The University of Michigan’s football team is in the Eternal City for spring break training and The Blade’s Kyle Rowland is walking the streets of Rome with the team.
When in Rome, a daily series in The Blade, is chronicling the team’s practice sessions as well as the sights being taken in by the Wolverines as they experience Italy — the food, the people, and the rich culture. The series also includes a rare one-on-one interview with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on the link to his Italian heritage.
From the Colosseum to the Vatican and every step in between, The Blade is in Rome documenting this unique experience for an American university’s football team.
SUNDAY, MAY 14
ANN ARBOR — Dallas Gant’s reaction to Michigan’s Rome excursion was like many others — surprised.
“I was like, wow, really?” the St. John’s Jesuit linebacker said.
Pundits, current Michigan players, recruits, and high school coaches alike shared those opinions. There were some eye rolls, but a bulk of the reactions was a combination of shock and intrigue.
Now that the Wolverines — or most of them, anyway — have returned stateside, the trip is being analyzed from a recruiting perspective. FULL STORY
MONDAY, MAY 1
Soccer isn’t the only game of futbol — or football — in Italy.
The country, much to the surprise of most Americans, is home to professional football Americano. The Italian Football League, previously known as the National Football League Italy, has 11 teams throughout the country — and, yes, they play a super bowl.
But there’s little glitz and no glamour. Instead, American football is on the lower rungs of the Italian sports scene. Media attention is minimal, knowledge from fans is elementary, and as John Grisham wrote, payment is pizza. FULL STORY
SUNDAY, APRIL 30
A plane will leave Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport today, on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, carrying members of the Michigan football team. It will touch down at Detroit Metro this afternoon, capping an unforgettable and unprecedented week for the Wolverines.
But the entire team will not be present on the flight. About two dozen are taking part in study abroad programs during May, and others will be doing international and domestic internships. It’s all part of Jim Harbaugh’s push to open doors for athletes. FULL STORY
Michigan’s foray into international relations has only just begun.
Jim Harbaugh confirmed Saturday that the team intends to travel outside the United States again in 2018. In February, when he announced the Rome trip, Harbaugh said South Africa was the year two destination, a site he mentioned again before Saturday’s public scrimmage at Stadio dei Marmi in front of more than 1,000 fans.
“We’re going to do it again next year,” Harbaugh said. “We’d like to get to South Africa or possibly Rio. We’ll get together as a team and decide. I’d really like to go to Cape Town and I’d really like to go to Johannesburg.” FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Life lessons in travel leave reporter thankful
Spending nine days outside the United States makes you appreciate the country and grow tired of it.
I’ll probably never live outside the United States. While the technology-rich 21st century continues to improve everyday life, there’s still a comfort in knowing family and friends are just a drive — or couple of hours flight — from home. But being in Italy has only emboldened my personal claim the United States isn’t the greatest country in the world. FULL STORY
SATURDAY, APRIL 29
When Michigan travels to bowl games, team outings inevitably become interrupted events because of fans and other curious onlookers.
College football is a mighty force in the United States, and when players and coaches are spotted, autographs and selfies are imminent.
Not so in Italy. American football — or football Americano as locals call it — is equivalent to cricket. The Michigan football team gets glances in Rome because of their size, not because of Block M’s on their shirts. FULL STORY
The scene at Michigan’s practice Friday revealed a typical picture of college football in America. A high-profile team completed practice, and a swarm of media and fans converged on them.
Only the Wolverines were 4,646 miles from Ann Arbor at the Giulio Onesti Olympic Training Center.
About two dozen Italian media were present, as well as football coaches from all around Europe, including those from the Piacenza Wolverines. Said one Piacenza player: “We’re like their little cousin.” FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Reporter gets back on his daily gelato fix
When you go to Rome, pizza and pasta aren’t the only must-eat food items.
The third is gelato. It might actually be No. 1.
The Italian version of ice cream, a dessert staple, sometimes is eaten as a main dinner course instead. At least a certain reporter did that. FULL STORY
FRIDAY, APRIL 28
The fun and games are done — sort of.
Michigan attended the opera Thursday night, and it’s taking part in gladiator school today, but Thursday marked the first of three football practices. The setting was the outdoor fields at the Giulio Onesti Olympic Training Center. It might as well have been Al Glick Field House in Ann Arbor.
Jim Harbaugh led drills with a whistle around his neck, and there was a constant buzz of activity — coaches giving orders, footballs whizzing through the air, and players colliding.
“It felt good to get a really good workout out here,” Harbaugh said. “We went at a speed and tempo that got us back into football. We brought the tempo down to about 85 percent because of the walking around that they have been doing and the traveling — some guys had just got off a plane a couple hours ago. That was a consideration.” FULL STORY
The British used to say the sun never set on their empire.
