Mr. Heuerman will be watching Buckeyes

South Bend Tribune

With sons at Ohio State and Notre Dame, Paul Heuerman can’t be too vocal about supporting his alma mater these days.

The former University of Michigan basketball player has become a Buckeye and Irish fan for at least the next few years. Oldest son Jeff, a junior, plays tight end for Ohio State, and his middle son, Mike, enrolled at Notre Dame in January to play tight end as well.

The imminent hiatus for the Notre Dame and Michigan rivalry has become a national sports talking point, but Paul Heuerman has managed to stay away from the growing conversation of each school’s supporters downgrading the other. As someone who remembers the rivalry being rekindled in 1978, he holds out hope that the two schools will meet again beyond 2014.

“To me, it’s disappointing as a Michigan guy but nothing stays the same. Everything’s changing,” Heuerman said. “Notre Dame has so many great rivalries in addition to Michigan when you look at their schedule, as does Michigan. That’s a great rivalry. It doesn’t mean it’s dead forever. When it comes back it will be just as good as ever. Everybody has to do what they have to do.”

Heuerman was a sophomore center on Johnny Orr’s basketball team when the Michigan football team traveled to South Bend to renew a series that hadn’t been played in 35 years. The Wolverines beat the defending champion Irish, 28-14. In the coming years, Heuerman would learn the importance of the rivalry while living with football players like quarterback John Wangler and linebacker Andy Cannavino.

“Those were always great rivalry games,” Heuerman said.

The following spring, a basketball game against Notre Dame helped propel Heuerman’s career on the hardwood. In the 1978-79 regular season finale, the two teams played in a nationally televised game in the Pontiac Silverdome.

Starting in just the sixth game of his career, the 6-foot-8 Heuerman scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in a 62-59 upset of No. 2 Notre Dame. Heuerman battled in the paint against the likes of Bill Laimbeer and Orlando Woolridge while 37,283 fans watched in the Silverdome, the second-largest crowd to attend a college basketball game at that point.

“Once we won that game, I came back as a junior and the coaches had a lot of confidence in me. Our season was over after that game, Heuerman said. “To this day, I look back at it as probably the most significant game that I played in.”

Heuerman became a starter his last two years and was named a captain as a senior. The two teams wouldn’t meet on the basketball court in his last two years, but that victory still stands out.

“It was the mystique of Notre Dame. We were an average team. Notre Dame was a good team,” Heuerman said. “And they still drew that many fans to the Silverdome — a national TV game of the week, the whole thing. It was huge for us to beat Notre Dame.”

As a fan and friend of players on the football team, Heuerman watched his school become invested in both of the rivalries against Notre Dame and Ohio State. The Wolverines finished 1-2 against Notre Dame and 3-1 against Ohio State while Heuerman was in Ann Arbor.

“In football, I always put it as 1A and 1B. It was six in one, half dozen in another,” Heuerman said. “You had Notre Dame which was just a huge national figure, and you had Ohio State in a huge rivalry. I always put them there as pretty equal in terms of how big of a game it was.”

Little did he know that the schools would be the future destinations of Son 1 and Son 2. In the spring of 2010, Heuerman took oldest son Jeff on a Midwest tour of Michigan, Notre Dame, Purdue and Ohio State. Soon it became clear that the son of a Wolverine wanted to be a Buckeye. Among other things, Jeff preferred Jim Tressel over Rich Rodriguez.

“When we left Ann Arbor,” Paul Heuerman said, “the first thing he said to me was, ‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I’m not going. I’m not going to Ann Arbor and hear people talk about you for the next four years.’ You respect that.”

As middle son Mike became a talented high school football player at Barron Collier High School in Naples, Fla., Paul Heuerman reached out to Notre Dame’s Florida recruiter, Tony Alford, who made a lasting impression while recruiting Jeff.

“He was honest with me even when it wasn’t in maybe his best interest to do so,” Paul Heuerman said. “He told me straight up, ‘Jeff is like six or seven on our board. That’s where he is.’ He could have BS’d me and said he was two or three. He was just honest with me.”

Mike was pulled between Ohio State and Notre Dame, but chose the Irish in April 2012.

“As a dad, I didn’t really want two kids to go to the same school,” Heuerman said. “It was up to Mike. They play the same position. Plus they’re close enough up there that they can get together on the weekends. They have a great relationship. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have Mike at Notre Dame.”

So out the window went any rooting allegiances to Michigan football for Paul Heuerman — at least for two Saturdays every year. He’ll stay away from Michigan Stadium this weekend and instead watch Jeff, who starts for the Buckeyes, play San Diego State at Ohio Stadium.

You won’t find Paul Heuerman splitting his game day outfits into a mishmash of maize, navy blue, gold, scarlet and grey any time soon. In regards to Saturday’s Michigan game, he ends an interview with “Go Irish.” He’s content with having two sons playing for the rivals of his former school. His family is different than old friend John Wangler’s, who has one son, Jared, committed to Michigan and another son, Jack, on the roster as a walk-on freshman.

“It’s a lot of noise. It’s a lot of talk,” Heuerman said. “I compare it to just any parent that has a child that goes away to college especially when they go a long ways away like my two have. They’re happy and they like what they’re doing. Whether they’re in a good fraternity or a sorority or they like their classes, as a parent it makes you feel great because you see your kids happy and doing well.”

AP Photo/JAY LAPRETEPaul Heuerman played basketball at Michigan. His son, Mike, is a freshman tight end on the Notre Dame football team. So where will Paul Heuerman be this weekend? In Columbus, Ohio, to watch the Buckeyes and son Jeff, who plays for the Buckeyes.