My second stop on my Big Ten tour was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at Michigan Stadium – The Big House. I know that Michigan is the home of numerous top academic programs (one of my favorite law professors is a Michigan alum) and has a history of football dominance (history being the operative term at this time). Just remember I am not a Michigan fan. I was a visitor. I am a fan of the Virginia Cavaliers and Tennessee Volunteers (yes, I do not mind openly admitting this fact). On this day Michigan was hosting Purdue University. The preferred school of the majority of my work colleagues – I hear “boiler up” at lot. But on this day I had no dog in the race. I was present strictly for the experience. The wonder, if you will, of attending a football game in the NCAA’s largest football arena.
I am no stranger to large stadiums. The University of Tennessee’s fishbowl shaped football temple that is Neyland Stadium seats approximately 102,000 fans. I have spent many a Saturday cheering on the Vols with 100,000 of my closest friends. I get the whole “12th man” effect. It is real.
Stubhub hooked me up with a good ticket – sideline, section 42, 19th row – and I was off. Of course, it was a noon game, which required a 7:30 a.m. departure from FW, but I was committed to the endeavor so I was up and ready to go. Being a mountain girl, I adore a short cut, especially if it is a two lane road (reminds me of home, especially if the road has no lines). So, naturally, when the opportunity to take Route 60 to avoid Marshall, Michigan presented itself I could not say no. This route was working in my favor until I was gratuitously introduced to a friendly young sheriff’s deputy. The only consolation that he offered for casting the first blemish up on my driving record and issuing me a $100 ticket was that “I won’t be the only one” on that day. I found no comfort in that. Nice, Mr. Deputy, nice. I soldiered on.
The good news is that a colleague from work (one of the aforementioned Boilermakers) and his lovely wife are staunch Purdue fans (complete with Purdue hats, sweatshirts, and the like) and were going up for the game as well. They kindly invited me to tailgate with them and then take the shuttle to the game. This made the day immensely more pleasant. The idea of trying to decipher parking amidst 109,000 people in a town I had never navigated on a game day was not too inviting. Oh, and it was cold and rainy (don’t worry, my Daddy raised me right – I have all the outer-wear one will need for such events). I arrived at the pre-game gathering, which was complete with tasty snacks and a mix of Purdue and Michigan fans, and was made to feel right at home. The kindness and promise of fun was enough to drown the irritation from my encounter with the deputy.
Then we were off. The University of Michigan campus was beautifully painted in fall colors in addition to the omnipresent yellow and blue. As we approached the stadium we were engulfed by a sea of Michigan fans that filled a closed street. It was clear that these folks were serious. What was interesting and surprising were the number of young men in ties and some in jackets for the game. Fraternity types, no doubt. I stand corrected that this is a Southern phenomenon, it is not. However, I still contend that bowties are still Southern. But, I digress.
So far I was impressed. Ann Arbor is a classic college town. Fans come en masse and are a happy mix of drunk, rude, and friendly. We arrived at the stadium and I was met with my first concern – no bags. No bags. What? Not even my pocketbook, which on this day was a tiny little backpack (I have to carry my rain pants, wallet, camera, and phone in something). No. You must take your bag to another entrance and “check it”. This means that you need to leave your bag with your essentials in it with some stranger at a football stadium. No. Like any good Southern lady, I took my coat off and put on my tiny backpack on under my coat (my kind colleague pointed out that it was obvious that something was under my coat – I did not care) and walked right in. Sorry, but I am not checking my pocketbook at a football stadium. No.
I then made my way to my seat. It was good a good seat. Right at the end zone and directly across from the band. I love marching bands. I was positioned perfectly so that I could see both jumbotrons and the entire field without obstruction. Good stuff. It was pretty obvious that I had ended up in the season ticket holder section with the faithful Wolverines. The older alums and fans. I learned the fight song and motions very quickly. Luckily, I am good at clapping. Michigan Stadium is great. I hate to admit it but for the size and capacity it is much more fan friendly than Neyland Stadium at UT. It is wide and and open and not like a fishbowl at all. There are no three story ramps or upper decks that seems as though you could slide off with an errant sneeze. It is a great place to watch a game.
I am sad to report that the Michigan fans that I was amongst were not particularly friendly. It took my neighbors in my row an entire half to utter a word to me and then it was cool at best. Strange. Additionally, my Southern sensibilities and personal notions of good sportsmanship were a bit offended when I realized that there is an organized, marching band led, chant that ends with the entire Michigan contingent screaming “you suck”. Not impressive. I expressed this to a Purdue fan from my group and got the response “oh, that is football”. Well, no, it is not. Not in the Big East, ACC, or SEC. Apparently, it is football in the Big Ten. Maybe I am a prude, but that kind of nastiness is unnecessary and not pretty.
As for the game, well, Purdue failed to capitalize on two interceptions and Michigan decided to play in the second half. Go Blue! As for the rest of the fans, the student section is the most organized of any I have seen. I was advised that the wave is popular at games but it can only start in the students’ section. First the wave goes counter clockwise, then clockwise, then it goes both directions at the same time and back. It was pretty cool and fun, especially since everyone participated.
A highlight was the half time show. The Michigan Marching Band welcomed the Michigan Alumni Band to the field and they played together. It is impressive that the band alumni are so organize and involved. It was very fun to see the alums in jeans and matching shirts with their painted instruments and male baton twirlers going at it like they were still in college. I just can’t contain my love for marching bands. Of course, I am still partial to The Pride of the Southland Marching Band but Michigan was worth the trip (maybe not the ticket, but the trip).
The Big House experience is a spectacle. Despite the bag ban, the “you suck” chant, and the chilly reception given to outsiders it was fun and there is a lot of pretty to see. The campus is lovely and the stadium, while huge and rowdy, is pretty and very manageable for its size. I can’t say it converted me to a Michigan fan or even a Big Ten supporter, but I would go back.