Let’s get to know what team Michigan will play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 in Atlanta.
Kirkland Crawford, Detroit Free Press
ATLANTA — Jim Harbaugh began talking and, seconds later, started to sound like an employee of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Harbaugh, who turned 55 on Sunday, is happy to be here.
Even through Christmas.
“I’m going to try to work it all in. Plan on staying a few days after the game, too,” said Michigan’s head coach, who will work the rest of the week in Atlanta before the Wolverines play Florida on Saturday in the Peach Bowl. “I want to go to the aquarium. I want to go to the Ebenezer Baptist Church. I want to go to the Coca-Cola factory. I want to go to a Hawks game. Want to go to a Georgia Bulldogs basketball game.
“My wife told me about a really nice park. Want to take the kids there.”
Part of this bowl-week experience for Michigan this year includes a Christmas Day. For many players, it’ll be the first time they’ve been on the road through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
And while most would no doubt rather spend the day with loved ones back home, they’re doing their best to make the most of the holiday bonding together.
Jon Runyan Jr. said his Christmas wish was to earn an 11th win in the Peach Bowl. But he’d also like an XBox Elite Controller, something roommate and Michigan tight end Sean McKeon already has.
Sitting a few feet away from Runyan on Monday, McKeon was asked what he planned to gift his teammates through the holiday season.
“My friendship,” he smiled.
Michigan’s making the most of it.
The Wolverines landed in Atlanta on Sunday before going through their first workout as a team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Christmas Eve. The team had football meetings throughout the day before heading to a Go-Kart track outside of Atlanta during the evening.
On Christmas Day, Michigan will have a midday practice before gathering as a team for a full Christmas dinner, complete with all the trimmings.
It won’t be home, but it will be among family.
“We love football,” Harbaugh said. “This will be our first Christmas together as a team. We’ve done (other holidays together). This, of course, the big major holiday. Christmas.
“As big as it gets. The big one. But a chance to spend time with our team family, that’s how we look at each other. We’re a family.”
Throughout the 2018 season, togetherness has been a motto for the Wolverines. In good and bad.
When Michigan opened the season with a struggle-filled performance at Notre Dame in early September, players looked inward for support and motivation. One day after the game, the offensive line held a position meeting to re-gather themselves.
They worked their way out of it, eventually paving the way for Karan Higdon to become the first Michigan running back since 2011 to break the 1,000-yard mark.
They hung together for 10 straight wins before suffering the ultimate setback and adversity by way of a 62-39 loss at Ohio State on the biggest stage of the year. Every dream and goal Michigan had as a team went up in smoke that afternoon.
And it fizzled in spectacular fashion.
Still, even with some attrition, this team’s hanging in there together.
Michigan will play in the Peach Bowl on Saturday without three of its best players, as Rashan Gary, Devin Bush Jr. and Higdon are all moving on to the NFL.
Though every player who spoke with the media Monday offered full support to that trio, saying they completely understand why a draft-eligible player might decide to sit a game like that if they believe it’s in the best interest of their family.
“We understand the opportunities those guys have outside of Michigan football. I respect that. I respect those guys to the fullest,” Michigan cornerback David Long said. “They laid their bodies and everything on the line the past (few) years and like I told Devin Bush, while it seems like this was short-lived, I appreciate everything he did for this team and this defense.
“It’s only right he does something for himself for once.”
Michigan’s quest for an 11th win isn’t just to put itself in an elite class of teams in program history, as only nine Wolverine teams have ever accomplished that feat.
As important, though, is a bit of holiday mouthwash. Michigan will have to live with its humbling loss to Ohio State all offseason, right up until its next shot at the Buckeyes next November.
But the Wolverines can enter the offseason on a winning note. And they can do it together.
“It’s always a blessing to play in games like this,” Long added. “We want this 11th win. To bounce back.”
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.