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Maize And Blue All Over

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By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Redskins fans may rule in Washington, but Michigan's Wolverines span the globe.

In 1975, I needed a telephone in Mozambique to cover a war marking the end of 500 years of colonial rule and independence -- in a country where the waiting list for a phone was nine years long. I schmoozed, begged, even flirted for a phone fruitlessly until I found a Mozambican who spoke American-accented English. When I asked where he learned it, he said Ann Arbor. He thought I was just playing him when I said we were fellow alums. To prove it, he said, I had to sing the school song. I got up on a chair and belted out "Hail to the Victors." I got a phone -- and never got a phone bill.

Would Redskins fans have been so loyal?

On the Angolan war front in 1976, a young officer with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's faction led a small group of Western journalists to safety from artillery fire during the civil war. As we waited for the battle on the southern front to end, I asked where he had been educated in the States.

Michigan, of course.

Forget the war. All he wanted to talk about was colorful Michigan halfback Billy Taylor and the antics of Coach Bo Schembechler.

Beirut, Tehran, Caracas, Rome. In many of the 140 countries I've traveled over the past 30 years, I've bumped into Michigan fans. When I flew to Libya in 1980 to interview Moammar Gaddafi, my dad wanted to ensure my safety, so he gave me the list of UM Law School grads in Tripoli. There were three.

They're everywhere. I've even bumped into Wolverines on planes en route from one foreign place to another. We always end up talking football.

Michigan's rivalries also span the globe. While covering the black uprising in South Africa, Associated Press bureau chief Larry Heinzerling, an Ohio State alum, and I took a break one Saturday to call the press box at Michigan's stadium (the largest in the world, I pointed out to him every year) to find out the score.

It was only halftime. But the announcer told the stadium that there was such worldwide interest in the game -- for the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl slot -- that the press box had received an inquiry from South Africa.

My mother later wrote me, "I knew it was you." In truth, however, it could have been any of us.

The author is a diplomatic correspondent for The Post.


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