Remembering my friend Drew Sharp, and the best days of our lives

I met Drew Sharp when we were sophomores at the University of Michigan. I was a sports-crazy kid looking for a diversion, so I signed up to join the sports staff at the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper. Drew was doing basically the same thing, and he joined the Daily at almost the same time I did.

I was hoping they’d let me cover football games from Day One, of course, but the way it worked back then was that the newbies were assigned to cover one of the “minor” sports at U-M first. You had to work your way up to basketball and football.

Drew and I both got assigned to the wrestling beat, and we hit it off right away. We would talk about sports and argue about sports and write about sports, and thinking back on it all now, it was the best time of our lives. Drew Sharp quickly became probably the best friend I had in college.

We were inseparable back then. We covered wrestling together, and then baseball, and then we were promoted to the basketball beat our junior year. As seniors, we were both elected sports editors (there were only four of us), and we finally realized our dream of covering football. The running joke was that the only way you could tell Drew and me apart was that he had a mustache.

My friend Drew later became a sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press, and eventually became one of the more renowned journalists in all of sports. In addition to his Free Press gig, he was on the radio and ESPN and everywhere else. And I was always so incredibly proud of him.

Drew passed away today at the age of 56, leaving behind a grieving wife and more friends and fans than I’m sure he knew he had. I’m devastated and stunned, and as I think back on all my memories of him, my heart is truly broken.

The film “The Big Chill” is about a group of U-M graduates who come together 10 years after graduation for the funeral of a classmate. They spend a lot of time in that film reflecting on the fact that even though you’re only together for a relatively short time – just three or four years, tops – the friendships you form in college stay with you forever. Those days truly end up being the best days of your life.

That’s certainly how it was for us.

So as I think back on those days and my friend Drew, I’m thinking about all the stories. I’m thinking about the road trip we took to Columbus in 1980 to see the Michigan-Ohio State game in my rusted-out VW Bug. Drew convinced me that we had to park the car in some out-of-the-way hidden spot, because if any Ohio State fans saw the “GO BLUE” bumper sticker on the back of my car, they would try to vandalize it. I told him that if anybody vandalized the car, it would probably improve its appearance.

And I’m thinking back on the 1981 flag football game between the sports staffs of the Michigan Daily and the Ohio State Lantern. Back then, it was a tradition on the eve of the Michigan-OSU game that the sports staffs of both student papers would play each other in a flag football game. Our team was called “The Daily Libels,” and we took this VERY seriously. So did the guys at the Lantern.

For the years leading up to this, the Lantern staff always beat us. I’m pretty sure it’s because they always cheated by recruiting some ringers, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, in the 1981 game – our senior year – we were actually hanging with them. Late in the game, we were up by a couple points, but the Lantern had the ball and they were driving for the winning score. We stopped them on third down, and they had to go for it on fourth. There was only time for one more play.

I remember this play like it was yesterday. They faked the handoff to the left, and then did a pitch sweep to the right. Our cornerback was one-on-one with the ball-carrier, and he was in perfect position to take him down behind the line of scrimmage.

If he grabbed that flag, we would win the game. The long losing streak would be over and those evil OSU student journalists would have to slink back to Columbus with their tails between their legs.

Everything was setting up perfectly, except that our cornerback was … Drew Sharp.

Drew was blessed with a lot of talents, but being an elite athlete wasn’t one of them. Because of two heart surgeries he’d endured before the age of 8, he never got to play organized sports. He had some phenomenal athletes in his family (his uncle, Lowell Perry, was an All-American at Michigan and played for the Steelers), but those genes somehow never made it to poor old Drew.

So when his big moment of athletic glory came, and he had the chance to win the game simply by grabbing a flag off the guy coming straight at him … Drew fell down. Just fell down. Tripped over his own feet and fell down. (He tried to claim that somebody clipped him, but nobody believed it.)

The OSU ball-carrier stepped over him and ran into the end zone untouched, and our losing streak continued.

The loss stung for a little while, but after a few hours, we were laughing about it, and nobody was laughing harder than Drew. He proudly introduced himself to people as “Pound-for-pound, the worst athlete in Michigan Daily history.”

These stories of self-deprecation, good humor and humility might surprise the people who read Drew’s columns in the Detroit Free Press for years, because he had carefully cultivated a reputation as Detroit’s Doctor of Doom. Where others were quick to praise, Drew was always ripping the Lions and Tigers and especially the Wolverines. He was very hard on his alma mater, which is why people were always shocked to find out he actually went to Michigan.

People I talked to about Drew were even more shocked to find out that not only did he go to Michigan; he actually LOVED Michigan. He never wanted anyone to know it, but despite everything bad he wrote about his Wolverines, he loved them. In the same way that he never wanted people to know what a great guy he was, he didn’t want them to know just how much he loved Michigan. He would deny it, but he still bled maize and blue.

I have so many memories of my friend, and they’re all flooding back today. The road trips, the arguments, the laughs. We hung around a lot after college, too, and before we both got married, we took a few more road trips together.

If you read him in the Free Press or heard him on the radio, you probably had an opinion of Drew Sharp, because Drew Sharp had plenty of opinions of his own. People either loved him or hated him, but everybody talked about him.

Those who knew him will tell you that behind all that, he was nothing but warm and generous and funny, and a great, great friend. There was no better friend than Drew Sharp.

Drew and I kept in touch through the years, but the last time I saw him was a couple years ago when he came to Lansing to do a story. We got together for lunch, and it was a blast. We talked about old friends, we told old stories, and we remembered the time he fell down (“I still say I was clipped”) against Ohio State. And we laughed. A lot.

I wish I could do that one more time. I’d give anything for one more lunch with Drew. One more time to laugh and smile and remember the best time of our lives.

Rest in peace, my friend. I shall miss you forever.

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