A glass shattered as the football spiraled past Jehu Chesson’s outstretched arms, and the crowd at Scorekeepers Bar and Grill — Skeeps, as it’s known in Ann Arbor — let out a collective groan.
Normally still before 9 p.m. on a Thursday, the bar was standing-room only 30 minutes before the Michigan football team’s 8:30 p.m. kickoff at Utah. The reason? Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines’ newly hired coach, was making his debut, one many have awaited since long before his hiring on December 30, 2014.
“He’s supposed to be a savior,” said Dave Schlei, who attended his first Michigan football game in 1966, back when Bump Elliott coached the Wolverines. “High expectations, right? I don’t know how he could possibly live up to them.”
Schlei, a resident of Ontario, Canada, drove to Ann Arbor from his cottage on the northern shores of Lake Huron because the game wasn’t being shown outside the United States.
He didn’t seem to mind that he had roughly four decades in age on the majority of Skeeps patrons, instead parking himself in a folding chair directly in front of the biggest screen in the room.
Fox Sports 1, which carried the game nationally from Salt Lake City, sent a camera crew to Skeeps to capture the scene. Much of the bar’s vibe Thursday night wasn’t dissimilar from a night game at Michigan Stadium, complete with blaring “Seven Nation Army” sing-alongs, rowdy “Go Blue” chants and a sea of maize and blue watching each snap with a mixture of joy and terror.
Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock did ensure the first half wasn’t all grumbling.
After his overthrow but before the bar’s staff had even moved for a broom to clean up the shards, Amara Darboh was streaking down the left side after a Rudock completion. A bartender wearing a “Rush Skeeps” t-shirt rang a bell enthusiastically, the big screen showed Harbaugh pumping his fist, and for a moment, Ann Arbor let out a collective sigh of relief.
While the bar remained abuzz throughout the first half, the mood took a gloomy turn after Rudock’s first interception of the night, and turned outright grim after his second.
“I didn’t expect us to just come out and smoke them,” said Kinesiology senior Nick Stevens. “But…”
Stevens was one of several fans sporting a blue No. 4 jersey, a replica of the one Harbaugh wore during his days as the Wolverines’ quarterback in the 1980s. Stevens, who attended his first game at the Big House as a three-month-old, said he bought the jersey from M-Den immediately after Harbaugh was hired.
As for the choice in venue, few seemed to be second-guessing their decidedly non-traditional selection.
“What better place than Skeeps?” Stevens asked.
And despite the first-half score, Schlei seemed pleased with the parallels between 1966 and 2015, between Bump Elliott and Jim Harbaugh, even between Michigan Stadium and Skeeps.
“The passion,” Schlei said, “hasn’t changed a bit.”