Column: Beyond football: What Michigan home games mean to Ann Arbor
Author's note: When my wife read the first draft of this article, she said it was good, but that the first part should be at the end and the end at the beginning. That’s why I am, unconventionally, introducing myself before explaining the series of articles I will be writing in the coming weeks.
I first started going to Michigan football games during middle school. My brothers and I got there early to watch the teams warm up. We zeroed in on our favorite players in the winged helmets and maybe a star or two from the other team. Then everyone else would show up and the game would begin right at noon. I had no concept of there being anyone or anything else there than the teams and the fans.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
That wasn’t all bad. It meant that the fences around the stadium were lower, and I have heard that kids could climb over them when nobody was watching. There was only that one row of barbed wire at the top to worry about.
My father took tickets at gate two for years, then at the "will call" booth until he was 90 years old - a total of 57 years service. He would come join my mother, brothers and uncles at halftime in the south end zone (section 13).
After the game, my brothers and I ran through the crowd, dodging oncoming fans as if they were the opposing tacklers, and pretending to be Terry Barr or Jim Pace. Or for you younger folks, Ron Johnson or Rob Lytle or Mike Hart. We were off to the park to play our own little football game with friends.
I still remember those frustrating Ohio State battles when we beat them in every statistic except the score. They went to the Rose Bowl and we sat home and watched on New Years Day. Archie Griffin won his two Heisman Trophies at our expense. And there was Roger Staubach of the Naval Academy evading tacklers in the backfield until he found a receiver or had room to run. Or that long touchdown pass by Colorado to win at the end in 1994, a bit like Anthony Carter would do to Indiana and other teams. Later, when I was a letter carrier for the post office for 25 years, I worked most Saturdays, but I always had my radio along. If it happened to be a lighter mail day, I ran my route so that I could finish in time to watch the game on TV somewhere.
It was excitement every fall Saturday. Win or lose. The times we lost to you-know-who or a bowl game, the grieving process lasted for at least a week. But win, that was easy to take, how life was supposed to be, and became expected as the years rolled on.
I still love the games, but I ask myself every year why am I yelling and jumping, getting angry and elated over a bunch of teenagers playing ball on a Saturday afternoon. I mean, it’s just a game. I have resolved to take a more mature, more sedate approach; and I have succeeded many times - until about three hours before the first kick off of the season.
So that’s me. My wife is happy now and I can get to the point of today’s article: as I have learned more about what happens behind the scenes at a game, that not everything and everyone magically appears ready to go at kickoff as it does when you turn on the TV, the more I appreciate the whole atmosphere. Because it isn’t just a game. It’s a part of life for a whole city, for more than 100,000 fans, for players and coaches, and for those who help make it possible. (I even ran into one man who drives to Ann Arbor from Virginia for every home game).
The six biggest events of the year in Ann Arbor are about to begin, and will all take place at the same location - Michigan Stadium. Everyone in the city is affected, willingly or unwillingly. Even those who could care less about football. How many times this fall will you hear, "Is there a home game this week?"
In the coming weeks, I will try to give you a view of what goes on in and around the stadium other than the play on the field. From ticket takers to popcorn makers, from medical to security personnel, the list of those who make the event possible is almost endless. Some of these people you may have seem or interacted with if you attend the game, or seen briefly on television.
I hope you enjoy the games this year. I hope also that you enjoy our series on the people behind the scenes who you may interact with, see from a distance or never see. And that it makes football Saturday even more meaningful to you.
If you have ideas for future columns, please email email@example.com.