Jim Harbaugh gives helmet, shoes to Pope

About a half hour after a service in St. Peter's Square this morning, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh presented Pope Francis with a pair of Nike shoes and a Michigan helmet.

The special helmet included a special yellow sticker with the No.266 — because this is the 266th pope.

Two Michigan players, Grant Newsome and Salim Makki, were expected to sit up front with Harbaugh but were not able to do it because of a lack of seats.

It was hard to tell how much time Harbaugh had with the pope, because the media was kept so far away that it was hard to see the exchange.

The exchange between Harbaugh and the pope happened after the Pope's service in the square, called a general audience.

"It's an incredible honor to be here with the Pope," said Jay Harbaugh, the head coach's son, as his father was about to meet the Pope. "It's almost surreal, We were about 15 yards from him. It's almost other worldly. Most people go their whole lives without seeing the Pope in person. It's pretty special."

When the players arrived in the square this morning, they walked solemnly in a single-file line.

They quickly drew the attention of a dozen children, who came up and asked for autographs. Others asked for selfies with the Wolverines, all of whom were wearing coats and ties, which made them stand out even more — huge Americans in suits, while most of the crowd was wearing casual clothing. Groups of school children wore matching, colorful T-shirts and waved flags.

Harbaugh was ushered away from the team and taken to a seat closer to where the Pope would eventually perform the service.

As the Pope arrived and rode through St. Peter's Square, the crowd screamed with excitement, and the Wolverines stood and held their cell phones. He was about 20 yards away from the Wolverines.

"I'm speechless," said Jared Wrangler, a linebacker who is Catholic. "It's unbelievable. Hard to put into words. I recognized some of it, from hearing it over and over. I was trying to follow along with the words."

This event was open to the general public — thousands filled the square on this day with a gentle breeze and perfect weather — but the Wolverines were given special seating up front. About 60 yards away from the Pope.

When the Wolverines were introduced, they screamed "Go Blue!" In Italian. This was not disrespectful. All of the groups screamed and jumped up and down after being introduced.

Carlo Kemp held a tablet, recording the first moments of the service. Other players stood on their chairs to get a better view.

The Pope gave his message sitting on a chair, holding a piece of paper, speaking into a single microphone. At times, the crowd broke out into wild cheers and applause.

The Wolverines sat in old plastic chairs lined in rows. Everybody still has a choir and the rest of the crowd setting the Lords player in Latin.

After the service ended, Monsignor Robert McClory walked up to the Wolverines, wearing a cassock. He is a graduate of Michigan's law school (1991) and will soon be the pastor of National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica Catholic Church in Royal Oak. He is in Rome on vacation.

McClory said the Pope's message was "God is with us and he is on the way with us. He's not separate from us. He is walking with us because he loves us. It was a beautiful message that you are not alone."

McClory will attend the practice Thursday.

This is all part of a week long tour through Rome, a trip sponsored by an undisclosed donor.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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