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Kyle Rowland | The Blaze | December 11, 2016

Miami is full of memories for Jim Harbaugh

  Jim Harbaugh's earliest memories of palm trees, beaches and coconuts are from an Orange Bowl trip.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When the Michigan Wolverines and their traveling party touch down in Miami for the Orange Bowl, it will be a walk down memory lane of sorts for Jim Harbaugh.

Forty-one years ago, he traveled with the Wolverines to the 1976 Orange Bowl as his father, Jack, was an assistant coach under Bo Schembechler.

The trip featured many firsts -- ocean, beach, palm trees, and coconuts -- and left an enduring impact on Harbaugh.

"That's the first time I ever did see the ocean, the first time I ever saw a beach, the first time I ever saw a palm tree," said Harbaugh, who was 12 at the time, reminiscing about the trip.

"We worked for hours to try to get a coconut out of the tree. We tried climbing, we tried getting sticks, we tried shaking it and then, finally, we just threw rocks at it until it came down."

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Harbaugh and his brother, John, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, proceeded to open the coconut by smashing it against a curb.

"We ate it," Harbaugh said, smiling.

"It was one of life's memories. A signature moment."

Another memorable event from December, 1975, was a side trip to Disney World, then in its fourth year of existence, which was organized by Schembechler. Problem was, the Harbaugh clan arrived back at the team bus a few minutes late.

Jack, relaying the story in 2010, said he feared Schembechler, a stickler for promptness, would fire him. As luck would have it, the Schembechler group also was running behind.

"I remember thinking, that's it, my job's gone because Bo Schembechler waits for no one," Jack Harbaugh said. "We sprinted to the bus and got on, and Bo was in the first seat. He looked down as we walked past and then I was sure I was going to be fired. A few minutes later, Bo's wife and younger son get on the bus, the doors closed behind them, and we took off. Bo's kid saved my job."

A few nights later, Jim Harbaugh stood on the Michigan sideline during the game. No. 3 Oklahoma beat No. 5 Michigan 14-6, catapulting the Sooners to the national championship after No. 1 Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl earlier that day.

"That was an amazing team," Harbaugh said of Oklahoma. "Running the wishbone, that was pretty cool."

He returned to the Orange Bowl in 2010 with a top-five Stanford team that clobbered Virginia Tech 40-12. It was another trip with memories for Harbaugh as his daughter Katherine, born that Dec. 17, made the journey.

An 11-win season would create another positive Orange Bowl experience for Harbaugh. The fan in him can't wait to see Florida State's traditions up close and personal.

At the Orange Bowl welcoming news conference Wednesday in Hollywood, Fla., Harbaugh gave a five-minute sermon on the Seminoles' history.

"Renegade, the war horse. The spear. The tomahawk chant," Harbaugh said. "I've never been to a game at Florida State, but I always wanted to. I always wanted to go to a game at their stadium and see that atmosphere in person. This will be as close as I've ever been to that. I'm excited about that."

Florida State's mascot, Osceola, and his horse, Renegade, ride into the stadium and spike a flaming spear into midfield, providing college football with one of its most recognizable symbols.

"I'm going to get some chills when the Appaloosa [horse] comes riding out there," Harbaugh said.

As Harbaugh orated, Jimbo Fisher couldn't hide his chuckling. When Harbaugh asked the Florida State coach if the mascots -- they're approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida -- would be present, Fisher said only if the Orange Bowl allows it.

"Well, you have our permission," Harbaugh said. "I want to see that. That is cool. A lot of teams have cool things. But that's right up there with the coolest things [in college football]."

Maybe cooler than the beach and coconuts.

This article is written by Kyle Rowland from The Blade and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.

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