Back in 1968 young Thom Darden from Sandusky, Ohio, was considered to be a top-notch athlete in football, basketball and baseball. Some thought that perhaps basketball was his best sport such as John Havlicek of the world champion Boston Celtics. In high school, Thom simply excelled at sport as he was quite the athlete. His exploits were not unknown as he was recruited by Woody Hayes to play football for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Thom and his parents visited Woody in Columbus, and in turn Woody came to the Sandusky home of the Darden’s.
Mr. Darden, of strong religious faith, turned against the legend, Woody Hayes In part because of Hayes’ salty language in describing historic military battles. And Thom, distrusted Hayes after he viewed his position- player ranking on Coach Hayes big chalk board. Thom was also recruited by Bo Schembechler then coach for Miami of Ohio. When Bo Schembechler put Thom through a series of football drills that did it for Schembechler also. He wanted no part of that man as well.
Along came the dapper Bump Elliott and staff [Don James] from the University Michigan. It didn’t take long for the Darden family to connect with the maize and blue. In fact, Mrs. Darden was really impressed and didn’t hesitate to tell her athletic son. So off to Ann Arbor in 1968, to play for Coach Elliott. Must add that Thom initially had some doubts about his ability to play at that level. You can imagine the impact on Darden, when he learned that his coach Elliott had been fired and replaced by that Bo Schembechler that same year.
New head coach Schembechler of course remembered recruiting Darden. And when Darden initially visited, Bo in his new Michigan office, he remembered, Bo’s first words “close the door; you thought you got rid of me” to his new athlete.On another occasion going into Thom’s senior year, Coach Schembechler talked to his outstanding defensive back about his opportunity for All American candidacy for the 1971 football season. Thom Darden allowed his play to speak for himself as in the UCLA game, Thom intercepted the UCLA quarterbacks pitch out and ran some 90 yards for a Michigan touchdown. Darden did become a Michigan All-American, that football season.
While being a first round draft choice by the Cleveland Browns, and becoming all pro, the NFL Darden came back to Bo Schembechler, and helped him install the Pittsburgh Steelers defense for the Wolverines. Darden also had conversations with coach Schembechler about Schembechler’s interest in becoming head coach for the Cleveland Browns. Darden discouraged his former coach from making that coaching change. Notice how the role changed between teacher and student. The student was now the teacher.
And on a later occasion he met with Bo Schembechler, in Ann Arbor. Thom Darden didn’t know, prior that Bo had just lost his son in an automobile accident. And when they talked about Bo’s loss, the two men became closer and shared their tears together. It’s clear that Thom Darden’s relationship with Bo Schembechler evolved through the years. Starting out it was “I want nothing to do with this man” to sharing true heartfelt emotion of empathy and love. That emotion was exhibited by Thom Darden’s exuberance, support and energy for Bo Schembechler and the University Michigan football through the years, and even today.
It’s crystal clear that legend Bo Schembechler had a tremendous emotional impact on his players and his players on him as well. One might conclude that Schembechler was blessed by being involved with so many individuals of solid character. The human connection or human bond, that were formed over the many decades remain as strong as the Gordian knot.
Go Blue Go