Dreams from My Grandfather

A while back, on a lark, I googled my maternal grandfather, Leo Draveling. Because sports archivists are weirdly thorough, I found more than I was expecting. Best of all, I found pictures. Folks, here’s the 1930 Michigan Wolverines:

He’s number 37, second row (seated in chairs), second from the left. (Click for a bigger pic.) They went 8-0-1, tying Northwestern for the conference championship.

According to the roster, he was a tackle, and the second heaviest guy on the team at 208 lbs. Apparently he wrestled heavyweight for Michigan in the 2nd NCAA tournament in 1929. He didn’t place. He played in the NFL for one year with the Cincinnati Reds. I had no idea his nickname was “Firpo.”

Never met the man. He died when my mom was a teenager. He was apparently something of a brute and not entirely admirable. Roots mean somewhat less for me than for most people. That about a quarter of my genes are his makes his story part of mine only in a small causal sense. If this minimum of significance becomes meaningful or deep,  then it is because I choose to make up a story about myself in which it plays that role. I don’t. My junior high English teacher (or the sum total of things I have eaten, for that matter) have more to do with what I am.  That said, it is definitely interesting to vainly pick out the points of physical resemblance. I lament the cleft chin that might have been. And I find that, looking at my strapping grandfather, I am happy to believe that I possess a latent store of powerful athleticism. That hopeful and self-flattering interpretation of the chancy genetic facts will be useful, and to me entirely justified, if I am thereby moved to join a gym and reveal my inner All-American before I do come to weigh more than a tackle for the Michigan Wolverines.