Believe it or not, it was pretty warm early Sunday morning.
Or at least as warm as one can expect it to be in Michigan at 4:30 a.m. on February 24th.
That’s when I set out to Cliff Keen Arena, where I knew students would be lined up to get one of the 750 wristbands being handed out at 7 a.m. that would grant them access to The Maize Rage — the courtside portion of the student section in Crisler Center — for the Michigan basketball team’s bout with No. 10 Michigan State.
It was misting, but that wasn’t much of a bother considering the comfortable 45-degree weather in Ann Arbor.
I arrived at the line, which already wrapped all the way down to Yost Ice Arena, and went straight to the front to see who had gotten there first.
As it turned out, the first students were asleep in a tent.
“Somebody’s allegedly in this tent,” said Duncan Taylordean, a senior in the school of engineering who was part of the second group in line.
Taylordean arrived at 2:30, but his friend Arjun Sangwan, also an engineering senior, got there at 12:30 with some friends and saved a spot for Taylordean and some others.
Personally, if I were getting moving at that hour, I would be a bit peeved that I wasn’t first, but Sangwan was unperturbed.
“Who cares if you’re five or 10th, honestly?” Sangwan said.
Added Taylordean: “Honestly, if you’re in the first 500, you’re gonna be in The Rage. That’s all people wanna be in.”
I was curious as to how many people were actually in line at that hour, so I decided to work my way back.
As I left Taylordean and Sangwan, one of their friends, Arjun Ashok, a senior microbiology major, shook his head at me.
“Two more hours, man,” Ashok said.
I started walking south on State Street, estimating the bodies that I couldn’t see huddled inside tents or under blankets. A group of students asked me what number they were, and when I told them they were around 20th, they were fairly excited.
Behind them, there was a group of freshmen.
They had trekked down from Markley, about a 20-minute walk — I know from experience (shoutout First Little Hall) — and showed up on the corner of State and Hoover Streets around 1:30.
“We thought we were gonna be further back, honestly,” one of them told me. “We heard some rumors.”
This is the balancing act that all the students had to play Sunday morning. Nobody was quite sure when the line would start, only that they knew there would eventually be a line and that they wanted to be in it.
Tim Kaplan, an LSA senior, and his friends live across the street from Cliff Keen. They had gone out the night before, and on their way back home, they saw the first tent pitched.
“We thought, oh, this could happen earlier,” Kaplan said.
They proceeded home and got whatever shut-eye they could — Kaplan says he got about 20 minutes — then set out around 3:00 with the wooden chairs from their kitchen to reserve their spots in line.
Even further back in line, a group of students including Matt Rose, a business senior, and Andrew Myers, a freshman in LSA, stood under a couple of umbrellas.
“We were planning on getting up this early, and then he asked in the Maize Rage group around 4:30, like, ‘Hey, what’s the line looking like?’ Rose said, pointing to Myers. “And they were like, ‘Oh, it’s around here.’ ”
Added Myers: “I sent in the group chat, like, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta go.’ ”
The characters within the line are surprisingly varied.
At least two fathers were there, accompanying their daughters in the line.
One kid wore a Michigan State beanie. He was visiting his friend and didn’t even have a ticket to the game, but was instead getting a wristband for his friend’s girlfriend. Truly commendable chivalry.
The means of staying warm varied, too. Most were under blankets and in winter coats, though some chose less conventional routes. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that on a scale of 1-10, he was “10/10 fucked up.”
By the time I left, around 5:30, the line had wrapped into the parking lot by Yost. A rough count gave me about 500 students that were there at that time. I would imagine the line kept growing after I went home.
What unites them all is more to the point.
Each of them chose to wake up at an ungodly hour, or neglect sleep altogether, to wait in the rain and cold to be as close as they possibly can to the Wolverines’ biggest game on Sunday. Every person I asked gave the same prediction — that Michigan would come out on top over their in-state rival.
In hindsight, maybe that sounds sad. But even with the Wolverines’ loss to the Spartans on Sunday, they have lost in Crisler Center just twice since the start of 2018. Maybe that has something to do with the commitment of those fans who attend.
Maybe it doesn’t. But if you think that’s the case, try telling that to any one of those 500 kids.
Persak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeDPersak