Like most football teams, Michigan has a regular routine of walk-throughs and meetings on the night before a game. To get ready for Monday's Outback Bowl, some Wolverines added an extra item to the itinerary, a gathering that included two professional hairstylists and several boxes of orange dye.
Senior defensive end Chase Winovich and several of his teammates gathered in the hotel suite of defensive coordinator Don Brown on Sunday evening to make good on a promise Winovich made two weeks earlier. They will take the field against South Carolina on Monday afternoon with long hair, dreadlocks and bushy mustaches colored bright orange as part of a pledge to raise money and awareness for pediatric brain cancer research.
What started in mid-December with a hope to raise $15,000 (to match Winovich's No. 15 jersey) has led to nearly $400,000 in donations to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative.
Winovich picked that cause in memory of Chad Carr, who died two years ago after battling a rare disease called DIPG and a resulting inoperable brain tumor. Carr was the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and son of former Wolverines quarterback Jason Carr.
"The holidays are a hard time, and it's been a real gift to us to be able to watch the fundraiser and have fun having people remember Chad," said Tammi Carr, Chad's mother and the founder of the ChadTough Foundation. "It's what we think he was meant to do on this Earth, change this disease. Seeing that orange hair is going to be heartwarming."
Tammi Carr said she didn't know Winovich personally until he tapped on her car window outside the football team's workout facility after a bowl practice earlier this month. The All-Big Ten pass-rusher told Carr he had been growing out his hair all year in hopes of using it to help a charitable cause. He wanted to see if there was a way to use his beyond-shoulder-length locks to help the ChadTough Foundation.
"I was thinking, 'How could I help a charity? What unique talents do I have that could bring people together?'" Winovich wrote on the crowdfunding website they have used to collect donations. "The one thing I really had that a lot of people don't have is the long hair. It's very noticeable, it's very divisive -- people love it, and there's some people that don't like it."
Soon after, Winovich talked a fellow standout defensive lineman into going orange with him if the contributions hit $73,000 (to match Maurice Hurst's No. 73). Other players, such as linebacker Devin Bush, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and wide receiver Grant Perry, also jumped on board. Eventually, they managed to talk Brown into dying his mustache -- which is such a defining facial feature that it garnered its own parody Twitter account -- if the donations hit $125,000. The drive passed that mark on Christmas Day.
"It's a tremendous cause. I'm not quite sure how I ended up in the middle of it, but it's all good," Brown told reporters in Florida a few days later. He told them he'd probably have to shave the day after the game. "That'll take about a week to grow it back, not to worry," he said.
Michigan regent Ron Weiser had previously agreed to match up to $1 million in donations to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative, doubling the $199,050 (and counting) raised as of Monday morning.
The Carr family is hoping its foundation can help raise $30 million to name a research center after Chad on the medical campus in Ann Arbor. In roughly a year's time, they've made it more than two-thirds of the way toward that goal.