By Dan Hardenbrook
University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh knows how to build championship teams. As a player for the Wolverines under the legendary Coach Bo Schembechler, a starting quarterback in the NFL, and a successful coach at the college and professional level, he’s gotten it done.
Key to that success is a bonded team, practically a brotherhood, that can only exist through fostering team chemistry. To help with that, Harbaugh takes his University of Michigan football team on annual trips to some of the greatest places on Earth: Rome, Paris, South Africa, and now, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The COVID pandemic has made overseas travel difficult, and Harbaugh didn’t want to miss another trip, especially after a hard fought season in which the Wolverines beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten title, and reached the college football playoffs. So he planned a trip that kept the team in Michigan, exploring the history, heritage and highlights of their home turf.
“It just made all the sense in the world,” said Harbaugh, who spoke exclusively with the Newberry News during the team’s visit to Tahquamenon Falls. “The idea of just going around Michigan; there is just so much to see here. Only 10 of our guys had ever been to the U.P. before.”
The 10-day trip brought the Wolverines to every corner of the state, and the team visited sites in Flint, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mackinac Island, Drummond Island, Petoskey, Traverse City, Sault Ste Marie, Paradise, Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point and Pictured Rocks.
“Everything has been a fabulous experience and a great learning experience for us,” Harbaugh said. “Not all learning is done in the classroom. You have to get out there and see it.”
He believes that the number of positive impacts the trip had were incredible. “The educational value is tremendous. The team bonding is incredible. Guys hanging out with each other. Even spending time with different groups on offense, defense, or special teams that they normally wouldn’t be with.”
The final day of the “Our State” Tour was in the Upper Peninsula on Friday, July 29. The team started at the Soo Locks, then trekked to Paradise and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. Staff at the museum were thrilled with the visit, and some players purchased souvenir sweatshirts and wore them immediately.
The five-bus entourage motored to the Upper Tahquamenon Falls next, then got up close and personal with the bears at Oswald’s Bear Ranch where they also enjoyed a catered meal from the Helmer House.
The group got a private tour of the Pictured Rocks lakeshore in Munising before flying home. Harbaugh was blown away by the U.P.’s beauty.
“The experience today out here is breathtaking,” he said on Friday. “It’s just gorgeous out here. Beautiful, beautiful area out here!”
Harbaugh, who has been on football’s biggest stages, including the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl, treasured getting away before the stress of the new season hits.
“It feels good!” he said. “Sometimes you just have to clear your mind before practice starts and a new season gets underway. Not worrying about sitting around wondering about what’s going to happen and counting down the days until it starts. That’s been another big benefit.”
Soon they will be back in pads and getting ready to play. Pre-season camp starts today, August 3. At that moment, all eyes will be on a battle between friends and teammates. Wolverine teammates Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy are two of the very best quarterbacks at the position anywhere in America, and analysts are weighing in heavily on who should win the starting spot. Their every move is scrutinized and Harbaugh will have them battle to be the team’s starting Quarterback. Getting away from that spotlight and chaos was a benefit for both. “It’s been awesome”, said McNamara when asked how the trip was going. “It’s really great to get away from it all and just spend time with the guys.”
McNamara could see that his teammates were excited to be at the Tahquamenon Falls. “The guys all seem to really be enjoying themselves,” he said. “It’s so beautiful up here. It’s a really nice area.”
McCarthy echoed those statements.
“I’m having a blast. Just bonding with the guys and being to all these places; it’s a once in a lifetime thing for many of us,” McCarthy said. “A lot of us come from all over. It’s just so awesome to get out here and see all of the great things our state offers.”
Die-hard Wolverine fans waited for hours at multiple locations, decked out in their maize and blue and hoping to catch a moment with the team.
“It’s cool to see so many people come out and meet them,” McCarthy said. “They are our fans and they are the ones supporting us. So it’s cool to get out and meet them.”
Harbaugh, who brought his children on the trip, agreed it was an incredible experience.
“It’s just a blast,” he said. “There’s nowhere else we would rather be!”