|A lasting impression beyond football|
Written by Adam Biggers
Encountering Bo Schembechler, the coach, was a life-changing event for hundreds of football players. But encountering Bo Schembechler, the man, left an equally significant impression on the mind of Matt Craw, a proud US Marine and son of former Michigan great Garvie Craw, who earned a place in the books with two touchdowns during 1969’s win over Ohio State.
That 24-12 victory drew first blood during the historical “10-Year-War,” and it marked Bo’s first triumph over his mentor, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes. Thankful, Matt Craw talked of how Schembechler’s influence made his father a better player, person and parent.
After all, Bo and Garvie shared something that went well beyond a traditional coach-player bond. Bo and Garvie were like brothers, says Matt, who points to a significant moment that both shared in 1969.
“[My dad] was a senior and had a daughter; Bo had a son at the same time,” Matt stated. “Being a young father helped them develop a closer relationship. I think that’s why their relationship was so special.”
Matt made Garvie a dad again just a few years later and today, at age 34, he has vivid memories of Bo, both as a man and a coach.
In the early 1990s, Matt accompanied his father to the newly built Schembechler Hall. It was Ohio State week, and of course, Bo was there. He struck up a conversation with Garvie and other members of the 1969 team who were there in anticipation of the battle.
Amazed and star-struck, Matt gazed upon “legends of Michigan” devising a strategy to upend the Buckeyes that Saturday.
“We sat in Bo’s office, and the vibe that they had in that room, it seemed as if they were going to play in the upcoming weekend’s game,” Matt said with a laugh. “They were 20, 30 years removed from it. [The intensity] spread to our household, as I’m sure it does for other Michigan fans.
“I was about 12 when I was old enough to realize the seriousness of ‘The Game.’ I was such a Michigan fan as a kid, being in the presence of those guys was pretty cool. They were a little family.”
Years removed from coaching, Bo was still quite influential, and Matt, although he was young, immediately recognized rank and file.
“You could feel the electricity in the room; Bo wasn’t in charge, but he was still in charge,” Matt said. “He didn’t have an official title, wasn’t in charge of much—but he was still very much in charge. [Gary] Moeller was the coach, but I still felt like Bo was running the show.”
As a kid, Matt personally witnessed Desmond Howard strike the Heisman pose vs. the Buckeyes. Living in New Jersey, Garvie didn’t let a few miles separate his son from the family passion. They often made the trek back “home” for the Border War.
TV, radio—if the game was broadcast, Matt was glued to it. His father was a Wolverines hero from a true Bo team—Matt’s Michigan heritage was second to none. He adored the team and its players, but there was one figure that always held a special place.
“When Bo talked, people listened,” Matt said.
Years later, as it turned out, Bo was again talking. But this time, it would be Matt listening.
In 2006, he traveled with his father to Florida to visit Bo’s vacation property. Home on leave, Matt contemplated returning to the Middle East to “help his brothers get home,” something he did just years earlier. He served during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) and was awarded medals of merit and honor for his selfless contributions to the United States.
But Bo had a few questions over a “burger and a beer at a small restaurant” that ultimately made Matt reevaluate his priorities.
“Bo said, ‘Did you serve with and honor and courage?’ I said yes sir. ‘Did you serve your country?’ I said, yes sir. ‘Did you do your job well?’ I said yes sir. ‘God dammit, you did your part. Go home to your family.’”
The chat during the spring was one of the last conversations Matt had with Bo, who died that fall on Nov. 17. In a way, Matt now feels that he owes Bo a “thank you.” If not for the Wolverines icon, Matt would have likely missed spending precious time with his father, who died of cancer July 27, 2007.
“That was the final nail,” Matt said. “Bo made it seem like God, country and Marine Corps were high priority, but he also made me think more of family. I didn’t get that until he slammed it home to me. He was a bigger than lifer person it seems like. It’s crazy how many lives he’s touched.”
Watching his father’s fight with cancer was excruciatingly painful for Matt and his family. He remembers draping the hospice facility room with maize and blue décor—Garvie needed to have his colors flying proudly as he watched games from his bed.
“Someone made a replica ’69 jersey with his name on the back, and we hung it right in there,” said Matt, who was sure to bring footage of “The Game,” which also happened to be “The Game” of his father’s career.
“We watched the ‘69 game on tape. He couldn’t stop smiling. He was happy, he was smiling that day.”
Garvie needed rest, so Matt, along with his brother, sister and mother, left him to do just that. But Garvie’s condition had been on the decline, and things took a sudden turn for the worse.
“We got the call at midnight to rush back,” Matt said. “Dad held on until my mom got into the room, said ‘I love you’ to my mom.”
Standing at the side of his father meant everything, and Matt wanted to make sure one final mission was fulfilled. Garvie had to go to home. Matt always had the interest in returning his fellow servicemen to a safe place. His father was no different.
That fall, Michigan hosted Minnesota. And with help from Jamie Morris, a Wolverines favorite, Matt made sure Garvie really made it back to his comfort zone—the end zone at The Big House, where nearly 40 year earlier, he scored two historic touchdowns that downed the Buckeyes. Garvie led the team with 12 touchdowns, the second-most in the Big Ten.
“Since dad’s passing, the Michigan family has been really cool to my family,” said Matt. Looking “suspicious” in military issued Gortex weather gear, Matt used Morris as a lead blocker, from both the rain and the crowd, to execute the final touch.
“I had a Ziploc bag of dad’s ashes,” Matt said proudly. “People may have thought that something crazy was going when they saw some guy spreading dust in the end zone…
“But Jamie knew what was going on.”
Michigan football is second only to Matt Craw’s mission of serving his fellow servicemen. An author and public speaker, Craw’s message can be heard in The Song Each Bullet Sings: The Story of Operation Iraqi Freedom Through the Eyes of One Marine, his book that chronicles stories not discussed by the media at-large.
Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81