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The first Big House: Michigan players impressed by Colosseum

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst makes a grand entrance to the Colosseum.

Rome, Italy – The Michigan football team watched the movie “Gladiator” on Sunday, their first night in Rome, which got them prepared for what they were going to see the next day.

Michigan’s monster day of sightseeing on a nine-hour tour of Rome on Monday concluded with a three-hour visit after lunch to the Colosseum.

“I wouldn’t mind playing here,” defensive lineman Maurice Hurst said when he first saw the Colosseum up close.

Hurst and the Wolverines play in 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium, the Big House. The Colosseum, which held its inaugural games in 80 AD, could be considered the original Big House. But while enormous in scope, and a brilliant part of the landscape remarkably preserved all these years, it could seat nearly 80,000.

Seeing the Colosseum was consistently the highest priority when players were asked what they wanted to most see while in Rome.

Hurst walked into the Colosseum, and with outstretched arms basked in the sun and introduced his alter ego.

“I’m imagining all my spectators,” Hurst said. “I’m the gladiator.”

He joked his gladiator name is “Mucifus.”

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It was a long day of touring, about seven miles, and the Wolverines saw most of the highlights. The Spanish Steps was the meeting point and at the foot of the steps, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and the players drank water from the famous Fontana della Barcaccia. They threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, saw Trajan’s Column, were awestruck by the Pantheon, which was built in two years, and sampled the divine gelato at nearby Della Palma, and toured the Colosseum and the Forum.

There is still plenty left in their schedule, including three final spring practices that will be held here.

“This is the part I was waiting for,” running back Ty Isaac said after walking into the Pantheon. “This is crazy. This is a great trip so far.”

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who flubbed his first coin toss into the Trevi Fountain – he threw it overhand and not over his shoulder as is tradition – was also gripped by what he saw at the Pantheon.

“It was really cool to see that,” Speight said. “That was pretty spectacular.”

The team will tour the Vatican this week, attend an opera, and also take a cooking class, to give them a more complete feel for the area and deeper sense of the culture.

So far, so good.

“It’s been a great time so far,” said Hurst, who decided to delay entering the NFL draft and is returning for his final season. “Got to eat a lot of good food. We had pasta and ham that they call something else. A lot of gelato. And just hanging out with a lot of the teammates.”