The Michigan Wolverines football team is spending some springtime in Rome, Italy, this year. Head coach Jim Harbaugh booked the trip before the Power 5 conferences’ ban on off-campus practices during non-winter school breaks takes effect this summer. This is a one-time-only deal, and Michigan’s living it up.
Let’s run through some of the Wolverines’ activities, non-chronologically.
1. They met the pope.
Michigan came bearing gifts: a team helmet and a pair of Jordan-branded Michigan shoes. I imagine Pope Francis wears the helmet to bed at night and lounges around in his private quarters with the Jordans protecting his feet.
Not great video. Harbaugh handing Michigan helmet and Jordans to the Pope pic.twitter.com/UDAW9TINxy— angelique (@chengelis) April 26, 2017
A look at the shoes:
Francis has exhausted his NCAA eligibility, so this is all above board.
Harbaugh, via Maize n Brew:
Jim Harbaugh spoke with the media shortly after to sum up what it meant to him. He started off by saying, “Top three priorities in my life; faith, family, and football.” He was asked what it means to see his son get baptized and his daughter receive her first communion in Vatican City. “If I accomplished nothing more in my life, if I were to go right now, I’ll be going out a blessed man. This is as good as it gets; this has been the experience of a lifetime.”
Sarah Harbaugh "I've never seen my husband at a loss for words" after meeting Pope "I was crying. I was trying to breathe. It was surreal"— angelique (@chengelis) April 26, 2017
The players got up fairly close, too:
There is no word to describe the inner beauty that shines through the eyes of our Holy Father and his words... "Pray for me" pic.twitter.com/doUpeajuRp— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) April 26, 2017
2. They met with refugees from Syria, Nigeria, and Gambia.
The Wolverines spent time with refugees and tried to spread the gospel of American football. The Detroit News reported they brought 55 apparel- and football-stuffed backpacks, and Harbaugh and his father, Jack, tried to explain the sport to the people who are more familiar with another kind of football.
Harbaugh produced navy T-shirts with “Forza Blu!” in maize, which of course means Go Blue! and he handed them to the refugees and anyone else he met.
One of the refugees challenged Harbaugh on why Americans call their game football. Soccer is futbol. Football Americano is not football.
“You’re right, I don’t know why they call it football, either,” Harbaugh said. “Football you kick with the foot. He’s got a good point.”
Quickly, Harbaugh called in reinforcements.
“Hey, Jack Harbaugh! Dad! We need you over here,” Harbaugh yelled to his father, who made the trip with his wife, Jackie. “He wants to know why we call it football.”
Jack Harbaugh began a history lesson on football Americano.
“Before we leave here next Sunday, we’re going to have you loving the game of football,” he said. “Will you promise you’ll give it a look for us and you’ll come back on Sunday and tell me how much you love our game of football? Not soccer. I mean American football. I’m going to teach you to love football.”
That’s awesome stuff.
3. They reviewed pizza in a sophisticated way.
Here’s Harbaugh and quarterbacks John O’Korn and Wilton Speight:
Harbaugh gives it a 9.7 out of 10.
Speight gives it a 9.2 and calls it “pretty spectacular.”
4. They’re actually having practices.
College football teams get 15 spring practices, by NCAA rule. Michigan’s holding three of them in Italy, at the training round of soccer club AS Roma.
5. Harbaugh got a selfie stick.
Jim Harbaugh just bought a selfie stick. "Who wouldn't want one of these things. This is awesome." pic.twitter.com/DJMSzuaktR— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) April 24, 2017
6. They paintballed.
7. Harbaugh sang opera.
I have no comment. Watch this video with the sound on.