Former Rose Bowl-winning Wolverines can’t wait for Aug. 26 game
There have been a lot of home improvements, so to speak, to the University of Michigan’s 107,000-seat “Big House” — high-tech video scoreboards have replaced the no-frills digital ones and a second deck was added to the press box, to name two — since former Wolverine players Vinnie DeFelice and Terrence Quinn last stepped on the venue’s sacred turf wearing the iconic winged helmets.
“What hasn’t changed is the tunnel and the feelings the players feel before they run out onto that field with over 100,000 people cheering,” said DeFelice, who was a member of Bo Schembechler’s first Rose Bowl-winning team following the 1988 season.
“That tunnel is the same one Terrence and I ran out of before we jumped up and touched the banner.”
DeFelice and Quinn (a member of the Wolverines’ 1997 National Championship team) will return to the field in a competitive setting Friday at noon for the first time since their maize-and-blue playing days when Plymouth High School (for whom they serve as assistant coaches) battles Livonia Churchill in a “Battle of the Big House” encounter.
There probably won’t be 107,000 people in the stands on Friday, but the aura of playing in one of the world’s most-famous sports venues will still be enough to ramp up the adrenaline levels in any player’s bloodstream.
“It’s super-exciting to know Vinnie and I will be back on the field in the ‘Big House’ in a competitive setting again — I’ve been back for reunions with the 1997 team — but, of course, it’s most exciting for the (Plymouth) players,” Quinn said. “To return as a coach — and to be coaching my son (Titus) — I mean, wow, that’s amazing.
“One of the last and best memories I have as a player on the ‘Big House’ field is seeing Charles Woodson walking off after we beat Ohio State holding a rose in his teeth.”
DeFelice and Quinn — who starred on the gridiron at Trenton High School and Flint Northwestern High School, respectively — admit they probably would have done a backflip if capable when they found out earlier this year the Wildcats were selected to compete in the six-team, two-day Battle at the Big House event.
“It’s just a great opportunity for the kids to experience competing in that environment,” said DeFelice, whose son played at the University of Michigan Stadium a few years ago as a member of the Plymouth-Canton Steelers junior league team. “And they’ll get to run out of that tunnel, just like all of those Michigan players who have played here.
“For me, being an alumni of the University of Michigan, I know what they’re going to be experiencing — all the tradition and history. When the (Plymouth) players found out about the opportunity, I think it raised their off-season focus a notch, too.”
Quinn still remembers what it was like to step on the “Big House” turf as a player.
“First of all, it was a lifelong dream of mine to play for Michigan,” Quinn recounted. “When I stepped on the field for the first time for a scrimmage, I saw the corner of the end zone and had flashbacks of seeing that same spot watching games on TV. After years of seeing games on television, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I’m really here!'”
Quinn and DeFelice admitted what they miss the most about playing college football at the highest level is the camaraderie they built with their teammates.
“I miss just being with the guys,” said Quinn. “Even though there were a lot of stars on that 1997 team — Brian Griese, Charles Woodson, Amani Toomer, to name a few — when we get together for reunions, it’s like we’re a bunch of 20-year-old young men again, joking and laughing.”
Among the litany of stars DeFelice played with are Anthony Carter, Butch Woolfolk and Bubba Paris.
“I tell the players I coach now all the time: There is nothing else quite like the camaraderie in football,” DeFelice said. “The relationships you build are lifelong. And it’s not just at the University of Michigan — it’s all of football.”