Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Michigan Wolverines (19), 9/22/18, 12:05pm
Wolverines 56 – Cornhuskers 10; Attendance: 111,037
Weather: Gorgeous – Sunny, mid 60’s; Ticket: Free, Face $80; Parking: $40
Review: “It doesn’t get any better than this” by Tree
Michigan Stadium, located in Ann Arbor, famously deceptive in appearance. The stadium is built primarily underground. In fact, three quarters underground so at eye level it does not appear that large. This allows it to hide its truly massive size. Michigan Stadium at 110,000 plus seats is the largest in the country. In fact, it was announced at the game I attended that it was the highest attendance of any game in the country for that day. Surprisingly, the stadium still has great sight lines. Our seats were generously given to me by a long-time high school friend, John, who has adjoining season tickets to his brother Mike. They were in the end zone about a third of the way up. It was a great view of the game and with massive and identical video scoreboards on either end of the stadium; every seat is guaranteed a good view of the action. The somanystadiums’ crew included my two buddies Jeff and Lou (of Ole Miss fame). They went the scalper route for the game and Lou negotiated two seats at $40 each. They were nearly at the top of the other end zone, but they said they were great seats. I have to take that with a little grain of salt because Jeff was born in Michigan and the Maize and Blue have been his team since birth. While he’s been to many other stadiums, he’d never been to the Big House. This trip was a bit like going to Mecca for him and he was like a kid, pestering us an hour before kickoff that we needed to shut down the tailgate so he could see all the pre-game festivities. Regardless, $40 for a Big Ten game is a pretty good price and with plenty of scalpers around, scalping is a viable option for tickets.
The scoreboards were effective at providing the stats of the games with a natural bias for Big Ten updates. We didn’t stay long enough to hear the score of the Slippery Rock game. Having grown up relatively close to Slippery Rock, that U of M tradition really is not novel to me. The rest of the stadium features are fairly standard: plenty of bathrooms – no troughs, basic concessions and a pretty good souvenir cup. The game was a “Maize out” so there was lots of yellow in the stands. It wasn’t as good as PSU, the standard bearer for blanketing a stadium in a single color, but it was a strong effort nonetheless. The sea of maize (they say it is different than yellow) was helpful to pick out what appeared to be a very small Nebraska contingent. It tells you how strong the U of M fan base is that the Husker nation appeared almost non-existent. Of course, with a stadium as big as Michigan Stadium, a ten-thousand strong group from Nebraska might have just been swallowed up the other 100,000 Michigan fans. The marching band was sounded sharp and looked snazzy, as expected. Various contingents of the band walked into the stands in third quarter to play the “Victors”. It is a great bit and not enough schools do it these days. I was particularly pleased when they came up our aisle and I got a front row seat to the flawless performance.
It gets pretty loud in the Big House, and you will hear the “Victors” a lot, especially if they are stomping the competition. Nebraska was the nail to Michigan’s hammer that day, but I never tired of the cheer. Other than that though, there were not that many other notable traditions. They do a series of the “Wave” which start with a standard speed wave, than a super slow wave, followed by a fast wave. Unfortunately, it died three quarters of the way through the slow wave stage. They used to do other traditions, like marshmallow fights in the stands. I assumed a skittish administration considered this was too much of a liability and put an end to such frivolity. The bouncing beach balls still maintained a presence during down time, seemingly shortening the TV timeouts for those of us in attendance. The fans are loud and knowledgeable. In fact, Mike told me if the Wolverines aren’t playing up to expectations, the crowd can turn on them. There are high expectations for a program with multiple national titles under their belt. This game was over at half time, and my son and I were impressed that all the fans that exited for half time actually returned for the third quarter. This does not happen often at games I attend. I did not really see any coordinated cheers. They do a have wave motion that looks an awful lot like the Tomahawk Chop but without the accompanying chant. Normally, I like to see lots of traditions but this crowd was so fired up that I did not miss the lack of customs.
Ann Arbor is a suburb of Detroit and if driving isn’t an option, flying to Detroit is recommended. Jeff convinced me to substitute the Michigan game instead of the Friday and Saturday double header I had originally planned at Illinois and Indiana. Accordingly, I flew into Chicago and the drive out of O’Hare was not fun. Adding on a Bataan Death March (primarily thanks to a plucky first half effort by the Illini Friday night) of a drive down to Champaign and a late night drive returning to Ann Arbor via Kalamazoo tested even my fervent dedication to college football. Lou and Jeff clearly weren’t up for it, bailing on me two days before the Illini kickoff (I guess they aren’t always “Fan Enough”.) Getting to the stadium once in Ann Arbor was simple and cash lots were plentiful. However, I recommend ponying up an extra $20 or $30 for either the Pioneer High School lot or the Golf course lot next to stadium. We were running behind thanks to my late sleeping associates – more on their evening exploits later – so we didn’t arrive to the golf course lot until about 9:30. I was afraid it was going to be full, but luckily there was plenty of space. The $40 we spent was worth it. This was easily the best tailgating spot I have seen in my travels with no disrepect respect to the Grove. First, anyone with some cash can utilize it. Second, you park in the rough with tons of space to set up your grill, tent and cornhole. Additionally, you can toss the football around on the fairways. It is a well-run operation by the University, with plenty of porta potties and trash cans. The earlier you get there, the more likely you will be surrounded by elaborate rigs. Even with our late arrival, there were still folks to either side of us.
