The Wolverine

June-July 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 75

JUNE/JULY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 27 watching — the comments afterwards were about how proud this university should be of these young men." They, like their coach, became inter- national ambassadors for the sport of football, and made new friends along the way. Like Michigan athletes' visits to Mott Children's Hospital back in Ann Arbor, the encounters provided learning experiences both ways. "The first day we touched down in Rome, we went and visited refugees from countries all over the world," Harbaugh mentioned. "There must have been 45, 50 of them on a bus. They came running off the bus to meet our young men. "We had gifts for them — soccer balls, footballs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, with the big M on them, 'Michi- gan' across the front. We passed out the gear, and that could have been the day for most student-athletes repre- senting a university. "Not the University of Michigan. They stayed for an hour and a half, two hours, playing ball with those youngsters. The languages are differ- ent. There were probably seven or eight different languages being spoken. "But there was one language that was universal, and that was the ball. You could play catch and smile. You could chase the ball … and we con- nected with those kids. It's something I know our young men will remember forever, and these youngsters will re- member forever." The following day, the Wolverines visited an orphanage, one that provides refuge for homeless children through high school age. Once again, Michigan players went far beyond an over-the- pond excursion for enjoyment. They even absorbed a defeat in good humor. "A group of our young men went to the home and visited, sat down and talked, and smiled, and asked ques- tions back and forth," Harbaugh said. "Then once again, the balls came out. Our guys played soccer with those youngsters, and I want you to know, we took a real beating. "They were bouncing that ball off their knees, off their heads, off their elbows, off their shoulders, and our guys wanted to hit, wanted to make some contact." They'd already made the most im- portant contact, and from there, it was a whirlwind tour. The three remain- ing spring practices were indeed con- ducted, but almost seemed secondary to the backdrop of the overall learning experience. Along the way, Jim Harbaugh and his crew turned a few heads. The Pope might not find an appropriate moment to don the helmet (then again, if Michi- gan beats Ohio State and he's looking in, who knows?), but some seemed to know exactly what to make of Har- baugh and his program. That's not always been the case, with the Wolverines' irrepressible head coach in his still-early Michigan expe- rience. This trip had national pundits giving Harbaugh and his program their due. Even Paul Finebaum of ESPN — an SEC maven and one of Harbaugh's most virulent critics — could do noth- Above: Jim Harbaugh presents Pope Francis with a Michigan football helmet and a pair of Michigan-themed Jordan shoes. Below: Players sit in the crowd for the Pope's address at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN FOOTBALL A group of Wolverines pose for a photo during one of their many sight-seeing excur- sions around the city. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN FOOTBALL PHOTO COURTESY JIM HARBAUGH

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