Springtime in Ann Arbor is gorgeous, and when the sun is out and the sky is cloudless few things are as grand as doing some outdoor drinking. For law students, the best place to do that was at Dominick’s, a tapas and sangria joint across the street from the law library. It was mostly outdoor drinking and dining, and its proximity to the School of Education, Undergraduate Library, and Michigan Union Building made it gathering spot for the male law student’s main nonacademic interest: female undergrads. Naturally, as a single alcoholic, I found myself at Dominick’s quite often.
On one particular spring day, I was sitting and drinking with my buddies Ted, Gerry and some randoms when, lo and behold, Jim Harbaugh walks into the joint with a buddy that sort of looked like him (looking back, that must have been John Harbaugh, but who knows?). They sat down and had a few beers. They were pretty chill and trying not to be noticed. At some point, Jim got a call on his cell (still something of a novelty back then) and became agitated. At the end of the call, he leaned back, grimaced, and looked around. In the table next to him, there were three somewhat cute undergrads. He looked at them and said, “wanna throw the ball around?” They knew who he was, and were excited to play with Jim and, you know, maybe have some fun.
Now, in my three years at Michigan, I had seen some variant of this move many times from both current athletes and former Michigan athletes who come back to Ann Arbor. The dudes have to find some way to signal to the ladies, “yes, I’m an athlete and you definitely wanna fuck this.” This might involve, say, something as low key mentioning, “I can’t stay out too late, I have 7am practice.” “Oh really?” she says, “what sport do you play?” Boom. Game over. But, I’ve also seen dudes just out of the blue ask girls if they want to try on their Orange Bowl rings or if they want to see their NFL Players Association Card. When all else fails, you can have a buddy say, “you know Derek plays for the Yankees, right?” In other words, as Jim took those girls across the street to the Law School Quadrangle yard to throw the pigskin, I was pretty certain that this would end with at least one of them retiring to a more private location with Jim.
My group and I were sitting at a patio table, so we had a front row seat to everything that happened next. Jim told the girls to stand about 15 yards away. He warmed up his arm with some windmill swings, then lightly tossed the ball to each of them. Pretty much what you’d expect when you’re using “hey, let’s play catch” as an amorous icebreaker. Jim wasn’t done, though. After 5-6 slow tosses, his arm was apparently warmed up. He said to the first girl, “keep your hands up, thumbs down,” and he showed her the proper motion with his own hands. When she didn’t get quite right, he grabbed her wrists and showed her how to position her hands. He then paced off 15 yards, held the ball in front of him, squatted like he was under center, patted the ball hard, took three hard steps back, planted his back leg and fired the ball at the first girl. As he let the ball go, you could hear it click as his fingernails hit the ball and, I shit you not, as the ball whizzed through the air you could hear it ssssssssssss… THUNK! It hit the girl in the shoulder and knocked her down. Jim wadn’t playin’.
“Come on, let’s go!” Jim barked. While Girl #1 picked herself up, Girl#2 gamely grabbed the ball and lobbed it back. Again, Jim got in his QB squat, smacked the ball, did a hard three-step drop-back and fired the ball at Girl#3, she ducked but the ball hit off the top of her head and went into the street. Girl#2 ran after it while Girl#3 sat on the ground rubbing her head. When Girl#2’s throw back to Jim was short, Jim got a bit annoyed, and set the girls up in a relay so that two girls were about 25 yards away, and the third girl was halfway in between so that that girls could throw to her, and she would run the ball to Jim. For the next 5-10 minutes, he was firing balls at these two poor girls, knocking them down or hitting them in the face about half the time. He was 100% oblivious.
Admittedly, we were pretty drunk, but this shit was hilarious to me, Gerry and Ted. We were dying laughing every time one of those poor undergrads got hit in the melon from a Jim Harbaugh fastball. When one girl attempted to catch a ball with her hands, she sprained her finger or something and fell to the ground clutching her hand in pain. Jim didn’t care. At this point, Jim wants to run some routes. Stationary targets aren’t enough. So, he tells the two girls doing the catching, “you run straight 10 yards and turn around. The ball will be there when you turn around, so have your hands up.” You can imagine what happened. She runs 10 yards, turns around and gets blasted in the face with a Harbaugh pass. She tumbles over clutching her forehead.
Gerry can’t take it anymore, and just starts laughing so hard that his face turns a shade of purple-red that has us a bit concerned. Dude was Korean, so it might have just been the booze, though. Anyway, Jim tells the second girl to run a post and that he’ll put it over her shoulder. He does, but she drops it. He doesn’t look pleased. “Bring it back. Again.” Second time, same result. “Bring it back. Again.” Third time, same result. “Bring it back. Again.” Fourth time, she catches it. With a scowl on his face, he puts his hands up in a “touchdown” signal, then reaches into his back pocket for his dip.
At this point, Jim seems satisfied. “Thanks fellas,” he says, then he jogs across the street, sits down and starts drinking with his brother again. I’m looking the girls, all dirty, sweaty, injured and absolutely confused as to what the fuck just happened. To be honest, fifteen years later, I still don’t know. Jim is just a wonderful kind of crazy, and for reasons I can’t quite explain that story absolutely encapsulates his particular brand of insanity.