ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Russell Crowe and Lloyd Carr are buds. OK, that's weird enough. The Gladiator and the deadpan Wolverines coach yucking it up.
Now try to wrap your mind around this image: Lloyd Carr in a water-hose fight with former star defensive end Alan Branch.
|Add actor Russell Crowe to the crazy spring of Lloyd Carr's Wolverines. (Getty Images)|
It's spring, when college coaches tend to let down their guard, if not their close-cropped hair. They relax, if only briefly. Light up a stogie. Spend time with -- what are your names again? -- the wife and kids. Go on vacation.
But this, at Michigan? The Fort Knox of college football? Yes, the athletic department could mint its own coins, but we're talking more about the walls that keep football information in, and the world out.
Our images of Michigan football are Hail to the Victors, Bo, The Big House and those always-rollicking weekly press conferences. Who knew Carr was recently in San Diego with his wife screening Crowe's new movie 3:10 to Yuma? Or that he then followed Crowe over to Australia to mingle with the actor's rugby team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs?
"He's a hell of a guy," Carr said. "Honestly, I thought I'd probably see him once or twice."
Instead, they were pals for most of the nine days Carr was Down Under. The last day and a half was spent at Crowe's ranch an hour north of Sydney. The invitation from Crowe came after he got word that Carr had used Cinderella Man as a motivational tool during last year's training camp.
Carr was enamored with the underdog story of Crowe's character, Jim Braddock. Crowe's people got hold of Carr's person, administrative assistant Jennifer.
"I said, 'Sure, he's on the phone,'" Carr said. "I get on the phone, and it was him."
This is not the picture of uptight coach and program. It has a heart. A lot of it locked behind Bo Schembechler's office, which has been largely left untouched since the great coach's death on Nov. 17.
It has desire. The program with one of the game's greatest lineman traditions has never won an Outland. Returning All-American Jake Long is the Big Ten's best offensive lineman.
An 11-victory season fueled by one of Michigan's great defenses collapsed with yet another loss to Ohio State. This year the Wolverines should start the season in the top five and be favored to win the Big Ten.