John U. Bacon

Essay/Analysis: Sports Commentator

John U. Bacon has worked the better part of two decades as a writer, a public speaker, a radio and TV commentator, and a college teacher.

Bacon earned an honors degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) from the University of Michigan, and a Master’s in Education.  He also was awarded a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship in 2005-06, where he was the first recipient of the Benny Friedman Fellowship for Sports Journalism.

He started his journalism career covering high school sports for The Ann Arbor News, then wrote a light-hearted lifestyle column before becoming the Sunday sports feature writer for The Detroit News in 1995.  There he wrote long features about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, bullfighting in Spain, and high school basketball on a Potawatomi reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, earning numerous state and national awards for his work.

Bacon is the author of the upcoming book “Third and Long: Three years with Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines.”

His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Our national anthem is worth more than ten bucks

West Point Public Affairs flickr

On Veterans Day, we generally honor our Veterans.

It’s a good idea, for lots of reasons: they served our country, often in unpleasant places, and in great danger, to keep the worst of the world away from our homeland. 

My grandfather was a New York dentist who volunteered at age 39 to hop on a ship in the Pacific during World War II. 

My dad graduated from medical school, then enlisted in the U.S. Army, which sent him and his new bride to Fulda, Germany, to guard the border.     

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Sports Commentary
1:00 am
Fri November 9, 2012

Politicians need to learn from sports

z.duffy flickr

Whether your candidates won or lost this week, we can all rejoice that it’s finally over. 

Or, we think it is.  We can’t be sure anymore, can we? 

All this made me ponder the relative craziness of politics versus sports. I got to thinking: Which is sillier?  Playing politics, or playing sports? 

As silly as sports are – and I seem to devote half my commentaries to that very subject – after watching the 2012 campaigns, I can tell you, it’s not even close: Playing politics is sillier, in a landslide.

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Sports Commentary
7:06 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Ann Arbor high school football players show better sportsmanship than coaches

user: Michael Knight /flickr

Last week, the Ann Arbor Pioneer high school football team went across town to play long-time rival Ann Arbor Huron.  It wasn’t the players’ performance during the game that made news, however, but the coaches’ behavior afterward.  And the news wasn’t good.

Ann Arbor Pioneer came into the annual rivalry with Ann Arbor Huron, sporting a solid 4-3 record and a good chance to make the playoffs.  Huron hadn’t won a game all year, and was simply playing out the season.  The only stakes were bragging rights – and even those weren’t much in question.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri October 12, 2012

Remembering Budd Lynch

Budd Lynch began his career with the Red Wings at Detroit's Olympia Arena.
Library of Congress wikimedia commons

His parents named him Frank Joseph James Lynch—but everybody knew him as Budd. 

He passed away this week, at the age of 95.  No, you can’t call that a tragedy, but you can call it a loss—one thousands are feeling. 

In a week that included no Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25, the idiotic NHL lockout and, far worse, Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing, I’d rather spend my few minutes with you honoring a man who lived as long as he lived well. 

Lynch was born in Windsor, Ontario, during World War I.  

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Sports Commentary
12:03 am
Fri September 28, 2012

Notre Dame v. Michigan rivalry ends: It's not about tradition anymore

Michigan vs. Notre Dame. The two teams play their final game in 2014.
Michigan Football Facebook

Notre Dame announced this week the school is suspending its century-old rivalry with the University of Michigan after the 2014 season.

The only constant is change. 

Yeah, yeah.  We know that – and in case we didn’t, there’s always some office blowhard too eager to say it, as if it’s some profound truth.

But that’s why, the more things change, the more we appreciate things that don’t.

When Carole King sang, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?” she probably wasn’t talking about NFL franchises, but she could’ve been.

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Denard Robinson, enjoy him while you can

Denard Robinson avoids a rush from the Fighting Irish.
Michigan Football Facebook

Last week, the University of Michigan football team beat up University of Massachusetts, 63-13.

Okay, U-Mass was pretty bad. Even lowly Indiana crushed them.

But the Wolverines did exactly what they were supposed to do, and did it very well. Many Michigan fans complained anyway.

This is not uncommon.

A few years ago, Michigan blew out 15th-ranked Notre Dame team 38-0, the first shut out over the Irish in over a century. The next day, I challenged listeners on a sports talk show to find something to complain about.

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri August 24, 2012

Reunion 2012

user collegeyearbooks MorgueFile.com

Lots of people look forward to high school reunions, others dread them, and still others just avoid them altogether.

My brother falls squarely into the third category. As he says, “If I was that eager to see you, I wouldn’t have waited five years.”

Now that we have Facebook, we already know who gained weight and who went bald, so what else do we really need to see? Maybe that’s why reunion attendance nationwide has dropped dramatically.

