Ann Arbor — Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, blah, blah.

It was champion wrestler Ric Flair, "The Nature Boy," who brought the house down Wednesday on National Signing Day at Hill Auditorium.

While most celebrities at Michigan's extravaganza just read a few lines off a teleprompter — it felt like the Oscars for a while, with the cheesy jokes — Flair went off the script.

And the crowd of thousands loved it.

"To be the man, you've gotta beat the man," Flair said, modifying one of his trademark rants on the wrestling circuit. "And right now, the University of Michigan, you are the man."

Flair, 66, dubbed a 16-time world champion, told several stories, including how he actually signed a letter of intent to play for Michigan coach Bump Elliott back in 1968.

He spent a week at the Beta House, with Dan Dierdorf and Jim Mandich among his wingmen, and had, let's call it, a pretty good time.

"I made up my mind I was never leaving Ann Arbor," Flair said, before letting out the first signature, "Wooooooo!

"In this town, you can stay all night and you can stay a little longer, so here I am, all these years later."

Flair, obviously, did leave Ann Arbor and played football at Minnesota, instead — Dierdorf confirmed he was one of Flair's escorts and quipped, "It's why he became a Gopher" — before he went on to a storied wrestling career. Outside Hulk Hogan, the sport, arguably, has known no bigger legend.

Flair told the Michigan fans he was a South Carolina fan, but now that his friend Steve Spurrier has retired, he opened up his recruitment. He landed at Michigan, with coach Jim Harbaugh, whom he first met at a wrestling match in 1989.

"I'm right here, and I'm blue, baby!" Flair said. "I can't stand Ohio State! I've got no time for Michigan State! And I knew Bubba Smith, and I've told it to his face.

"I'm so proud to be here."

Flair, extremely weathered these days from all the cutting he did to his face over the years to make the sport seem real, was quite energized Wednesday — and the crowd was right there with him. Harbaugh said one recruit in particular, Nate Johnson from Tennessee, was thrilled when told Flair was coming. The Johnsons, Harbaugh said, are a wrestling family.

A showman all these years, Flair had the crowd roaring. But he turned sentimental at times, too.

"Well, if you know my story, you know it's not very often that I tell people that I'm humbled," Flair said. "But to be honest with you, I'm in a very, very humbled moment right now in my life, because this is really cool.

"I wrestled in North Korea in front of 190,000 people, I retired in front of 80,000 in my last match. I don't think I've ever had the feeling inside personally that I have in this moment."

About the only thing missing from the Flair spectacle was his robe.

He had the crowd and the fellow celebrities laughing, even when he wasn't trying. In introducing his Michigan commitments, he couldn't keep up with the teleprompter.

"Oh, don't go so fast," he said. "Thirteen years in high school, you guys, OK.


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