Ohio State, apparently, can trademark that phrase.
At Michigan’s practice Thursday in Rome, a handful of Buckeye supporters stuck out like a ketchup stain on a white blouse. Decked out in scarlet and gray, their presence immediately was noticeable.
“We got death stares as the bus was coming in,” said Harold Martin, who lives in Naples, Italy, with his wife, who’s in the U.S. Navy. FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Italy’s most famous Olympian is...?
Who’s the most famous Italian Olympian?
I posed that question to a couple of colleagues as we walked through the country’s Olympic training center. None of us could come up with an answer.
We assumed it might be Giulio Onesti, since the complex bears his name. But it turns out Onesti once was the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, and he helped bring the Summer and Winter Games to Italy and urged the construction of the facility.
After a Google search, I couldn’t whittle down the names. FULL STORY
THURSDAY, APRIL 27
Jim Harbaugh, a man of endless phrases, was speechless. Sarah Harbaugh couldn’t breathe. Husband and wife were literally having a religious experience.
Pope Francis was nearing the Harbaughs in a processional line after the traditional Wednesday general audience when emotions came uncorked. It took about 30 minutes for the Pope to reach the Harbaughs, as he made his way through throngs of people, shaking hands and giving blessings.
Dressed in a suit and tie, the Michigan coach handed the Pope a winged helmet and a pair of Jordan shoes — size 11, in case you’re wondering.
“The experience was emotional,” said Harbaugh, a devout Catholic. “It was beautiful. The Holy Father’s face is beautiful, his smile. The way he talks is peaceful, it’s calm. It felt like what it would feel like to meet Jesus Christ.” FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Cross off another location from bucket list
This job takes you crazy places. Usually the ones you least expect.
Hawaii, the White House, Rome, Vatican City. I never would have expected I’d cover events at those locales. After Wednesday, though, each one has been crossed off.
Just getting into the Vatican was an arduous process. My boss had to send a letter during the application process, and they also needed a copy of my passport, among other requests. It was for more strenuous than my experience of obtaining credentials to the White House. FULL STORY
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26
Jim Harbaugh and Wilton Speight stormed off the field and showed their displeasure with the officiating.
No, they weren’t in Ohio Stadium. The venue Tuesday was the Speedball Roma Club, a paintball facility south of Rome. The coach and quarterback were not pleased after being defeated by Pep Hamilton’s team.
“Get better, not bitter,” Hamilton barked at Speight and Harbaugh. Harbaugh replied, “Replace the ‘e’ and the ‘i.’ ”
It was all in good fun. On another sun-splashed afternoon in Italy, the Michigan Wolverines played a four-hour paintball tournament that featured the competitive fire of a Michigan-Ohio State game. FULL STORY
The idea came to Jim Harbaugh in June on a flight to Baltimore for a satellite camp.
As he rode to dinner with his dad, Jack, and brother, John, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, Harbaugh was filled with excitement, but he didn’t want to say anything before they arrived at the restaurant.
Once they sat down, he revealed his grand plans: Michigan would travel to Rome.
And the planning commenced. FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Traffic jams start in Rome, spill into Italian countryside
Major cities in the United States have plenty of traffic horror stories.
Los Angeles is a nightmare, and even Toledo has days when I-475 and I-75 construction takes a toll on motorists. Tuesday rush hour in Rome was one of those days.
The Michigan football team traveled to Ninfe Beach at Lake Albano in Castel Gandolfo, 28 miles from the hotel, south of Rome.
What should have been a smooth ride through the picturesque Italian countryside was anything but. FULL STORY
TUESDAY, APRIL 25
When you drive north on Via Celio Vibenna, the Colosseum dominates the horizon.
It’s an awe-inspiring backdrop, one of the world’s most renowned landmarks in a city that brims with history. More than 4,600 miles to the west, another landmark captivates visitors on a different scale.
At the corner of Stadium and Main in Ann Arbor lies one of the holy grails of American sports: Michigan Stadium. Both venues share a space among the globe’s grand cathedrals.
As part of the team’s activities Monday in Rome, the Wolverines experienced a big house that’s much older than the one in Michigan. FULL STORY
This city wasn’t built in a day, but the Michigan football team managed Monday to see most of Rome.
It started with selfie sticks and ended with walking almost every corridor of the Colosseum, a nine-hour bonanza that one staff member said was attacked with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, a play on Jim Harbaugh’s favorite saying.
“It’s been an eye-opener,” fullback Khalid Hill said. “Getting to go all around Rome and experiencing the culture, it’s a blessing. I learned a lot about the Colosseum that I never knew. It’s a great opportunity.”
