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Daniel Bremmer: Blue should embrace Saturday Night Lights

BY DANIEL BREMMER: GARDEN STATE OF MIND

Published November 3, 2004

On Saturday, I witnessed the best game I
have ever seen in my four years as a student at Michigan.

The 45-37 win over Michigan State was amazing for the play on
the field, but maybe even more so because of the atmosphere
surrounding the game — an environment that was directly
related to the amount of light in the sky. When the sun set over
the Big House, the atmosphere drastically improved.

And that is why Michigan needs to add a night home game to its
schedule each year.

This thought first crossed my mind even before the game ended.
As I walked from the press box, down the aisle between section 23
and 24 to get on the field, I looked around me and decided: that we
need to have a night game each year, to recreate this
atmosphere.

So after the game, when I saw Athletic Director Bill Martin
outside the tunnel entrance to the stadium, I figured I should at
least see if he shared my sentiments.

I asked Martin whether or not he felt any sort of atmosphere
change between the time it was light out, and after the sun
set.

“It just seemed like the momentum turned for us in the
second half, when …” Martin started out.

Yes! Maybe he does agree.

“… Braylon caught that first score,” Martin
finished.

Martin went on to talk about how the athletic department
doesn’t want to play night games, and about the greater
responsibility that a night game puts on him and his cohorts. A
concern for Martin was public safety following a night game —
making sure that parking lots were well lit, police were in place,
etc.

Not to discount this as being unimportant, but if professional
stadiums all around the country can accommodate their fans,
I’m sure that we could make the appropriate arrangements here
in Ann Arbor. Tennessee seems to host 104,000-plus at least once or
twice a year — there’s no reason why a few thousand
more fans should be a problem at the Big House.

One potential problem that Martin didn’t mention —
but I’m sure has crossed the minds of the administrators
— is the all-day tailgating that students would most likely
participate in before a night game. It’s true —
students would spend all afternoon drinking. But how is that any
worse than spending all morning drinking, like students do now
before the 3:30 games?

And I know arrests were high for Saturday’s game —
21 total — but that number could be largely due to the
opponent, not the time of the game. Should 0.0002 percent of the
fans in Michigan Stadium ruin it for everyone?

Martin even went as far as saying that he wasn’t fully
convinced that students would even want to go to night games. With
all due respect, students would eat this idea up faster than free
Pancheros on a bar night.

Throwing a night game into the mix would be an opportunity to
take an otherwise crappy Michigan cakewalk over a team — like
Miami (Ohio) — and turn it into a game people would actually
want to go to. Or, even better, take a traditional rivalry game
like Michigan’s Sept. 10 meeting with Notre Dame in 2005, and
move that one back a few hours … Maize and Blue supporters
would never be more excited for a game 10 months away.

You think anyone would be opposed to actually waking up at a
reasonable hour following a Friday night out on the town and still
having all day to tailgate?

How could they not love it? Think back to how great the
atmosphere was at the end of Saturday’s game.

Instead of equal levels of brightness all around the stadium,
when the sun set, you could barely see the crowd, and fans were
able to focus solely on the well-lit 120-yards of turf in front of
them.

The scoreboard was much brighter and vibrant in the surrounding
darkness, and flashes went off throughout the sea of 111,000-plus
fans.

You could see players’ shadows on the field — not
those one-dimensional shadows the sun gives you, but the
criss-crossing X-shaped ones from the four sets of lights.

Sure, any game between heated in-state rivals will be big. But
the aura of the night game played a huge role in making
Saturday’s game what it was.

And if Martin still doesn’t think a night game is worth
considering, maybe the TV networks could have some influence. You
think ESPN or ABC wouldn’t love to broadcast Michigan’s
first-ever night game? Imagine the hype that would surround this
monumental moment. And as everyone’s noticed lately through
this SBC-fiasco, sometimes companies and networks can have big
influences.

One more reason to consider playing under the lights: Maybe if
Michigan had more games broadcast to the entire country (not just
ABC regional), guys like Braylon Edwards and Mike Hart would be
getting the national hype they deserve.

If the students and the networks aren’t enough, what about
player reactions?

“I wish we had a night game here at Michigan
Stadium,” senior safety Ernest Shazor told me after
Saturday’s game.

And Shazor wasn’t the only Michigan player who loved the
idea.

“I think the fans get into it a little bit more under the
lights,” tight end Tim Massaquoi said. “I felt the
crowd. The crowd got rowdy.”

Not surprisingly, this night game idea tested through the roof
with all the players I talked to after Saturday’s win.

Usually, Michigan football players are fairly reserved (some are
just plain unexcited) when they talk about anything after a game.
But on Saturday, talking about playing under the lights, the
players were as giddy as a kid in a candy store.

The closest thing I got to a negative answer about a potential
night game was when Matt Lentz suggested that playing one in
November might be too cold — a problem that some good
scheduling could easily solve.

So here’s the idea: Take one of Michigan’s first few
home games — from September or early October — and
shift it later in the day by a few hours to a 7 or 8 p.m.
start.

All in all, our home schedule would be enhanced year after year
by adding a night game to the schedule. When I think back on Big
House football during my four years at Michigan, the games that
stick out the most are 2002’s win over Washington
(last-second field goal by Phillip Brabbs), 2002’s overtime
win against Penn State — which also ended under the lights
— and Saturday’s win over Michigan State.

And if things go the way they should, maybe future Michigan
students will be able to make their own memories of great games
played entirely at night, rather than just 3:30 games that go into
overtime.

 

Daniel Bremmer would love to petition the athletic department
to play an annual night game at Michigan Stadium. If you support
the cause, drop him an e-mail at "mailto:bremmerd@umich.edu">bremmerd@umich.edu.


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