On September 25 and 26, the University of Michigan honored my father, the late Rob Lytle, for his election to the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. Friends, family, former teammates, and school administrators celebrated on Friday evening at Michigan’s Towsley Museum inside Schembechler Hall. We heard from Jim Hackett (Michigan’s Interim Athletic Director), Calvin O’Neal (co-captain with Dad on Michigan’s 1976 Big 10 championship team), directors from program sponsor Fidelity, and the National Football Foundation. Former Wolverine linebacker Steve Strinko read an “Ode to Rob Lytle.” The words shared this evening inspired laughs, tears, smiles, and warm reflections of a well-loved Wolverine.
The special moments continued on Saturday with an on-field tribute. The lasting image of Mom holding a plaque that recognized Dad’s accomplishments above her head while more than 100,000 fans roared is a moment to hold close forever. The fact that a foul, 1970s-era mustache covers Dad’s face in the image on the plaque somehow also seems fitting.
Michigan AD Jim Hackett, Michigan-Great Calvin O’Neal, and our Family at Halftime
Our entire family is grateful for Michigan’s celebration, and our debt of gratitude to everyone involved in coordinating the weekend is steep. I’ll do my best to honor the entirety of the weekend in a future post that I hope captures the specialness – and emotions – of the celebration.
For now, though, I want to share the unofficial transcript of the speech I gave remembering Dad at the Towsley Museum.
So, before I start I need to warn everyone if I seem a little nervous. My fiancée and I were engaged three weeks ago and tonight is actually the first time our families have met. Please bear with me.
First, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the University of Michigan and Mr. Jim Hackett for this celebration; I cannot begin to express how thankful we are; thank you to the National Football Foundation and Fidelity for your support; thank you to all our friends and family who are here tonight. Last, Dad always said that football is the greatest team game there is. So it’s unbelievable – and humbling – to see this many former teammates. Thank you – this weekend is a celebration of everything the team accomplished.
In the early 70’s, Bo Schembechler traveled to Fremont, Ohio. “Rob,” Bo said in his traditionally gruff style, “at Michigan we have 6 halfbacks. If you come here, you’ll be number 7. Whatever happens after that is up to you.”
Not your typical recruiting pitch. But SNAP!….Dad was hooked.
Hooked on this fiery coach whose integrity oozed from him.
Hooked on the chance to compete with the best team in the country and against the best players every day in practice.
Hooked on the Victors – the greatest fight song in college football – and on those maize wings that make Michigan’s helmet so iconic.
And once Dad visited campus – hooked on Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.
So it is with deep pride that we are here to celebrate this moment and the specialness of the school, the sport of football, and the team for Dad.
Rob Lytle Memorabilia, Courtesy of Michigan Photography, Copyright
God – Dad loved Michigan football.
I remember November 1996 – during the Ohio State – Michigan game. Mom and I huddled in our kitchen watching the game on a TV smaller than most computer monitors are now. Dad paced outside – raking leaves, mowing the grass, gardening. Anything to stay busy. Every few minutes he’d rush up to the window, intensity burning through his eyes. He’d look for the score then dart back into the yard. He was so proud when Michigan won that day.
Dad bled maize and blue.
When I think about Dad and Michigan football, the games never come to mind. It wasn’t in his nature to discuss yards or touchdown or any individual plays. In fact, the only one he ever talked about was the Purdue game from 1976, when he claimed he lost the game and a shot at a national championship for Michigan because of his 4th quarter fumble – always ignoring that he gained 150 yards and averaged more than 7 yards per carry that day.
Michigan football meant so much to Dad not only because of the games but because of what surrounded it…because of what happened outside the white lines on the field.
Michigan football mattered because of what it required of him. The sacrifice…the work ethic…the toughness…the commitment to a team – to being part of something greater than himself.
It was about standing on the sideline inside Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and looking up at a scoreboard that read Michigan 22 – Ohio State 0. Dad always said that his favorite football memory was being able to “hear a pin drop” inside the Horseshoe that afternoon.
It was about standing in the dark in the tunnel inside Michigan stadium. Hearing the snap of chin straps… knowing the M-Club banner was stretched across midfield… and exploding into the gameday sun while more than 100,000 fans cheered.
It was about learning not just how to play a game but about life.
How deeply do you care? Will you sacrifice for others? Put their needs ahead of your own? All to be part of the team?
Will you accept the challenge of not being satisfied every morning when you wake? Of getting better every day?
These words aren’t just a cliché meant to motivate a football team. They’re values that show how to be a good person. And they can last forever… I know they did for Dad.
Kelly Lytle Remembering his Late Father, Courtesy of Michigan Photography, Copyright
The more I think about Michigan – and football – and Dad, I can’t avoid thinking about my own childhood. I remember being 10 years old again. And it’s Sunday afternoon and my friends and I are gearing up for our afternoon football game. The anticipation is accelerating. We’ve waited all week for these games and for Dad to play all-time quarterback.
We pile into Dad’s jeep and chug toward the park. We spill out onto the field and the cool October air chills our skin. Red and orange and yellow leaves blow along the ground. The grass is wet and cold and seeps into our shoes and against our hands. Maybe we can see the smoke from our breaths.
As kids, we’re carefree, having the time of our lives.
I remember Dad against this backdrop. He’s wearing ill-fitting, short shorts. He has a wad of tobacco bulging from his cheek and a pouch of Levi Garrett dangling from his pocket. He’s talking smack…Coaching…Teaching.
And of course his face wears that big shit-eating grin that everyone remembers.
Dad’s at home here. He’s a part of the team, playing the game he loved.
I think that tonight is such a tremendous honor because it lets us remember what is special, right?
We get a chance to laugh, as Mom and I did remembering the story of Dad passing out face down in a Whopper at Burger King after celebrating the Ohio State victory a little too much.
We get to cry as we remember those who aren’t here. And I think these are good tears…because they remind us of those we’ve loved and lost.
And we get to smile because of this game that is in our blood. For what it meant to be part of the team at the University of Michigan. And for how special that is.
Thank you and go blue.
Rose Bowl touchdown celebration, Photo courtesy of Curt Stephenson