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Sports
6:30 am
Fri August 3, 2012

The Olympics and The Things You Actually Want to Watch

London 2012 banner at The Monument
Michael Pead Wikimedia Commons

The London Olympics features 26 summer sports, with 39 disciplines, and 302 separate competitions, in a desperate attempt to get everyone to watch. 

So you’ve got the Ancient Sports, or the Events No One Watches Anymore, like horse riding, rifle range, and archery -- also known as, Things You Did in Summer Camp, But Stopped Doing After You Learned How To Drive and Talk To Girls.  Why not include making moccasins and key fobs?     

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Sports
6:30 am
Fri July 20, 2012

Michigan Olympians

Ann Arbor-native Betsey Armstrong will goal tend for the U.S. Water Polo Team at this summer's Olympic Games
Michael Larson USA Water Polo

In the opening ceremonies next week, when the United States’ flag bearer declines to dip the Stars and Stripes for Queen Elizabeth, he or she will be following the lead of Ralph Rose, a Michigan alum who refused to lower the flag in the 1908 London Olympics, for King Edward VII. 

Rose explained, "This flag dips for no earthly king." 

Wolverines have also made their mark on the podium, winning 138 medals, including 65 gold. This year, Michigan is sending 26 athletes and coaches to London, who will compete in nine different sports. 

The list includes Betsey Armstrong, a graduate of Ann Arbor Huron High – widely considered the greatest high school in the history of Western Civilization —who will play goalie for the water polo team.

Tiffany and Jeff Porter both set hurdling records at Michigan, before getting married – even as Tiffany was becoming a doctor of pharmacy. 

There’s Connor Jaeger, an engineering student who walked onto the swimming team, and finished as a three-time NCAA All-American.  

There’s Sam Mikulak, a gymnast, who broke both ankles at a meet last year on the same landing.  He finished his remaining events – and learned afterward he’d fractured both ankles.  Not all tough guys play football.

And there’s Jerome Singleton.  When he was just one year old, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee.  He went on to become an engineering student, and a world-class paralympian – Michigan’s first.  

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Sports Commentary
11:01 am
Fri July 13, 2012

College Football playoff problem solved!

Go Blue The University of Michigan

A committee of 12 university presidents recently approved a plan to create a four-team playoff for Division I college football – the last major sport to have one.  That has Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon wondering what good will come of it – if any. 

Well, it’s finally upon us.  No, not the apocalypse – Mayan calendar be damned – but a bona fide, Division I, college football playoff.

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Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri June 29, 2012

Remembering Bob Chappuis, WWII hero and 'Mad Magician'

The University of Michigan's Bob Chappuis hurdling a tackler.
Michiganensian (1947) University of Michigan

One of Michigan Football's most famous players died earlier this month. Bob Chappuis played for the Wolverines in the '40s. He was a College Football Hall of Famer and a World War II hero. But that’s not how Chappuis described himself.

You can read about Bob Chappuis’s heroics as a World War II tailgunner, or as a Michigan Wolverines tailback, just about anywhere -- from his Time magazine cover story in 1947, to his obituary in the New York Times last week.  But my favorite stories are the ones he told his granddaughters.

I met Chappuis in 2000, while writing a story about his famous Michigan football team.  But I really got to know him when I coached his grandson Bobby’s high school hockey team.When Bobby went to Culver Academies for a post-grad year, I joined the family to see him graduate.

We all relaxed in a hotel suite, eating and drinking, while Chappuis’s teenage granddaughters goaded him to tell stories.  He could not refuse them, but he shared stories you couldn't find in magazines -- like when his father told him he could go to any school he wanted -- except Ohio State.  

Chappuis skipped the part about leaving college to volunteer for the Army, where he served as an aerial gunner on a B-25.  But his son interjected to explain how their granddad’s plane was shot down over Northern Italy, forcing the crew to parachute behind enemy lines. 

Chappuis waved it off.  “Everybody says we’re heroes.  But what kind of idiot wouldn’t jump from a burning plane?”   

He told his granddaughters how they hid in a ditch behind some bushes while Italian soldiers marched by. One of his crewmates grabbed a knife, and motioned to attack. Chappuis grabbed his shoulder, pushed him down and whispered, “They’ve got us outnumbered 30 to 3, and they’ve got guns.  I think you’ve seen too many Hollywood movies.  We are staying put.”

Smart move.  They were rescued by a family, who hid them in their attic.  They buried the Americans’ identifying clothing – but Chappuis drew the line at his Michigan ring.  “This stays with me,” he said. 

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Sports
7:32 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Why Michigan's softball team knocks it out of the park

Scott Galvin U-M Photo Services

The University of Michigan softball team won the Big Ten title this year – for the fifth year in a row, and 15th time overall. It went to the NCAA tournament – for the 18th straight season.  Winning titles is what they do.   

And this was not even one of head coach Carol Hutchins’ best teams. 

