Michigan fan inked with 12 Wolverines-themed tattoos

Man's obsession with U-M began when he was 13, growing up in Canada

By Jeremy Allen
The Ann Arbor News

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - It's no secret that Jay Rhadigan loves his wife. He's got a portrait of her - wearing a red dress, holding a hockey stick - tattooed on his upper right arm, and he talks about how great she is to anyone who will listen.

But if his love is measured by how much ink he has on his body and by how much he talks about a subject, his wife should be a bit jealous of his relationship with the Michigan Wolverines, according to The Ann Arbor News.

Rhadigan, a 40-year-old factory worker from Windsor, Ontario, has 12 University of Michigan-themed tattoos etched on his body.

Even tucked away inside the tattooed portrait of his wife are two tributes to his love affair with the maize and blue.

"If you look closely you can see the word 'Michigan' right here in the shaft of the hockey stick, and the Block M up at the top."

His obsession with U-M began about 27 years ago when he became a fan of the team as a 13-year-old growing up in eastern Canada.

Hockey was the king in his neck of the woods, but he also was exposed to a lot of Detroit-area television because it's what his hometown would broadcast.

"I saw a Michigan football game on TV, and I can't lie: I just fell in love with the winged helmet. It just blossomed from there," he said.

He moved from the east coast of Canada to Windsor, just a few miles from Detroit, and being closer to Ann Arbor made it easier for him to follow the team. It intensified his attraction.

"Once I started to learn what the school was about based on and philosophies and how the program was looked at, it was cool to see that things there aren't always just about winning, even though Michigan kicks ass," he said.

"It's about traditions. It's about values. I just love it."

Rhadigan didn't attend U-M because the international rates he would have had to pay were too much for him and his family to afford, but when he was 21 years old, he got his first Michigan-themed tattoo on his upper left arm.

It was a simple Block M with the word "Michigan" written through it and a banner reading "Go Blue!" waving underneath.

It took about 13 years for him to get his second U-M tattoo. After going so long between Michigan tattoos, modesty was an afterthought.

Across the outside of his right forearm, in big scripted letters from elbow to wrist, is the word "Michigan," and in the same fashion across his left forearm is the word "Wolverines." When he stacks his arms one on top of the other you know what team he cheers for.

His obsession only grew from there, and over the next few years is when the next 10 would come.

He's also got a skull with the winged helmet with the phrase "Hail to the Victors" inked around it, a shot of his favorite player Charles Woodson surrounded by each date the football program has won the National Championship, and the Bo Schembechler quote: "Those who stay will be champions."

He's got half of a Block M with a heart beating in the background to symbolize that he bleeds maize and blue and a paw print from his recently deceased dog Roxy with an "M'' inside the paw. Next came the tattoo of his wife with the Michigan themes buried inside.

"It's about traditions. It's about values. I just love it."

On his right calf is a partial helmet with a small maize "M," and on his left calf are the words "Go Blue" with a blue Block M in the background. On Rhadigan's chest is the original Michigan Wolverines logo, and his 12th and latest ink job is on his right ribcage - the Michigan drum line.

"For me, I like tattoos, and what better way than to portray your love for something than letting people see it publicly, no matter what it is? It's really a cool icebreaker, too," he said.

"I literally wear my love for my team on my sleeve. Even if people don't like the team, they still respect my passion for it and tell me they think it's cool to show my love and support for Michigan this way."

Adam Hoover, Rhadigan's best friend, is the owner of Electric Elephant Tattoos in Fair Haven, Michigan, just off the waters of Anchor Bay. Electric Elephant is where Hoover does all of Rhadigan's tattoos. He's responsible for 11 of the 12.

"We started hanging out, I had the shop, and it was sort of like, 'Hey, let's do this idea or that one,' and that's how it started," Hoover said.

"We kind of come up with the designs together. We just get to talking and something like this (drum line) comes together and I'm stuck doing it. He won't let anybody other than me tattoo him because I've done all but the first one of his tattoos and he loves them all."

Rhadigan said that other than the occasional "Ohio Bucknut" or "Sparty" fan he doesn't get any ridicule over his ink shrine to Michigan.

He uses his tattoos as conversation starters at times, and people think he gets the work done for attention, but at the core of it is just a simple man's love for the team he chose to support.

"I only do this for my enjoyment. That's what I get out of it. I do it all for me, not for what other people think. It was just my way of showing how big of a fan I am," he said.

"I just enjoy Michigan sports and the program as a whole. I enjoy every season. Obviously it's harder when you lose, but for me it's just about fun and being a fan. Win, lose or draw it's not going to matter to me. I'm going to be there."

Rhadigan's fanhood doesn't stop at tattoos. The super fan has a collection of memorabilia that includes a 1973 Bob Ufer vinyl LP of "Michigan's greatest games," a collection of more than 30 Michigan-themed garden gnomes, a maize and blue Christmas tree, a neon Michigan sign, and a barrage of posters, pictures, apparel and other collectibles.

He said it would be cliche to say his favorite memory as a Michigan fan is the Charles Woodson interception against Michigan State or the 1997 national championship. Instead he said his favorite moment as a Michigan fan came just two seasons ago.

"It's 2013 - the home opener against Western Michigan. Watching Jordan Kovacs lay the smack down on that damn (quarterback Alex Carder) and he popped his helmet right off," he said.

"I really followed his story because of how he got to be on the team, and to be at that game, the home opener, and to have that picture in my house and hear the sound of that hit, it was just so many cool things incorporated in one moment."

He said his Michigan-themed tattoos are far from finished, and he already has two more pieces in the works. One of them will include the Big House, and the other will be a tribute to all of Michigan's Heisman Trophy winners.

He even hopes to make it into the Guinness World Records for having the most tattoos dedicated to a single sports team.

With his wife's understanding of his love for Michigan, she knew she had to set some standards for their wedding, and even though she allowed him to wear a hat - he always wears a hat - she set one strict rule: No maize and blue.

Of course, when a man loves something so much, he has to honor his commitment.

So Rhadigan wore an all-black hat. And it had a black Block M on it.

Published: Tue, Jun 16, 2015


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