The expedition began at the Spanish Steps, with players splitting into groups named after emperors. Each group visited famous venues throughout Rome, including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Palatine, and Trevi Fountain. FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Walking streets of Rome can be painful experience
The buildings aren’t the only ancient things in Rome.
So are the streets. Michigan’s 150-member traveling party and the media discovered that Monday after touring the city, which included walking at least 10 miles.
It was good exercise for all of the food eating, an Olympic sport in Rome. But when you factor in the cobblestone streets, spending an entire day traversing them doesn’t feel good when you’re done. FULL STORY
MONDAY, APRIL 24
Michigan's day of sightseeing is under way.
The Wolverines started their day at the Spanish Steps before splitting into groups named after emperors.
Everyone was given a headset and radio that's synced to a tour guide.
At Trevi Fountain, coach Jim Harbaugh took part in the tradition of tossing coins: the first a wish and the second for good luck in returning to Rome. FULL STORY
How did we get here?
No, not literally. Of course, it was on an airplane. But how did we arrive in an era where a major college football team is spending a week in the Eternal City with the salty breezes from the Mediterranean Sea wafting through the air.
The answer, quite simply, is Jim Harbaugh. FULL STORY
Sleep is the choice for most people after a nine-hour flight.
The University of Michigan football team didn’t have that luxury Sunday. Nor did they care — at least most of them.
The Wolverines touched down in Rome at 9 a.m. and immediately took two buses to the famous Borghese Gardens, where they ate lunch, distributed Michigan backpacks filled with blankets, shirts, and shorts to refugees, and toured the Borghese Gallery.
“What an experience,” quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I saw on the itinerary that we were going to have an opportunity to meet some refugees, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this where we could dive into each other’s lives and teach each other a thing or two about our background, our culture, our favorite sport. It’s been a cool experience.” FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: Language barrier trips up intrepid reporter’s dinner cravings
The language barrier in Rome virtually is nonexistent.
Italian might be the official language in Italy, but English is just as prevalent. People speak it and most signs are in both languages. It certainly eases traveling for English-speaking visitors. However, I find it actually takes away from the cultural experience. FULL STORY
SUNDAY, APRIL 23
The University of Michigan football team arrived in Rome at 9 a.m. local time today after a nine-hour flight from Detroit.
They went from the airport to the Borghese Gardens for a lunch event with a group of refugees.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said he had virtually zero sleep. FULL STORY
Jim Harbaugh has spent a lifetime in meeting rooms.
From a playing career that spanned two decades to a coaching career entering its 16th season, the eccentric Michigan head coach is familiar with the structure of meetings and the dull trappings inside the dreary rooms in which they’re hosted.
But it wasn’t always boring and monotonous. The summits in Coach Harbaugh’s early years were led by Grandpa Joe Cipiti and playing host was a northeast Ohio McDonald’s.
Grandpa Joe, as he was affectionately known by family, immigrated to the United States from Sicily as a 4-year-old. He lived in suburban Cleveland for 94 years, working for 85 of them, and, in the process, becoming a revered figure in the family before dying at age 98 in 2014. FULL STORY
As members of Michigan’s roughly 150-person traveling party began arriving in this city of 2.8 million people Saturday, they were not alone.
Among them were three Rome residents who also are University of Michigan graduates. There’s even a Michigan Ross Alumni Club of Italy. Its leader is Riccardo Cesarei, born and raised in Rome, and a 1998 alumnus of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
On Saturday, Cesarei was eagerly awaiting Michigan’s scrimmage next week, much like someone anticipates the season opener. But this time, there’s no nine-hour flight across the Atlantic. Michigan, the winged helmets, and The Victors have all come to Cesarei’s backyard.
“I’m surprised and happy that the Wolverines are coming to Rome,” he said. FULL STORY
■ Ciao from Rome travelogue: So much for getting any work accomplished
What can one accomplish in nine hours?
Well, a lot, considering that’s how many hours there are in a normal 9-to-5 workday. The work environment is different, however, when you’re inside an Airbus A300 for nine hours — 8 hours, 54 minutes to be exact.
That’s how long my Delta flight from Detroit to Rome was Friday night and Saturday morning. It arrived at Leonardo di Vinci International Airport at about 9 a.m. Saturday. The night was short — there were only four hours of darkness because of the time change and flying east. FULL STORY
SATURDAY, APRIL 22
Chris Evans said he’s excited to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Don Brown will be watching tape of Air Force. So, what exactly will Michigan be doing in Rome?
The weeklong adventure includes three practices at A.S. Roma, an Italian soccer club, visits to the Vatican and Colosseum, and a sampling of famed Italian cuisine.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I’ve never been to Europe. There’s only a select few on our team who have been there. To do that from someone else’s donation is spectacular.” FULL STORY