Road Trip: Michigan Stadium

With Ohio State off for the weekend, our intern spent a football Saturday in Ann Arbor to check out the atmosphere around a Michigan football game. Given the Wolverines' struggles, it was an up-and-down day Up North.

With an off week looming for Ohio State, thus an off week for myself, my roommate and I decided to take a trip to another school in Big Ten country to take in a game and enjoy a different atmosphere.

After looking at the schedule of B1G games, we decided Penn State at Michigan would be the best matchup. It was only the third night game ever in Ann Arbor and with both teams having plenty of challenges this year, we figured it would make for an intriguing game. Plus we are both from Toledo, so it was a close drive from our homes and we have a good friend who goes to school there and, despite us attending Ohio State, welcomed us with open arms.

We took off early from Toledo on Saturday morning because we wanted to be there all day to witness first-hand the rumblings that have been going on in enemy territory. The first thing I saw when we got on campus was a T-shirt stand that was proudly displaying “Harbaugh Now” shirts. The stage had been set immediately.

The noon games had just kicked off when we arrived at our friend’s house, but we went out to get some food before checking in on them. There were plenty of fans and students in jerseys out and about on our walk around campus, but according to my friend campus was dead. In his four years it was one of the quietest game days he had seen. He said he had given up on the season. He definitely wasn’t the only one.

Students were still out partying and drinking, but each one I spoke to had zero hope in the Wolverines pulling out a victory against the Nittany Lions. I’m pretty sure they were more confident about Michigan losing than the multitude of Penn State fans that had traveled from Happy Valley. Even I was more optimistic about the Wolverines ending their losing streak than every student I encountered.

A couple of hours before kickoff we went to a fraternity that was hosting a party and things were pretty wild there. Students were definitely in good spirits, but the conversations I heard about the game were how long people planned on staying or how bad they were going to lose.

The students didn’t care about losing to the Lions however, as Penn State wasn’t the real enemy that night. That spot was reserved for athletics director Dave Brandon. The students truly can’t stand him. My friend assured me that there would be a “Fire Brandon” chant coming out of the student section at some point during the game. That happened in the second half after the PA announcer came over the speakers to proclaim the stadium attendance of 113,085.

Much of the hate on Brandon deals with how he has handled Michigan attendance, specifically raising student ticket prices. In fact, there was talk of fraternities trying to get all students to boycott the kickoff in protest of Brandon. There was definitely an empty pocket of stands in section 126 to start the game, and I didn’t ever see it completely fill out.

Meanwhile, head coach Brady Hoke has the sympathy of the students. They still want him gone at the end of the year, but he has their respect. The perception is that he is in over his head being the main man at a place like Michigan. The belief seems to be gone in him leading them back to the glory days of old.

It was my first time being in the Big House and my ticket happened to be in the student section. I was pretty excited when the stadium came into view. As I was walking in I heard a good amount of “We are Penn State” cheers and the fans in Sun and Blue didn’t seem to mind.

The student section was pretty electric, though, and cheered loud and hard all game, which I was pretty impressed with considering how boring it was. No matter how bad things have gotten, they still have all the love in the world for their team. Though their confidence has wavered, their passion certainly has not.

The best part of the entire game was easily Michigan wide receiver Dennis Norfleet. Norfleet, a junior, is also the return man for punts and kick offs and he gets the crowd hyped up every time he trots out to return one by dancing to whatever song is blasting through the stadium.

Before the game he requested to have George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” play every time he was in the end zone waiting to return one. The result was simply incredible. He has become one of my favorite players because of it and you all need to watch a clip of it now. I would go to another game just to watch this again because it was magical.

Also, Michigan’s band deserves a shout out for their halftime show. It was no TBDBITL, but it was innovative. All the lights were turned off in the stadium and the band members had lights on their hats and some had giant glow sticks. It was reminiscent of a Coldplay concert and was very entertaining. Here’s a quick clip of it.

Michigan’s defense harassed Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg all night and converted just enough field goals to pull away for the 18-13 win. That final score was just as kooky as the Michigan faithful was afterwards. The way they celebrated and shouted you would think they had just clinched a Rose Bowl berth. I guess after not being able to celebrate for three weeks, I should have seen it coming.

“It’s great … to be … a Michigan Wolverine” was the main chant I heard as fans poured out of the big house and into the streets. Like I said earlier, the passion is still there although the results have not been lately.

I’d much rather be in Columbus on a fall Saturday, but my first trip to Ann Arbor, even amidst the turmoil and parity, was a memorable one. I look forward to going back when, hopefully, they are back to being a national power.

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