Michigan alums Les Winograd and his brother, Randy, purchased flights to Salt Lake City and booked hotel rooms to attend Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's debut as the Wolverines' coach at Utah on Sept. 3.
All they needed were four tickets.
Surely, as Michigan donors, they would get an opportunity to buy them through the school. At least that's what Les thought, considering he and his daughter, Caroline, a Michigan student, were able to attend all the road games last season – with the exception of Ohio State, a trip they opted not to make.
"The ticket application comes and all the away games were available," said Les Winograd, a West Bloomfield resident. "Except Utah."
He searched the secondary market, and at that point in late spring, end zone tickets were $250 each. Currently, tickets on StubHub for the Michigan-Utah game range from $250 for standing room only to $1,058 for a pair on the 50-yard line.
"It was a scramble," Winograd said. "The prices were ridiculous."
So he got creative, which often happens when you reach a point of ticket desperation.
He visited the Utah athletic department website and season-tickets were available by making a donation at different priority levels. Winograd had a cover story just in case the Utah associate got suspicious about his motives.
"I didn't let on what I was doing, that I was a Michigan fan," Winograd said, laughing. "I had a story made up why I was interested in Utah in case they were onto me."
While it was made clear tickets for Michigan might not be available, it was worth the risk and he made a $200 donation, substantially lower than the $1,500 level that would have guaranteed tickets to the Michigan game.
He was asked if he wanted to make the donation in honor of someone.
"I thought it would be hilarious if I did it for Harbaugh," Winograd said. "Randy said we had to do it."
At his brother's urging, he made the gift in honor of "James Joseph Harbaugh" and listed the address for Schembechler Hall, where Michigan's football offices are located.
The Utah athletic department sent Harbaugh an acknowledgment of the gift made in his honor. And in response, Harbaugh sent Winograd a hand-written note at the end of May saying he was "humbled and honored you would make a contribution in my name," adding, "We have a deep respect for the Utah football program and look forward to September."
"Never in a million years did I think he'd read his own email," Winograd said of Harbaugh.
But Winograd still didn't have tickets.
While Harbaugh and his staff, who were dashing around the country for their satellite camp tour this summer, he made a stop in the San Diego area in June. Randy Winograd, a southern California resident, paid a visit to a Michigan donor breakfast.
He had a chance to speak to Harbaugh, who knew exactly to what he was referring.
"Randy told him, 'I'm the brother of the one who donated to Utah in your honor,'" Les Winograd said. "And Harbaugh said, 'Yeah, your brother said you'd be there.'"
Even then, the Winograds had no tickets to show for their effort and generous donation.
Until last week, when four standing-room-only tickets, each costing $150, arrived from Utah.
"That isn't bad. That's behind the last row of bleachers," Les Winograd said, brightly. "Which is lower than my row 66 seats at Michigan Stadium."