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It takes green to go blue

Illustration by Alicia Kovalcheck Buy this photo

By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published January 8, 2013

It’s a familiar story to Engineering senior Kanchan Swaroop, though she’ll never remember experiencing it.

On Sept. 14, 1991, quarterback Elvis Grbac led Michigan to a thrilling 24-14 victory over then-No. 7 Notre Dame at the Big House.

It was a career day for Grbac, who completed 20 of his 22 pass attempts — none more famous than his toss to eventual Heisman Trophy winner, wide receiver Desmond Howard. That play, known simply as “The Catch,” involved Howard laying out in the end zone to seal the win on fourth down.

The win breathed new life into a season that would culminate in a Rose Bowl berth for the Wolverines. And a stone’s throw from Michigan Stadium at the University Hospital, Swaroop took her first breaths.

Many students at the University claim to have been Wolverine fans since birth. Swaroop can say so quite literally.

At halftime of the game, with Michigan leading 17-7, Swaroop was born.

“It was perfect timing for (my dad) because he didn’t have to miss any of the game,” Swaroop said.

When the game resumed, her father turned the hospital room television to catch the second half, cradling his newborn baby at the same time.

Earlier this month, Swaroop — who said Michigan football has forever been a part of her family — watched a game from a different vantage point than her usual sixth-row seat in the student section. This time, she traveled to Florida, where she attended the Outback Bowl with her brother Alok, a University alum.

They weren’t alone.

On the road

Though the team’s Rose Bowl hopes dissipated in the season’s final weeks, Michigan, with its notoriously willing-to-travel students and alumni, continues to be a hot commodity for event organizers.

“The Michigan Wolverines are the winningest program in the history of college football, and they have a strong and loyal fan base that is attractive to any bowl game,” said Mike Schulze, Outback Bowl director of communications. “We are excited to have them back to the Tampa Bay area for the first time in 10 years.”

Unlike Swaroop, whose travel plans came together as Michigan’s bowl picture became clearer, other students, such as LSA junior Michael Wick, had theirs fall apart as the season wore on.

After Brendan Gibbons connected on a 38-yard field goal to give the Wolverines the win over Michigan State in October, Wick and his father perused the team’s remaining schedule.

“It became a reality that we could go to the Rose Bowl,” Wick said.

The Wicks knew from experience that tickets and flights become far more expensive after the bowl berths are officially handed out in early December. Last season, they booked a Sugar Bowl package the day before the announcement came that Michigan would meet Virginia Tech in New Orleans. Wick felt comfortable enough in the experts’ bowl predictions to give the trip a green light.

According to Wick, he and his dad purchased round-trip flights to New Orleans for about $700. In the coming days, with the Wolverines formally heading to the Bayou and their plane tickets already purchased, they watched as the prices skyrocketed to well over $1,000. Eventually, the flights sold out.

That’s why the Wicks decided to buy their flights to Pasadena, Calif., as well as a hotel early on in the 2012 football season.

“We knew Michigan fans in the state of Michigan would want to go because it’s ‘The Granddaddy of 'Em All,’” Wick said. “After Michigan State, we made the decision because we looked at the schedule and thought it was a definite possibility. Unfortunately, we got a little surprise at Nebraska.”

One week after the Wolverines edged their in-state rival, they traveled to Lincoln, Neb. to face the Cornhuskers. The offense failed to show up for the tough road task, and the Rose Bowl hopes were, for the most part, derailed.

The Wicks continued to scan prices for a bowl trip, this time looking at the Florida bowls — Capital One and Outback — as the more likely destination for the Wolverines. But after Michigan fell to Ohio State in the season’s final week, all bets were off. Wick and his dad would be home for the holidays.

“It kind of left a sour taste in his mouth,” Wick said of the loss to the Buckeyes.

Wick believes that a large part of the appeal of traveling to a bowl game comes from the Bowl Championship Series. Without it, there is less incentive to make travel plans.

“In other bowls, you might not be playing great opponents,” Wick said. “As far as I’m concerned, a BCS bowl shows you had a great season.”

For Swaroop, driving to Florida from her parents’ home in Maryland allowed her to avoid the holiday airline hikes in her pursuit of the maize and blue.

Swaroop estimated that she spent about $350 on gas driving to Orlando, where she stayed with her maize-and-blue bleeding family, to Tampa, where the game was played, and back to Maryland.


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