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Published: Friday, 9/18/2009

Listeners knew Harwell wouldn't let them down

This is a recycled story, but the best ones usually are.

Years and years ago, as a little kid, I'd go with my parents to the cottage way up in northern Michigan on Lake Leelanau. There was no TV there, which nobody seemed to mind, especially at night when the transistor radio, snapping and crackling with static, took us into the radio booth at Tiger Stadium, to the man with the rich, yet soft Georgia drawl, to the most comforting voice ever, to the greatest announcer ever.

"Listen to Ernie Harwell," my daddy said one cool night when we were huddled around the campfire, "and you wonder why they ever bothered to invent television."

Nothing I write here can top that line.

Harwell - 91 years old, almost seven years removed from his final broadcast and still the most recognized and most beloved man in Michigan - was at Comerica Park Wednesday night to thank the Tigers and the fans. He has inoperable

cancer and this was likely the start and finish to his farewell tour. And it struck me that the wrong person was saying "thank you."

If you never had the good fortune of meeting the man and ever wondered if he could possibly be as humble and sweet and accommodating, as modest and gentle and genuine the answer very simply is yes. His greatness has always been in his goodness to everyone around him. He was the one guy up on that pedestal who never let you down.

For decades, Ernie Harwell showed us all how to live and now he will show us all how to die - quietly, with dignity, with only peace and without fear or sadness, accepting the next step on what he called "a great journey."

We can only celebrate that we were along for so much of the ride.

University of Toledo football coach Tim Beckman said he doesn't put much stock in the existence of so-called trap games.

"I don't think that happens very much anymore because of the 85 [grant-in-aid] limit," Beckman said. "It has become a very level playing field where any team has a chance to beat any other team on any given Saturday. Coaches absolutely have to have their teams ready to play every week."

That would seem clear from the perspective of a coach, but it may be different when you factor in the human nature of college kids who play national power Southern Cal one week, have a conference opener against Illinois one week, and play a mid-major like Toledo on the in-between week.

That's the case for the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have to deal with the UT Rockets tomorrow at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

OSU's players are coming off a disheartening loss to USC - how they'll snap back emotionally from that is anyone's guess - and they know their hopes for a fifth straight Big Ten title begin to take shape next week against the Illini. That makes Toledo a textbook trap game for the Bucks.

Not many quarterbacks, especially those from outside the Big Ten, have had a chance to beat Michigan and OSU in back-to-back seasons. UT's Aaron Opelt, who was 33 of 50 for 257 yards in last year's 13-10 upset at UM, has a shot at it.

So, as a youngster in Fremont, did he root for the Buckeyes or the Wolverines? "I was a Toledo fan," he said, striking just the right chord.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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