MIRRORS OF SPORT

No hard feelings between UT, mayor as Rocket Week kicks off

8/24/2018
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
  • Rocketweek25-3

    With Rocky in the background, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber share a laugh before raising a Toledo Rockets flag to kick off Rocket Week during a ceremony Friday in front of One Government Center.

    The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
    Buy This Image

  • Keygate at the SeaGate?

    Consider it water under the Skyway Bridge.

    Three months after the University of Toledo stirred up a real tempest in a Glass Bowl — all because Jim Harbaugh received a key to the city and its football coach did not — town and gown came together Friday to celebrate their hometown partnership.

    City and university leaders joined outside One Government Center to ceremonially kick off Rocket Week leading into the Toledo football team’s opener Sept. 1 against VMI.

    A UT flag was raised, Rocky the Rocket danced, and Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz pledged that was the start of it. He also said Rockets flags will fly at every city park all season and introduced a new dress code. City employees can go casual on Thursdays, provided they wear Toledo gear, not that of other universities, including the mayor’s preferred Big Ten school, Ohio State.

    “We need you to root for the home team,” UT president Sharon Gaber implored.

    It is a worthwhile appeal, and spoke to the nerve struck by the fuss in May.

    If you recall, Keygate began when Kapszukiewicz presented Harbaugh, the Toledo-born Michigan coach, with a key to the city during a charity dinner at the downtown convention center. What appeared an innocent goodwill gesture was seen differently on Bancroft Street, where university officials wondered why Rockets coach Jason Candle and his Mid-American Conference championship team had not received the same honor.

    The Seinfeld of controversies — a commotion about nothing — followed.

    The then-board chair suggested Kapszukiewicz “should act like the mayor and not some star struck fan.” The mayor emailed another board member: “I cannot believe anyone at UT would think what transpired this week is good PR for the university.”

    Nobody emerged a winner.

    Looking back, Kapszukiewicz smiles.

    “It’s the sort of thing that just proves how passionate people are about their schools and teams,” he said.

    It’s also why everyone was gathered on this day, a good PR day, to mark the start of another school year and season.

    If it appeared an olive branch, that’s not quite right. Truth is, Kapszukiewicz had planned for this event — which he intends to make an annual happening — well before the kerfuffle. He appreciates the university’s role in our community, along with its fight for respect. For as much as we enjoy fanning the flames, UT’s (over)sensitivity came from a well-meaning place: the timeless battle for its own backyard in, for my money, the nation’s most divided college football market. 

    It never hurts to remind that the hometown university deserves our support, too. We live, after all, in Toledo.

    “There’s no rule that says you can only root for one team,” Kapszukiewicz said. “There’s a special significance to the fact the University of Toledo shares the name of our city. I went to Marquette University. Some people might know where it is. It happens to be in Milwaukee. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it. ... You can root for whoever you want. You can root for more than one team, but you have to root for the University of Toledo also.”

    That’s a mayoral decree.

    No hard feelings, OK?

    Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.