ANN ARBOR - Assuming everything goes according to plan this year, when Michigan and Ohio State renew their annual football rivalry Nov. 22 in Columbus, Sam Hornish Jr. will root for the Wolverines - and not because he watched them practice yesterday.
Hornish, the Defiance native who graduated from Archbold High, said he pledges his allegiance to whichever team in this historic football series is the underdog in that particular season.
"Growing up as a kid, it was 50-50," Hornish said while on campus at UM yesterday. "You were either an Ohio State fan or a Michigan fan, and people always wanted you to pick one. I never did."
Hornish, a former three-time season champion in the IndyCar series who is in his first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and Brad Keselow-ski, a Nationwide Series driver, a Rochester Hills, Mich., native, and UM fan, both attended the Wolverines' practice yesterday.
The two were in the neighborhood because of this weekend's events at Michigan International Speedway.
To illustrate the UM-OSU divide in his personal life, Hornish said his brother went to Ohio State, and his wife, Crystal, and her father are Buckeyes fans. But Crystal's mother and sister cheer for the Wolverines.
Though Hornish has no loyalty to either side, he did come bearing a gift for UM coach Rich Rodriguez - a pit crew shirt featuring decals consistent with his No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger.
Was it a gift, or perhaps a bribe?
"My dad said to see if they have any scholarships for ex-race car drivers," Hornish said. "My mom and dad both want me to retire from racing and do something else."
BENEFIT FOR MEALERS: The Wolverines will participate in Bowling for Brock, a charity event to help cover the medical costs incurred during Wauseon native Brock Mealer's rehab efforts at the UM Medical Center from a tragic auto accident.
Brock's brother, Elliott, is a freshman offensive lineman for the Wolverines. Brock was paralyzed - and Elliott suffered a shoulder injury - in an auto accident Christmas Eve that took the lives of Brock and Elliott's father, David, and Elliott's girlfriend, Hollis Richer.
The charity bowling event will take place Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor. Admission for the event is $50 for adults and $25 for children.
Rodriguez said that Elliott Mealer likely will redshirt this season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.
"Brock, with his fight to walk again, and how the whole Mealer family has responded has been an inspiration not only to me, but to our entire football team," Rodriguez said. "Elliott's been around rehabbing his shoulder. He's been working very hard. He's a great young man.
"He doesn't want to be treated any different than any of the other guys. He said, 'Coach, if I mess up when I start practicing, I want you to yell at me, too.' And I said, 'No problem.'•"
BIG HOUSE UPDATE: University officials took media members on a tour of Michigan Stadium, which is undergoing a $226 million renovation and expansion.
Thus far, construction crews have finished two family restrooms; erected the steel structure and poured the concrete for future elevated club seats, suites, and a press box; installed underground utilities; and completed new buildings at the north end of the stadium for restrooms, concessions, security, and a medical clinic.
When completed in 2010, the stadium will have 82 suites and over 3,000 club seats.
Joe Parker, UM's associate director of athletics in charge of development, said suites range in cost from $55,000 to $85,000 annually, and club seats require gifts of between $1,500 and $4,000 per seat, plus the price of tickets. He said UM has received 51 commitments for suites and almost 1,600 commitments for club seats.
Because of ongoing construction at the Big House that will restrict certain areas from access, UM officials are asking fans to arrive at least 30 minutes early and enter through the gate that is closest to their seat sections.
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