This game was a blowout. Nebraska won the coin toss and nothing else. Their stud rookie QB Adrian Martinez had returned from injury and I thought that might spell trouble for the Wolverines. However, it was four plays in and Martinez threw a pick. Two plays later, Michigan running back Karan Higdon ripped off a 46 yard run to the Nebraska 11. In true Big Ten fashion, the Wolverines then ran the ball four straight times to score the first touchdown of the game. It was then three plays and out for Nebraska. Apparently, Higdon wanted this game over because he then ran 44 yards for another touchdown. Nebraska did another three and out. Michigan took over but this time it took eight plays before they scored. They missed the PAT, which finally gave the Husker fans a reason to cheer. Nebraska then managed a first down, confirming that those really were the Huskers down there and not a beefier, uglier version of the Rockettes. This in turn appeared to fire up the Nebraska defense, who finally managed to hold Michigan to a three and out. Their reward? A trip right back out on the field, as the Nebraska punt returner fumbled the ball and Michigan recovered. For those of you keeping score at home, it was Michigan 20, Nebraska 0 when the first quarter mercifully came to an end. Harbaugh laid off the throttle in the second quarter and only scored 19 points instead of 20. At the half, it was Michigan 39, Nebraska 0 and the rout was on. Michigan rushed for 285 yards, led by Higdon’s 136 yards while Nebraska had 132 total yards. The only way Nebraska was going to win this game was if Jeff, Lou and I were forced to be Michigan’s backfield. And truth be told, the way Michigan’s line was gouging the Nebraska defense, the result still might have been in question.
Everyone we met was great. Lots of folks travelled, including the guys from Buffalo, N.Y. that parked next to us. There is a noticeable difference between the North and South when it comes to attire of the students. In the South, I see a lot more variety from “guys in ties and girls in pearls” to business casual (golf shirts and khakis) to business inappropriate (very short skirts, camo t-shirts, and jorts). Up North, it all tends lean toward classic college casual – school t-shirt and blue jeans. It is more boy/girl next door rather than guys/girls gone wild.
Ann Arbor is a nice college town to hang out in as Jeff, Lou and my son Trent can attest too. They hit the bars Friday night and found it quite enjoyable. Apparently too enjoyable, as the guy with three hours of sleep was left ready and waiting at a Target parking lot meet up until those jokers strolled in a half hour late. (Again, not always “Fan Enough” or maybe it is to “Too much Fan enough”.) In any case, despite my lack of sleep I was ready to sample the wares of greater Ann Arbor after the game. We hung out at the golf course as long as they would let us. It was that kind of day, just beautiful weather. The kind that has forty something guys running fade routes chasing old glories while washing it down with cold Miller Lite. Once we were kicked out, we headed into town. After eating at an excellent bohemian restaurant which made Jeff and Lou feel awkward in their Great Lakes conservatism, we headed out to the bars. Jeff had already reverted back to kid mode, noting that he just wanted to go back to the suburban enclave we were staying at to watch the Indian-MSU game in man-cave peace. Lou, Trent and I conspired to keep Jeff out on the town; we devised a plan to hit a few more bars one drink at a time.
We did not make it past the second bar. Jeff spilled not one, but two drinks in a matter of minutes. Whether this was a tactical maneuver or just time and the alcohol catching up with him will be debated for years to come. Lou pressed on, ordering two rounds of shots. The effect of which was to simply crush whatever remaining sobriety was left in him. Time of death for Saturday night was 9:30 pm. Trent sighed, his youth and high tolerance wasted for the evening. He gave me the knowing look that it was time to get the boys home before things got truly ugly. Lou’s car would have to spend the night at the Target parking lot, cold and alone.
All that aside, it does not impact my review of Michigan. It is the quintessential college football experience. In fact, it was nearly perfect. While I can’t guarantee a beautiful autumn day, is glorious when it is. The set up at the golf course is perfect for tailgating and anyone can take advantage. Well, anyone who can master an alarm clock that is. The stadium is a masterpiece of classic game viewing design. The program is rich in tradition and a perennial contender. The fan base is as strong and committed as any in college football. The only black mark of the day was a weak Nebraska team which is hardly the fault of the Big House. For a true college football fan, a game at Michigan Stadium is a must see.