I went to last night’s Penn State game at Michigan “under the lights.” As advertised, rock music (and, gasp! Hip Hop) blared from the stadium PA, tickets were expensive, halftime featured newfangled glow globes emphasizing the night-game break with tradition, etc.
After halftime, it was announced that a (presumably wealthy) couple had donated the funds needed to pay for the halftime show. I didn’t see much evidence of donor disgust in that data point.
My understanding is that this was the first ever Big Ten game played at night at Michigan Stadium. It was only the third ever night game, period (the previous two were Notre Dame games, which aren’t happening again for a while). So once again, this was a break from the traditional mid-day kickoff time.
Eve the opponent, Penn State, was a bit of a novelty in the 115-year history of Michigan football. Penn State was the team that broke the tradition of the Big Ten having, you know, ten teams, when it became the 11th member in 1993. 1993 is just yesterday for a sport and a school that traces its traditions back to the 19th century. It may seem like a deep rivalry, but the two teams had only met 17 times before last night.
Despite these egregious breaks with tradition, the game had attendance over 113,000. The crowd was universally enthused during each timeout in which said prerecorded music played, esp. Michiganders like Enimem and White Stripes. The band was well appreciated too, but I didn’t experience one iota of decreased fan excitement between the two kinds of music.
One item I forgot to mention at first — the crowd went wild when Dennis Norcroft, kick returner, did a nicely choreographed dance to George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” (for you younguns, you might recognize it as the core song behind ”Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”). In other words, though I am not sure Bo Schembechler would agree this was the Michigan Way, Michigan played a funk song behind a hiphop smash and a football player started DANCING on the field and yet everyone loved it. Enjoy it yourselves:
Before the game, we went by the M Den, the store selling nothing but Michigan sports paraphernalia. It was so packed we took a photo
and then left, headed to the real campus bookstore, which was empty. I saw zero aversion to commercialization of the Michigan football team on Ann Arbor’s Main Street.
After the game, in our hotel 15 miles away from Ann Arbor, the breakfast buffet is packed with people my age (47) or older, all in blue and maize, many In brand new “under the lights” garb. Old couples are replaying the game and comparing to past years. The name Tom Brady is coming up a lot, but for the most part, people seem jazzed that Michigan won last night. Nary a “Brandon must go” was heard.
I know I am picking a one-way fight with the John U. Bacon Weltanschauung that says the problem with Michigan is an absence of Raccoon Coats, sisboombah, and you know, RESPECT FOR TRADITION.
Neither Michigan nor Penn State are going to win the national championship this year. But the game was exciting (if not exactly All-American in quality) and the fans were into the energy and the fun of the game. No one said “get off my lawn” in my section of the end zone. Maybe up in the suites where the snooty folks sipped Chablis and read the hard copy New York Times, there were tut tuts about kids having no respect, but out in the iPhone sections, where the “cheap” seats cost $150, everyone had a good time and left in a good mood, except for that one lonely Penn State guy and even he was good-natured about it.
Admittedly, my whole weekend in here in Ann Arbor is only my third visit ever and is only one, long extended multi-dimensional data point. And my perspective may be skewed by the fact that I am just a Michigan dad and not a Michigan alum, I bleed (Stanford) Cardinal not Blue, etc. And Michigan won, which always helps soothe an angry fan base. But Bacon’s viewpoint is as skewed, I think, as mine, and the fact that a win can soothe the crowd is a sign that perhaps it’s not the breaks with traditional game-time activities, or even game time itself, or ticket prices, but instead the break with the tradition of winning that has the Bacon crowd up in arms. What people say and what they do are both Informative, but when they vote with their wallets, shell out the money, come to the game, and leave happy, I would be disinclined to listen to loudly to complaints that the problem is pervasive or unfixable by a winning seasons or two.
I believe Mark Twain would agree with me that tales of Michigan’s fandom’s demise are greatly exaggerated.