I wrote a story in January, 2015 called Plaid Pants. Filled with disdain, (not the pants, but the feelings which were well deserved) about pretty much anything to do with U of M. How I acquired these feelings of disgust and scorn though started much earlier in 1987. The year we moved to Michigan and pritnear lived in the shadow of the Big House.
When we moved to Michigan I was filled with hope. Yes, it was a jaunt from our Iowa home turf but the climate was similar, we were still in Big 10 country and now living about 30 miles south of Michigan State and 35 miles west of the University of Michigan. When I was growing up, I concocted these fantasy images about Ann Arbor. Not only a neat name but sounded like the perfect college town. These fantasies were about to receive a brutal reality check. Live and learn.
Rest assured, I’ll not repeat the Plaid Pants story (it is pretty cute though). Suffice it to say I feel like I’ve known Jim Harbaugh all of his life although I’ve never been with 500 feet of the man (damn Restraining Order-I’m kidding-lighten up). Jim grew up in Ann Arbor and went to Pioneer High School until his family moved to California. He then got a football scholarship and was starting quarterback for University of Michigan in the mid-80’s. I watched my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes beat Jim and his cohorts 12-10 in one of the best college football games ever played at Kinnick Stadium in 1985, never realizing in less than 2 years we’d be living 30 miles from the Big House instead of 50 miles from Iowa City. Life is messy. Things change.
Our first year in Michigan we got tickets to watch the Hawks play the Wolverines at the Big House. I was so excited to visit another football stadium. What a disaster! We lost big time, the fans were nasty and some old dudes in maize and blue plaid pants accosted us verbally during the long walk back to our car. I vowed that day never to step foot on that football stadium again. Any feelings I had for U of M, the city of Ann Arbor-poof-vanished that day-never to return. It’s now been 30 years with very little change in my attitude for anything Wolverine-ish. Really I should get some kind of reward for grudge holding. I’m damn near perfect at it. (You can message me for my winning tips).
I did have mild interest when U of M hired Harbaugh in 2015. Jim’s appearance back in the state was hard to ignore with the influx of articles and interviews as a daily reminder how important Michigan football is to their rabid fans (at least in their own minds). He’s done well too, now in his 5th season as head coach. Brought in a ton of money for the University with everything from clothing to season ticket sales (which I think hovers around 90,000) this year. Unbelievable. Ninety thousand season ticket holders. Wow. Don’t kid yourself though, Jim goes through the bucks too, recruiting, taking his team to Italy one year, South Africa another year. He’s is the second highest paid coach in the country-Nick Sabin rules). He’s very popular. Whatever.
My son-in-law Tracey is principal at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, which happens to be right across the street from the Big House (just shoot me now. What are the odds)? Pioneer’s massive parking lot morphs into a second city on U of M home game weekends. Parking in Pioneer’s lot costs a freaking fortune and is literally filled with hundreds of recreational vehicles who arrive to tailgate for the weekend. Before school started Hubs asked Tracey to look for tickets for the Iowa-Michigan game. I assumed Josh, Adam or Graham would be going with him. It wasn’t gong to be me.
I’ve never understood the reasoning behind “going” to the game as opposed to “watching” the game at home. Everything about the game is better on TV than in person. You don’t have to worry about the weather, parking, the humongous expense of tickets. You can watch all the replays, don’t have to stand in line for 10 minutes to pee. (One thing I noticed in the 30 year gap between attending games. The ‘official’s time out’ are more frequent and very, very long. It’s quite possible to forget what sporting event you’re attending). My snacks are better and I don’t have to pay 5 dollars for bottled water. It’s gotta be the atmosphere and camaraderie, but just how appealing is being scrunched in with 110,000 strangers, most of whom stand through most of the game? Nil. Absolutely zero appeal for me.
A month ago Shannon, Tracey and Peyton took us out for supper for our anniversary. A place we’d not tried before called The Black Rock. Unique joint, your steak comes to the table partially cooked on a 750 degree black rock (thus the catchy name). Your server tells you approximately how much longer to cook that puppy (steak really, there were no puppies on the menu) once you flip the meat for how rare you prefer). We got a fancy dessert afterwards and had a really nice time.
