What’s the story?

‘The Michigan’

This month, I faced the curious task of writing a story about someone else’s story. Jon Fish, BA ’95, is a longtime producer at ESPN. He just completed a documentary about a fellow alum, Mike Legg, a hockey legend from the Class of ’97. He wondered if I’d be interested in writing about it.

For the uninitiated, Legg galvanized the Wolverines during a post-season run-up to the 1996 NCAA championship when he scored a momentum-changing goal by pulling a move no one had ever seen on national television. That hockey team would capture the Michigan program’s first national title in 32 years. Since retiring from the pros, Legg has been a firefighter and youth coach living in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I was “today years old,” as the kids say, when I first learned of Legg and ‘the Michigan,’ his famous lacrosse-inspired move that bedevils any goalie who confronts it. That said, as soon as I connected with documentarian Fish and watched his eight-minute short about Legg and his legacy I was all in. Fish’s piece is a “pure origin story” about a magical moment that transcends athletics.

A surprise to everybody

As a history major, sports fan, documentarian, and Wolverine, Fish hit the jackpot when he convinced the powers-that-be at ESPN to let him pursue the piece. The story was not just about a mesmerizing move some 30 years ago, he told them. It’s about a move that made a comeback some 30 years after the fact. He was proved right in the days before Christmas 2023, when NHL players Connor Bedard and Trevor Zegras pulled ‘the Michigan’ within hours of each other.

“This is not just something that happened in a game,” Fish says. “There’s a real story arc here. It was done, it went away, and now it’s back. And here are the reasons why.”

For me, what started as a print piece evolved into an audio feature because words on a page could not adequately convey the boundless enthusiasm Fish felt about the doc he’d just completed. His voice captured a range of moods in the telling: awe, wonder, curiosity, and passion. Mostly it was pure joy at meeting a fellow alum he’d cheered at Yost decades ago, one who shared a similar campus timeline and all the sentimental context that brings.

Researching the piece reconnected Fish with colleagues, alumni, and current staff from Michigan Athletics and WOLV-TV, WCBN, and the Michigan Daily. Sportswriter and Michigan grad John Bacon appears in the piece, as does former coach Red Berenson.

The Emmy-winning documentarian relishes the proximity his job affords to the athletes he admires. But nothing will compare to the four hours he spent with a classmate driving to their Canadian location in Jasper, Alberta. “There was a lot of ‘I remember this; do you remember that?'” Fish says.

“We had just come out of the Desmond Howard era and we had the Fab Five,” he recalls. “There was a lot of cool stuff going on at Michigan when we were there. Telling Mike’s story has been really, really special. He’s the best. He’s really the best.”

(Lead image of Fish and Legg by Dale MacMillan, courtesy of ESPN.)


Leave a comment: