There’s a small, white house a few blocks from Michigan Stadium.
Most months, it sits empty, even as the surrounding neighborhood is packed with student renters. But seven Saturdays a year, Paul Furlo and his friends descend on the house, which they purchased a few years ago to enhance their gameday experience. “Little house at the Big House,” Furlo calls it.
Their routine, by now, is set in stone. They cater the same order from Zingerman’s, coupled with a few kegs set up in the backyard. In early September, before the weather gets too cold, they bring along their small children, hoping to indoctrinate them into the tradition.
This year, that opportunity is already past — Michigan’s home slate won’t start until Halloween. But when it does, Furlo and his friends will still be there, looking longingly at Michigan Stadium from the outside.
“We’re gonna enjoy those home games still,” Furlo said. “But we’re gonna enjoy them on the many big screens at our house in Ann Arbor and we’ll socially distance and still enjoy the games and still be able to be in our favorite college town to watch games on TV.”
Furlo isn’t the only one who’s planning to continue his tailgating tradition even as fans are barred from attending games. A few blocks away, Eric Metzendorf and his wife, Lauren, are planning to do the same.
The Metzendorfs moved to Ann Arbor in 1999 for Eric’s job and immediately bought season tickets. Occasionally, they’ll miss a game or two for weekend trips, but this season would have been their 22nd in a row attending at least a handful of games. “We buy them because we enjoy going,” Metzendorf said of his season tickets.
This year, the Metzendorfs — along with more than 70,000 other season-ticket holders — won’t have that opportunity. Instead, they’ll have a few friends over and tailgate at home like they usually do for away games. If the weather cooperates, Eric says, they might venture downtown to watch games at restaurants with outdoor seating.
“What’s interesting too is I’m paying attention to the college football season, but really not as much,” Metzendorf said. “I’m not as intent to watch games until Michigan starts playing.”
Like for Furlo and every other season-ticket holder, it won’t be the same. But Michigan fans are taking the small victories as they come. Metzendorf was thrilled to learn that the Ohio State game is back in its traditional spot as the season finale, moved back from an earlier schedule iteration that placed it in October. “I said, ‘OK all is right with the schedule again,’ ” Metzendorf said.
For Steve Raymond, a longtime season-ticket holder, the relief came earlier, when the Big Ten announced games would be closed to fans. While Furlo said he would consider attending games with minimized capacity, Raymond opted out of his job as an event staffer back when Michigan was considering allowing fans.
“I am perfectly happy to sit this season out,” Raymond said. “Because I’m of an age where I feel like the risk is not worth it to me for my own personal health.”
Unlike Furlo and Metzendorf, he doesn’t plan to host tailgates or watch parties. Still, he’s excited for the normalcy that college football will bring, even if it’s just on TV.
What won’t be the same is the lack of non-revenue sports. Since moving to Ann Arbor in 1970, Raymond’s been to watch every Michigan sport except tennis. Soccer, track and field and softball are among his favorites. None of those will be open to fans this year.
So instead, Raymond will be stuck at home watching not just football, but every other sport as they gradually return to play. It won’t be an entirely foreign experience — Raymond has watched home games on TV before — but it brings a different air to fall in Ann Arbor.
Season-ticket holders, like everyone else, will miss the little things about game days. They’ll miss the walk down Main Street to the stadium and the kettle corn once they get there. They’ll miss that first sight of the field each September and the camaraderie of singing the fight song together after touchdowns.
And even when they get together for their tailgates and watch parties, it won’t quite be the same.
“When you lose something great like Michigan football,” Furlo said, “it makes sure that none of us take it for granted.”
Mackie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @theo_mackie.
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