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Kids need to learn how to lose

Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann Flickr

Remember Field Day?

For most of us, it was a hallowed year-end school tradition, right up there with ice cream socials, and signing yearbooks.

The kids loved it, of course, and looked forward to it every year. 

But not at Burns Park, one of Ann Arbor’s oldest, most desirable and most educated neighborhoods – and occasionally, one of its kookiest.

There is a reason many townies jokingly refer to it as “The Republic of Burns Park.”

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Sports
7:00 am
Fri May 18, 2012

Cut from the team: Some lessons for players and parents

U.S. National Archives Flickr

Teresa Bloodman’s son was thrilled to play on his freshman basketball team for two months.  But, when the coach held a third round of tryouts so the football players could come out for the team, he cut Bloodman’s son.

Teresa Bloodman was so livid she sued the school, the district and the state.  She claimed cutting her son was arbitrary, that the lack of a formal appeals process was a violation of due process, and that her son has a constitutional right to participate in school sports.

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Sports Commentary
9:28 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Women in sports: Title IX and the "Battle of the Sexes"

Billie Jean King playing Bobbie Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes"

This week, the University of Michigan celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, with a host of speakers and panels discussing the historic legislation and its impact on girls, women and the United States itself. 

Before Title IX, only one in 30 girls played high school sports. 

Today, more than half do. 

After a single paragraph, and an unforgettable tennis match, that changed our nation forever.

It all started pretty quietly. 

Just a sentence buried in the back of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Life lessons from South Africa's Makana Football Association

A few weeks ago, I visited Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a famously beautiful city, right on the ocean – but that’s not what I took away from this trip. 

The boat ride from Cape Town to Robben Island is just five miles, and takes only 30 minutes.  But to the prisoners held there, starting in the 17th century, it might as well be on the dark side of the moon.  Only a handful ever tried to escape, and none made it – most notably Makana, a famed 19th century Xhosa leader, who drowned halfway to freedom.    

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri April 20, 2012

Going the extra mile to get that interview

Oleg Klementiev Flickr

While I was writing “Three and Out,” the Michigan football players challenged me to join their workouts in the weight room.

I did – and soon discovered it was one of the dumbest decisions of my life – and one of the best career moves.

I’d heard so much about these modern gladiators and their weight room heroics that I wanted to find out for myself just how much harder it really is compared to what the average weekend warrior puts himself through just to avoid buying “relaxed fit” jeans.

The plan was simple: I would work out with these guys three times a week, for six weeks -- “if you last that long,” said Mike Barwis, Michigan’s former strength coach.  But there were four signs that I shouldn’t be doing this.

When I asked Barwis if I should prepare by lifting weights, he said, “No, it’s too late for that!”  Well, that’s one sign.

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Commentary
7:00 am
Fri April 13, 2012

A home where journalists dream, Mike Wallace's legacy lives on

Mike Wallace during an interview with Nancy Reagan.
CBS News Video

Everybody knows Mike Wallace was one of the best journalists of his time – and his time spanned a half-century.

But he also had a great love for his alma mater, the University of Michigan, where he wrote for the Michigan Daily, and got his first taste of broadcasting. Back then, that meant the student radio station.   

Sadly, Michigan’s department of journalism was cut in 1979.  But it was survived by something called the Michigan Journalism Fellows – a program that brings a dozen mid-career journalists to Michigan’s campus for a year to give them a fresh start.

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Sports Commentary
7:00 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Saying goodbye to a tradition, Ann Arbor's Parthenon Restaurant closes

The beloved gyro sandwich.
George Ruiz Flickr

Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant closed last week after almost 40 years at the corner of Main and Liberty. 

For me, it marked more than the passing of a favorite spot, but the end of a time-honored ritual for the guys. 

We filed in, and walked to our favorite table in the back.

A little warmer, and we’d sit outside, but it was still March, so whatya gonna do?

The owners and waiters nodded. They’ve seen us more than a hundred times.

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Sports Commentary
7:29 am
Fri March 30, 2012

Shawn Hunwick's unlikely run at Michigan ends, and new doors open

Wolverine players swarm goalie Shawn Hunwick after U-M won the CCHA hockey tournament to keep alive its streak of 20 consecutive NCAA playoff appearances.
Scott Galvin UM Photo Services

One of the most unlikely careers in the history of University of Michigan sports ended last weekend, in overtime.

Two years ago, Michigan’s hockey team was in danger of snapping its record 19-straight NCAA tournament bids.

They finished seventh in their league – unheard of, for Michigan.  So, the only way to keep the streak alive was to win six straight league playoff games to get an automatic NCAA bid.

Oh, and they had to do it with a back-up goalie named Shawn Hunwick, a 5-foot-6 walk-on who had never started a college game until that week.  

It didn’t look good.  

But the kid caught fire. 

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