players and the people who support it.”