I opened our cards at the table and out slips 2 football tickets for Iowa-Michigan on October 5th. Oh. Well it has been 32 years. However, it didn’t feel like there had been sufficient time to let my grudge go. I’m still in the rookie phase. But the thoughtful gesture was unmistakable. Shannon had attended an event for a former high school classmate who had recently passed away. Her class was establishing a scholarship fund in his name. The U of M tickets were part of the silent auction that night (meaning probably one of the 90,000 season ticket holders donated their tickets for this event). Nice. Shannon kept bidding until they were hers. I mean ours.
The game was 2 weeks away, giving me only 14 days to stew about it. (Got the tickets on the same day I fell on my replacement knee so you can see why I had some misgivings). How was I gonna use a cane with thousands of people milling about? Our seats were section 2, right behind the Hawkeyes bench in row 51. Could not imagine walking up or down 40 steps with the masses. How crowded are the seats, how close is the row in front of me? Would I ever be able to stretch out my leg instead of leaving it bent for 3 hours?
The forecast called for cloudy skies, high around 60. Game time was noon, we left about 9:30. Tracey gave us his parking pass, saving us 50 bucks. (Thanks T). We turned into Pioneer’s lot and the first Michigan tailgater yells, “welcome to Michigan, Iowa fans!” (Who are these people? Hubs was wearing an Iowa hat which was easy to spot). We know this parking lot well, our grandson Landon just graduated from Pioneer and Peyton’s a sophomore. But many of the rows are cordoned off, giving the RV tailgating people more like small neighborhood squares. I ended backing up because several rows didn’t go through. Finally found a decent spot, got out and start lumbering towards the Big House. Most people are careful when they notice my cane. We have to cross one street with literally hundreds of fans, but no one is careless or going lickety-split. We walk around (the place is MASSIVE) quite a ways until we see gate 2. I buy some kettle corn and use the restroom, hoping I won’t have to leave again during the game. We walk through the tunnel and notice we’re farther up than I realized. I’m dreading how far away row 51 is when one of the ushers looks at my ticket and says, “This is your row, down one step, left and in about 6 spaces.” Our row had a cement back. Couldn’t have asked for better seats.
We did see a couple thousand Hawkeye fans, several right behind us. The game was not the best. I think it was much more important to the Wolverines than it was for the Hawks. Harbaugh and his team were soundly spanked at Wisconsin (good times) the week before and Jim’s job longevity might have been a bit shakey. (Even though Harbaugh’s averaging 9 or 10 wins a year, he’s kinda struggling because he can’t seem to win the games that mean the most to the Michigan masses, namely MSU, Big 10 Conference winner, the final 4 of the National Championship and the biggest doozy of them all, beating Ohio State). So he really needed to win the Iowa game. And our offense forgot to show up so there’s that. All my worrying was for naught. The weather was great, the seats were good, no one swore or threw anything at us, which was a nice change. I might go back in another 30 years.
The road in front of Pioneer runs north for 2 lanes and south for 2 lanes, with a turn lane in the middle. At the end of the game the police make everyone leaving the parking lot turn south. To make this more efficient, they make all 5 lanes head south. Which is the direction that leads us back to 94, so we’re good. It takes us about a half hour to get out of the lot. Most tailgaters have no intention of leaving just yet. They simply fire up the grill, grab a beer, pull out some chairs and keep right on partying.
As my Jeep nears an opening leading to the road, I spot a blue porta-potty in the parking lot. (Somebody actually brought this along to the game? Be serious! Yes, they did). Since I’m only moving about a foot a minute, I snag my phone to snap a shot of this hilarious scene. That’s it right there in a nutshell. A small sign screwed into the side of the porta-potty which reads-Private shitter-keep out. Can you stand it? Giving a whole new meaning (and totally appropriate) to U of M’s catch phrase, GO BLUE…