A fallen Michigan football coach, a silent stadium and moments that remind us who we are

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — You can’t get 50,000 people to agree on much these days, if anything at all. Then a former —and beloved — Michigan football running back collapsed on the sideline Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium and 50,000 people went silent.

They agreed, without discussion or debate or rancor, to show respect, yes, but also to show solidarity about what matters in life. It's a phrase we toss around liberally these days yet don’t witness its live-action reality often enough.

Not that anyone needed Mike Hart to fall to the ground in the second quarter of a nationally televised college football game against Indiana to remind any of us that we have more in common than we don’t.

But Hart did. And a stadium stuffed with people with infinitely varied views on life showed the kind of grace that we take for granted but shouldn’t.

Michigan running game coordinator Mike Hart was carted off the field on a backboard during the first half against Indiana, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind.
Michigan running game coordinator Mike Hart was carted off the field on a backboard during the first half against Indiana, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind.

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“It can really put things in perspective,” U-M coach Jim Harbaugh said.

He was talking specifically about Hart’s collapse, and the 10 or so minutes that he lay on the turf as medical folks tended to him, as staff held towels to give him the slimmest of privacy, as both teams kneeled, as U-M rose and slowly gathered around their running backs coach.

Let’s go back to Harbaugh’s phrase for a moment. Because he’s right. Moments like this do put things in perspective, even if the phrase sometimes loses its meaning and becomes a thing people say because they aren’t quite sure what to say.

Harbaugh has never experienced anything like he did Saturday. He hasn't ever had to go into a locker room at halftime after a coach's collapse and try to figure out how to get the best out of his team, a team that wasn’t playing as well as it should’ve been before Hart collapsed.

“You’re in shock,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said.

He and the rest of the team needed something to quiet that shock. It helped that Harbaugh had contact with Hart during halftime and was able to relay a message from him to the team that he was stable.

“I knew he would want the RBs to go out there and do there (thing),” said Blake Corum, who rushed for more than 100 yards again.

Corum was still a little shaky when he met with reporters after the game and was asked about watching his coach collapse.

“It's one of those things you obviously never want to see,” he said, before pausing. “It was hard to see just because of the relationship I have for Coach Hart, the love I have for him … I don’t know how to answer your question right now.”

Television cameras caught Corum and fellow running back Donovan Edwards crying as Hart was carted off. A few coaches came up and hugged them and patted them on the back.

“It’s way bigger than football,” said Corum.

The shock changed how he ran for a while. And why wouldn’t it?

His feet were heavier, his vision not as sharp; his intensity and his will weren’t quite the same.

“It was difficult,” he said. “But we stuck together.”

After halftime, he and the offense rediscovered their zest. The defense found even more inspiration and shut the Hoosiers out. On both sides, the Wolverines played as well as they have all season.

“We knew we weren’t playing as a team each and every play,” said Corum.

Part of that was the drop in focus after taking a 7-0 lead so easily to start the game. Part of that was Indiana’s strategy to stack the line of scrimmage and make McCarthy make throws, part of that was their own drop in adrenaline.

And part of that was watching Hart struggle, not knowing why, listening to all that silence.

“Spooky,” said Ronnie Bell.

Scary as well.

Hart was scheduled to stay overnight in Bloomington for further evaluation and, if all went well, travel back to Ann Arbor on Sunday.

“Mike is a strong guy,” said Harbaugh.

He’s also a charismatic and forthright guy and was beloved during his time as a coach at Indiana almost as much as he was when he played at Michigan. In fact, a stream of Hoosiers staff members walked over near the cart to shout encouragement.

The tears in Corum's and Edwards’ eyes attest to the connection he has built since he arrived back in Ann Arbor two years ago. And, for a moment, it was hard not to assume the worst.

Then the running backs channeled his spirit and fell back on the prep he’d given them all week and the rest of the team got back to giving everything they had every play.

“Rallied around him,” said Harbaugh.

So did the 50,000 mostly strangers who sat — or stood — in the stands. It’s what we do. And what we can do, no matter how easy it is to forget.

A coach went down, and a stadium offered solidarity in silence.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@shawnwindsor.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: A fallen Michigan football coach & a silent stadium show us who we are