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September 3, 2013Michigan fans traveled from far and wide last Saturday to pack The Big House for the Wolverines' season-opening win over Central Michigan. All told, 112,618 people crammed into the stadium for the game.
However, there was one person - a crucial veteran leader of the team - who was not in attendance.
Fifth-year senior strong safety Thomas Gordon was back in Detroit, watching the game with his family. Two hours before kickoff, the Michigan athletic department sent out a release to announce that Gordon would be suspended for the opener for a "violation of team rules," though Gordon knew he would not play in the game for at least a week.
"I watched it with my family," Gordon said. "I was hurting, because I wasn't out there with my teammates. My family kept me in high spirits, and I was having fun watching the game, because I knew all the defensive calls. My family was looking at me like I was crazy, but I tried to make the most out of the situation."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke had called him into his office to hash out the details of the suspension. Both Hoke and Gordon declined to discuss what Gordon did to deserve the punishment.
"[Hoke] told me I let the team down, and I let him down," Gordon said. "Coach Hoke and I have a great relationship. It was like a father-son talk. I knew what was going to happen, and I had to move on.
"It was definitely tough to hear that you can't play the first game of your senior year. That's a memory that you're going to have forever. It definitely hurts. When I was first told about it, it hurt, but I knew I had to continue my leadership role. I couldn't let that keep me from doing so. I was still out there, encouraging guys, getting them coached up."
Gordon, who has started 27 games for the Wolverines, is a leader among the defensive backfield.
He hopes his experience will help his teammates avoid a similar situation.
"I spoke to the team during camp," he said. "They knew what was going to be the outcome, and it was important to me to tell them that, so they can learn from my mistakes. I am certain they will learn from it, and they won't make the same mistake I did.
"That was a big blow. It was a letdown on my behalf. Coach Hoke was obviously hurt by it, and I was, too. That's a mistake that can't be afforded and won't happen again."
Redshirt junior Josh Furman got his first-career start in Gordon's absence, recording four tackles.
Gordon was pleased with how Furman played.
"Everybody saw the potential that he came in here with," Gordon said. "He was out there flying around. He was communicating, making all the right calls. The coaches were very happy with his performance."
After the win Saturday, Hoke declined to elaborate on the suspension, but said, "He's part of our team, part of our family. He'll be out on the field next Saturday night [vs. Notre Dame]."
"Thomas Gordon has been a great young man here," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He has been a leader. He's been in there since I have been here. When you look back there and you see Thomas Gordon, you say, 'This guy knows the defense like you're supposed to know it, and he plays extremely hard.' Obviously, we're very excited to have a senior back in the mix."