Jim Harbaugh reveals donors behind UM's European vacations

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Paris – Michigan big-money alums Bobby Kotick and Don Graham split the bill — expected to be around $800,000 — for this year’s football team to spend a week in Paris, after Kotick paid for last year’s trip to Rome.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh revealed the generous donors’ names Wednesday after a visit to the Eiffel Tower during the final day of the team’s Parisian tour. Kotick had wanted to remain anonymous.

“Two great Michigan guys, especially Bobby. They’re the best,” Harbaugh said, with his daughter, Addie, at his side. “Bobby doesn’t want anything said. He doesn’t want anybody to know that, but it’s a hard secret to keep.”

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Kotick is CEO of Activision Blizzard, the company behind the popular “Call of Duty” video-game series. Graham is founder of The Graham Group, an alliance of industrial businesses and investment-management firms.

Kotick was a co-honorary captain during a 2016 game along with Tom Brady and most certainly will get another game, Harbaugh said.

“For sure,” Harbaugh said, with a smile. “For sure.”

The Rome trip last year cost between $750,000 and $800,000, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told The Detroit News last summer. This year’s trip was expected to be in a similar range, although the team did not practice in Paris as it did in Rome, which should have shaved some cost. Michigan transported uniforms and equipment to Rome for three practices.

Harbaugh said there’s nothing in writing from either of the donors about funding future trips, but he suggested a commitment was in place.

“He said, as long as we want to do it, we’ll do it,” Harbaugh said of Kotick.

Harbaugh said there's no set plans for a location for next year's trip, saying, "We're still discussing those." He mentioned Africa, Athens, Barcelona and Cuba among the possibilities.

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The trip to Paris, like Rome, has been a success from all accounts.

“Seems that’s been unanimous,” Harbaugh said. “From everybody I talked to that’s been on the trip has really enjoyed it.

“I think it’s exceeded expectations. The amount of vision or knowledge or experience this group of players gets out of this is priceless. You can’t put a value on it. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Harbaugh was in an exuberant mood Wednesday after visiting the Eiffel Tower with his daughter, Addie. They visited the observation deck and took in the view of Paris on the bright afternoon, the final full day of the trip.

“How far we’d go Addie, second floor?” Harbaugh said, speaking to his daughter, wearing a snappy hat with “Paris” on the front in crystals. “It’s pretty high up there. Very exciting up there.”

From Harbaugh’s perspective, the trip covered plenty of ground and offered a variety of options for the players. The trip itself was optional to attend.

The Wolverines visited the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral, held a football clinic, walked the streets of the Latin Quarter, visited Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, went to Versailles and participated in the second annual overseas paintball competition, and last Sunday visited Normandy for a sobering lesson about the ultimate sacrifice.

Harbaugh said the visit to Normandy was a personal highlight.

“The whole experience there with the whole family, the team, my dad, my son, Jay, my daughter, Addie, being with Sarah and Katie,” he said. “The family together doing this trip has been the best part.”

The players took part in a community service outing on Tuesday. They assembled sandwiches and distributed them to homeless and refugees in the city.

“It was great to have that experience for our team, with the refugees, playing soccer, feeding sandwiches to the needy in Paris, seeing another side of this great city,” Harbaugh said.

It has been an unforgettable trip for players and coaches.

“It’s interesting,” Harbaugh said. “One of the parents, Josh Selzer -- Carter Selzer’s dad -- said 30 years from now you (won’t) remember games that you won and games that you lost, but you’ll remember being in Paris with your buddies.

“I think I'll remember them all. I think I'll remember the wins, I think I'll remember the losses. I think there will be some I’d like to forget. But I think he’s right – 30 years from now they're going to remember this experience with their best friends in Paris.”