Chris Webber reflects on 'love' he felt in Michigan return

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Former Michigan basketball star and honorary captain Chris Webber smiles as he looks up at the Michigan Stadium crowd before the national anthem last Saturday.

Chris Webber, the centerpiece of Michigan’s Fab Five basketball team, said he was overwhelmed by the reception he received when he was introduced at Michigan Stadium last Saturday as an honorary captain.

Webber appeared Monday on the Rich Eisen Show and described the experience as “surreal.”

He was warmly received by the fans and this olive branch from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who invited Webber in June to be an honorary captain, seems to be a first step toward Webber mending his strained relationship with university. He helped lead the Wolverines to the national title game in 1992 and 1993, but his ties to former booster Ed Martin led to a scandal.

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That led to the NCAA mandating a 10-year disassociation between Webber and Michigan, which ended in 2013. The 1992 and 1993 Final Four banners were removed from the Crisler Center

“To be shown love in the middle of that (stadium), I don’t know how to quantify it,” Webber said on Eisen’s show. “It’s surreal, that’s all I can say. It was a great feeling. But using the word great to me just doesn’t do it justice. I’ve really been looking for the words or phrase that really can sum it up. If you could just imagine being in front of that many people, No. 1, you’re awestruck by their presence, a sea of maize and blue. Man, to be shown love, it’s just incredible. It was an awesome day.”

Webber said that he has never felt like he wasn’t a part of Michigan.

“It’s always meant a lot to me because I’ve always accepted love from the fans,” Webber said. “There’s no way I cannot represent Michigan because I am Michigan, just like the 15th man on the basketball team is Michigan, just like the student in the English Department is Michigan.

“It’s been a complicated relationship, but anyone who’s gone to Michigan, it’s more than being an employee of the University of Michigan. Walking around Michigan all these years, being at Michigan all these years it’s been awesome. There’s nothing I’ve ever once shied away from, there’s nothing I’ve never not wanted to be a part of. This is not on me not accepting love. Coming back and being a part of it is just awesome. I hope this isn’t coming across any other way than grateful and humble, even overwhelming isn’t a good enough word. It was an awesome, awesome moment.”

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After the Penn State game, Harbaugh said it was great to have Webber there. Webber spoke to the team on Friday after attending practice.

“He had a tremendous message to the team,” Harbaugh said. “It was neat watching all our guys wanting to get a picture with him afterwards. That was really cool. Some guys played football or played basketball 20 years, and people kind of forget you. But he’s somebody.”

Webber said told the team that college experiences equip them for the future.

“Lessons you learn in college are the things you’re going to have to through your whole life so might as well get used to now because a couple weeks ago they wanted coach fired and they wanted all of you out,” Webber said. “You couldn’t play as a quarterback, and the defense wasn’t good and all this stuff. They hated you, and now that they like us, you’re going to go out there and lay an egg, right? People are on the bandwagon waiting for you to do something stupid, right? No, because people are going to jump off the bandwagon if you win. It’s about the consistency of effort in life, things you do when no one sees you.”

He said he drew more from the team than vice versa, and he emphasized to them that he didn’t want to be a distraction and the day was about them.

“I didn’t say anything to inspire them,” Webber said. “They inspired me because of the way they’ve been preparing and how they bounced back and didn’t listen to everything. They keep their blinders on and keep focusing. That’s all we talked about, just life. People jump on and off the bandwagon, stay the same person and keep giving the same effort.”

Webber said he was delighted to see what the players have called the revenge tour “up close.” Michigan is ranked No. 4 nationally and has won eight straight. The Wolverines play at Rutgers on Saturday.

“Just appreciate Coach Harbaugh so much, for one, letting me come and speak to the team,” Webber told Eisen. “And in some way get to see the revenge tour up close. Got to do that by watching them practice. And I was just impressed with how disciplined each individual was. I was impressed with just how focused their practice was.

“I knew leaving the practice that they were going to destroy them because they remembered last year’s loss. I got to talk with Coach (Don) Brown and speaking with him was just, he gives you chills up and down your spine. He makes you want to go play football and be a defensive player. It was cool. I’m just really thankful to Coach Harbaugh for inviting me to be around the men, and being out there with my father to flip the coin was just a cool moment.”

Webber spoke of attending Michigan football games when he was being recruited to play basketball and shared he had a friendship with late legendary football coach Bo Schembechler.

“I knew Bo Schembechler very well. He was a friend,” Webber said. “To know coach Harbaugh invited me back and you see the picture of Greg Skrepenak in the hallway or Anthony Carter and to come out of the tunnel and see the band. I’m not trying to be cool because this situation is really between me and God and I’m very appreciative of allowing me to be in this situation.

“It was a totally awesome moment and I’m sorry to any fan that ever felt like I wasn’t accepting of love and hopefully one day we can move on. It’s never been that way. This was a wonderful moment and I’m appreciative. I don’t know if anything can get much better than that being in that place, seeing that game, seeing the win. I already talked to you about being nervous. Just think about this, after they lost the Notre Dame game, I decided what game I was going to go to. People were down on the team, they said the team wasn’t good, and I picked the Penn State game because I was like If we get to this game undefeated we’re winning it.”

He said he relished being back on campus and took in everything the weekend had to offer.

“The love I received from the fans, there’s nothing that’s better than that,” he said. “That’s who I played for, that’s who I did it for, that’s who won with us, that’s who cheered with us, that’s who cried with us when we lost. That moment of going through the tailgates, being there with the fans, walking through campus, playing beer pong with a couple students. I was a freshman, I was a sophomore all over again, because during those years I was at the football games, I was running around, I was playing beer pong. I was reliving those moments.”

Webber said he will be returning to Michigan more frequently.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah. It’s over now,” Webber told Eisen. “I’m going to make sure I will definitely be at more football games. I think and I hope this is the first of a long relationship because that’s what it has to be about, a relationship, not just about a handshake.

“And that’s why it was really cool that a friend and an alum of Michigan and an athlete there (Harbaugh), hopefully helped to start to build that bridge. I’m humble, I’m grateful and I’m just looking forward to many more great opportunities like that. I hope that’s the start of the beginning.”

Twitter: @chengelis