There is no timetable for grief. My father died just as the Michigan and Ohio State football teams would have been beginning their preseason camps in 1987 and I was only a few months into my first “real” job at the Knoxville Journal.
Just more than three months later, the Buckeyes, inspired by their fired coach Earle Bruce, beat the Wolverines, 23-20, in Michigan Stadium. It was time to call my father – “pop,” as his four kids called him – to discuss the game and hear how he enjoyed it.
He was a diehard Ohio State fan. Buckeye Bill. Mom has always been that Ohio-born anomaly who preferred Michigan because her brother went to law school there. She never cared much for the OSU rug my father had purchased that featured the state of Ohio in red, a big grey buckeye leaf and the slogan: “This is Buckeye Country.” But sometimes he’d win those battles, and it rested on the floor beside the bed.
It wasn’t always a smooth relationship between father and youngest daughter. He was tough on me, I was tough on him. The youngest always gets away with more, and I pushed his limits from the get-go. Stubbornness was a quality we shared. Once, as a little girl, he knew I had been mad at him for a few days, and I made sure he knew how angry by standing in front of the television as he tried to watch Ohio State. I stretched my arms to make sure I blocked as much as I could. Buckeye Brat.
Maybe that was just the icebreaker, so I could watch it with him.
We always had our passion, football. We always had The Game. Communication was easier when it revolved around the game we both loved.
That day in Knoxville, I picked up the phone to call him. Then it hit me. Grief has no timetable. I put the phone down and cried. And cried. I had tried to be so brave after he passed away, but here it was, the aftermath of The Game, the game that was always a big moment for us, and the reality was crystal clear.
A few years later, I started covering Michigan football for The Detroit News. I’ve always wondered what he’d think of that. I’d like to believe he would be proud.
There isn’t a day I don’t think about him, but my feelings are strongest the day of The Game, which I’ve covered since 1991.
Pop and I share a moment before each Michigan-Ohio State game, of that I am sure. I quietly watch the Ohio State band perform "Script Ohio," think of him and my eyes water. Sometimes I shoot video to distract the tears, other times I have held the binoculars to my eyes even after the “I” has been dotted so I can gather myself. We will share that moment again Saturday before Michigan plays Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in this high-stakes matchup with so much on the line.
The Game means so many things for so many people. For me, it’s about a daughter who misses her father.
We’ll always have The Game.