The shoe is on the other foot for Aidan Hutchinson.
The Michigan football defensive end, who has spent his college career trying to drop others in the backfield, has been thrown for a loss ever since the Big Ten announced it had postponed the season indefinitely as a result of the pandemic that has steamrolled this country.
What’s a fall without competition?
For Hutchinson, it’s an uncomfortable reality he’d rather not contemplate.
“I just really want to play football,” he said Thursday.
The game, after all, is in his blood.
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His father, Chris, was an All-American defensive tackle for the Wolverines during the early 1990s.
Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson celebrates after sacking Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the second half of U-M’s 10-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.
Following that legacy, Aidan was a high school star and the state’s top recruit in 2018.
The sport holds special meaning in his family, becoming more affixed to their identity as the years have passed.
So, it is no surprise that Aidan’s mother, Melissa, is among the leading figures in a team-wide parent group protesting the conference’s decision to delay the games until further notice.
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“We would love a reinstatement of the season, especially if they could revisit the data,” she said.
It’s become her new cause, and she is in the nascent stages of organizing a rally to be held outside Michigan Stadium on Sept. 5, which would have been the date of the Wolverines’ home opener against Purdue.
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With the goal of solidifying the plans, Melissa is flying to Colorado to meet with the mothers of quarterback Dylan McCaffrey and defensive lineman Carlo Kemp. The three women share a common bond: They are entrenched in families whose connections to football run deep. Lisa McCaffrey is the wife of Ed, a former NFL receiver, and the mother of Christian, an All-Pro running back with the Carolina Panthers. Peach Pagano, who raised Kemp, is the sister of Chuck and John — two longtime NFL assistants who at one time or another have both led defenses.
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Their kids play for Jim Harbaugh, whose ties to the game span generations with a father, sibling and son who have devoted their professional lives to coaching.
Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson pursues on defense against Ohio State, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
The sport defines Harbaugh’s persona; he’s the ultimate football guy, after all.
When Harbaugh learned the Big Ten had punted on all fall sports, he released a statement expressing his “disappointment,” set the ball right back at the line of scrimmage and forged ahead as if nothing happened.
“He was like, ‘All right, let’s go practice,’” Aidan recalled. “So, it was a little hard to process at first, but Harbaugh — when he gets bad news — he’s going to throw it away and move on and keep plugging hard and keep working hard.”
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Harbaugh doesn’t know any other way. This is his time of year.
During normal circumstances, preseason camp would have been in full swing and the first game visible on the horizon.
Now, it’s just a sad mirage accompanied by resistance movements launched by disgruntled parties unwilling to take their ball and go home in silence. Last week, parents of team members at various programs, including Melissa Hutchinson, staged a small protest outside the Big Ten’s headquarters. On Thursday, eight Nebraska players sued the conference, claiming the league made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision.
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Even though Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren vowed the postponement would not be revisited in a letter published Aug. 19, the pushback has been persistent — making strange bedfellows out of adversaries while turning football moms into grassroots activists.
Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson pursues Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the second half of U-M’s 10-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.
But Melissa Hutchinson, who acknowledged the zaniness of it all, wants it to continue.
Ninety families connected to Michigan football, she said, are in support of the effort to challenge the Big Ten’s shutdown and gain a clearer understanding of what led the league to pursue that course of action.
“We have heard across the board that the coaches were in, too,” she said.
For them, the game is their livelihood.
But in certain households, it’s a way of life.
That’s true inside the homes occupied by the Hutchinsons, McCaffreys, Paganos and Harbaughs.
“Yeah, maybe,” Aidan said. “But at the end of the day every family has a son in the Big Ten that can’t play this year. … Everyone’s feeling the same way.”
It just stings a bit more for the folks who have football in their blood.
Contact Rainer Sabin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football families feel deeper sting after season postponement