A guest post by the biggest Michigan fan I know, Mister Brian Molloy.
If Fenway Park is a lyric little bandbox of a ball park, Michigan Stadium is a stunning crater smashed into the ground that has continued to rise on all sides over the years. Its most recent additions include towers on both the East and West sides with full stadium lights on top of each. Its growing size has made it the largest venue for watching football in America. It regularly holds over 110,000 fans and on special occasions can hold a bit more than that. The new East and West towers allow for premium seating options, as well as, help reflect the sound produced by the 110,000+ fans back into the stadium. The myriad new stadium lights allow for night games to be played at Michigan Stadium, something that hadn’t happened since it was built way back in 1927.
The football gods at the University of Michigan decided to debut the new lights on September 10, 2011 against the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Being somewhat of an obsessive Michigan fan, the first ever night game was something I couldn’t bear to miss. So I grabbed Becca, a plane ride, some amazing tickets to the game, and the two of us headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, mentally prepped for a memorable trip.
The game was titled, “Under the Lights,” by the Michigan powers that be, and from its original announcement until game time, those same powers that be went about making this first ever night game as special as anyone not playing in the game could. The two schools agreed to make it a throwback game that honored the proud and vast football histories that each school has and the rivalry that has exists between the two schools. To fit the theme, both Schools wore throwback inspired uniforms. U of M also had the cheerleaders from each school wear throwback uniforms, and even had the game day officials dress like officials from back in the day. Who doesn’t like a good game of dress-up? To let everyone else join in the dress-up fun, U of M and Adidas released a whole line of game specific gear, including hats, t-shirts, and replica throwback jerseys. Yes, I did get a shirt and a hat.
Believe it or not, Becca and I were not the only fans who decided the night game would be a great game to go to. From my rough estimates, every single member of U of M’s largest in the nation alumni association decided to return to Ann Arbor for the game. In four years of school there and a dozen weekends post graduation, I have never seen the town so crowded. Every store and restaurant was packed with fans eager to commemorate the game experience or relive their college days. All the popular bars had absurd lines at even more absurdly early hours.
But lots of people in town meant more than just crowds, it meant lots of good friends to see and tailgate parties to attend. All these friends and party options worked well with the first-ever night game start time, because when kick off isn’t until 8:00pm, you have a whole lot of partying time. Becca and I started off our game day Saturday with one of Becca’s local favorites, The Maize and Blue Deli. Apparently Michael Phelps also likes Maize and Blue Deli, so it must be a swimmer thing. Actually, everyone likes and/or LOVES Maize and Blue. Their sandwiches are huge and amazing, and come in such a large variety, be prepared to spend 10 or 15 minutes just gapping and drooling at the menu.
From there on, it was 7 hours of non-stop good ole tailgating fun. Becca and I stopped by at least 5 different tailgates over the course of the day, grabbing our fair share of beers and the occasional water as we made our way closer to the stadium and game time.
And then it was game time. What time is it? GAME TIME, WOOP! We arrived at the stadium to find it buzzing with thousands and thousands of excited people. The feeling was absolutely contagious. After a long day of tailgating in the sun, I was completely reenergized. Becca and I quickly found our way to the East Tower elevators and proceeded up to premium seating level 4. Premium Seats came courtesy of my generous uncle. He is a Michigan baller. Our original seats were inside, but we felt too separated from the stadium and the majority of the fans by the thick layer of glass surround our section. So Becca quickly worked her womanly ways, and before they even had the kickoff, we were sitting outside, completely immersed by all the night game fan fare. The stadium looked like a new place under the lights in the dark sky. It seemed to glow. And all the raucous fans moving, chanting, and cheering made it look like one huge pulsing organism.
The Michigan football gods made several brilliant calls to enhance the whole atmosphere and create additional memories. For one, they handed out roughly 100,000 maize (maize is Michigan for yellow) pompoms. The student section, in particular, used these to great effect. The students, 20 some thousand strong, all wore maize shirts, and when combined with the maize pompoms waving in unison, they looked like a field of maize wheat blowing in the wind. If wheat made a lot, A LOT, of noise, the comparison would be more apt. So imagine really noisy wheat. For another, they put a billion or so pixel camera in the center of the field and took a 360 degree photo of the whole stadium. Then they set up a site with the photo where you can search for and tag yourself in the photo. With cameras like this, the future is now. Here’s a link to the photo: Michigan fan cam. If you can find Becca and me, you’ll win a hearty congratulation from me.
And then there was the game. It was, with no exaggeration on my part, the best sporting event I have ever been to. BEST. EVER. Noted sports expert and blowhard, Mike Wilbon (an avid Michigan hater), has even proclaimed it the best game of this college football season. I can’t argue that proclamation. For starters, the game set an attendance record. You know those 110,000+ fans I mentioned earlier. Well on this night, Michigan Stadium was packed with 114,804 people. Its officially the largest crowded ever to attend a football game. Becca and I were 2 of those 114,804, no big deal. Without us, it would have just been 114,802, which is nowhere near as cool. As for the actual football, well you just really need to know about the fourth quarter. That fourth quarter started with the evil Irish up 24-7 and things looking mighty grim for the Michigan Wolverines. But then Denard Robinson and the rest of the Michigan players started surging. With just 1:20 left in the game, Michigan scored on a screen pass to the tiny Vincent Smith to go up 28 – 24. The stadium literally exploded in screams and joy. The game was ours and we knew it.
Unfortunately, the Irish didn’t agree. They promptly received the kickoff, and marched it downfield and scored a touchdown to go up 31-28 with just 30 seconds left in the game. The stadium was the exact opposite of what I just described. A vacuum had been placed above it and sucked out all our voices and our wills to live for that matter. A few shocked and saddened fans in my section even left. Who could blame them? There were only 30 seconds left. I could blame them, and I did. They are all currently on my not cool list, all ye of little faith.
In those last 30 seconds, Mr. Robinson found an open receiver for a 60 some yard pass, and with 8 whole seconds left, Michigan had the ball on the ND 16 yard line. It was just enough time for one shot at the end zone and then hopefully to kick a field goal if that shot failed. But that shot didn’t fail! Robinson hit Roy Roundtree in the corner of the End Zone with just 2 seconds on the clock to put Michigan back on top for good. The play and comeback were literally epic, insane, unbelievably perfect. The stadium collectively howled and danced and cheered and hugged and high-fived for 5, then 10, then 30 minutes. No one wanted to leave and lose the moment. Becca and I finally left after enough shouting to lose my voice and enough smiling to make my cheeks hurt. We spent the whole walk home surrounded by Michigan fans reliving the victory, and ignoring the scowls on the occasional ND fan who scurrying away to find a corner to hid in.
I have lived through many great moments and seen some undeniably wonderful things. All of them I wish to remember for the rest of my life. But I know, KNOW, I will never forget this first game under the lights at Michigan Stadium. And I feel especially lucky that I got to share it with Becca, who kindly let me write the blog post for her. Thanks baby and GO BLUE.
Still left wanting more? Click the images below to watch ESPN’s Road Trip experience under the lights! I wish I had this job.