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Steve stands at the podium and points to his tie clip, a horrendous copper thing snipped into the shape of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. He tells how the guys on the Northern Michigan coaching staff gave it to him a quarter century ago, when he left for California, with the warning, "Just don't forget where you came from." His players cackle at the sight of the clip. "I wear it proudly," he says, "and I know that's the case with everybody in this room. We never forget where we're from."
On July 1, as they have for the last eight summers, Mariucci and Izzo will host their annual golf tournament and auction in town. It's a two-day bonanza that this year reaches something of a climax. With the $250,000 they expect to raise this summer, they'll pay off the bank note on the $2.3 million Izzo-Mariucci Fitness Center, a two-story wing of Iron Mountain High complete with a state-of-the-art weight room. Since Tommy and Steve began pouring money into the school a decade ago, alumni donations to the scholarship fund have more than doubled. On July 2 Izzo and Mariucci will go off to Marquette for the 30th reunion of Northern Michigan's national championship squad, at which Mariucci plans to introduce Izzo as "our mascot," and they'll pass the Izzo-Mariucci Academic Center, for which each man anted up half of the $150,000 seed money.
"They'll never forget this place," says Buck Nystrom, one of Mariucci's coaches at Northern, after the Hall of Fame dinner. "That's not true of a lot of people." Nystrom looks up to see Steve's mom, who has stopped to say hello. He asks how she is, and she answers politely, and he presses, "But you're beating the cancer, aren't you?"
"Well...," Dee says.
More than anything, it's their parents who tie Mariucci and Izzo to Iron Mountain now. Dee has been fighting the effects of chemotherapy for six years. Each time Tom leaves his parents, Carl and Dorothy, he wonders if he's seeing them for the last time. Both couples are getting fragile. Still, when Steve goes into the basement, he can hear echoes of the nights when Ray taught him how to box; he can drive the road where his dad's headlights guided him on the jog to Pine Mountain. "My kids haven't had that," Mariucci says. "My oldest son, Tyler, has had 14 different bedrooms. Ask him, 'Where are you from?' He cannot tell you."
When he rides into town Tom can walk into the runty warehouse that spawned Tony Izzo & Sons, the multigenerational business where he went to work at 12 and learned to install a rug, resole a shoe, replace a zipper. Once, young Tom told his dad that he didn't need to study; Carl never finished high school, why should he? The next day Carl enrolled at Iron Mountain High with kids 20 years younger than he, and after getting his diploma, he became school board president. Each season Tom welcomes a busload of people from Iron Mountain to Lansing, comps them tickets and takes them to his house. "It brings me back," he says. "I live in a world that's phony. They're just so real."
Now that they're in the same state, Mariucci and Izzo see each other often: Pistons games, their own games, dinner. On June 8 Izzo drove to suburban Detroit for Mariucci's charity bocce tournament. "Oh, my God," Mariucci said when he saw him. "He's wearing the same shirt I've got on."
So he was: a slate-blue silk job, untucked over a pair of the same black pants. To everyone else it made sense, Tommy and Steve looking like fraternal twins. To the two of them, it's not that simple; they depend on each other--just as they depend on Iron Mountain--for different reasons.
"When I see him, it's safe," Izzo says.
"Everything changes," Mariucci says, "but the friendship is permanent. I wish everybody had that."