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SALT LAKE CITY — As the leader of a worldwide faith, President Thomas S. Monson often delivered inspired sermons and pronounced blessings.
He was also occasionally known to utter the phrase "Go Blue!"
In recalling President Monson's ministry and devoted citizenship in the community, it is worth noting that he was an ardent football fan, particularly of the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Like his predecessor Gordon B. Hinckley, President Monson was a proud graduate of the University of Utah. He received his business manager degree cum laude in 1948, and worked for a time on faculty in the College of Business.
President Monson was also a BYU graduate; he earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the church’s flagship school in Provo in 1974, and was later bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Law in 1981 — he also received an honorary doctorate from Utah in 2007, and another from Utah Valley University in 2009, among others. He attended games at local colleges and universities as often as occasion would permit through the years.
But as a football fan, there was no team that could rival his love of Michigan, according to his 2010 biography authored by Heidi S. Swinton. President Monson recorded Michigan scores, wins and losses in his journal every New Year’s Day, Swinton wrote.
His affinity for the Wolverines went back to the days of Bo Schembechler from 1969-89, who enjoyed a friendship with former BYU coach LaVell Edwards and made several favorable comments about the LDS Church. Whenever Michigan played, President Monson was known to watch, wearing maize-and-blue whenever possible.
“It’s a rite of passage to be invited to join Grandpa in the basement on game day,” Swinton wrote. “He presents each grandchild a Michigan cap in a special ceremony with the Michigan fight song playing in the background.
“For years, when the team was ahead, he would call his friend John Burt and play the Michigan fight song over the phone. John was not a Michigan supporter. When the Wolverines won, he called John yet again, enjoying his success.”
President Monson’s love of football played a role in his church service, which began as early as age 22 when he was called to be the bishop of his LDS congregation in Salt Lake City. He later became president of the church’s Canadian mission at age 31, and was named a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles at 36 — a position he held for 44 years afterward.
Speaking in the April 1981 general conference of the church, President Monson recalled a visit to two widows from his ward who were watching a football game.
“At (a) nursing home on First South, we might interrupt, as I did a few years ago, a professional football game,” he said. “There, before the TV, were seated two widows. They were warmly and beautifully dressed, absorbed in the game.
“I asked, ‘Who’s winning?’ They responded, ‘We don’t even know who’s playing, but at least it’s company.’ I sat between those angels and explained the game of football. I enjoyed the best contest I can remember.”