- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 8, 2013
It wasn’t about chickens or a war of words. It wasn’t about cementing a rivalry, or proving the national media wrong or right. It wasn’t even just about winning or losing.
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Under the Lights II, Michigan and Notre Dame, was about recognition: the recognition of legends, of tradition, and that after Saturday, the lights were shutting off, perhaps never to shine as bright again.
The game, the day, the festivities — it was perfect enough to make everyone forget about the extra stuff, at least for a night. When 115,109 people packed into the Big House, the lights shone bright again. The 2011 Under the Lights was one of the best games in the history of Michigan Stadium. Saturday came pretty close.
It was the second night game in three years — people seemed to know what they were doing. Yes, there were people passed out before lunchtime and some people in the Big House who were struggling to handle their liquor, but for the most part, the vibe was different than it was two years ago. It wasn’t the first time in 131 years that Michigan played a home game at night, but it could very well be the last one in the foreseeable future, and everyone knew that.
There are times in the Big House when all the bells and whistles feel forced and out of place. Saturday was not one of those times.
Just like the Athletic Department wanted, the student section was full, and it was full early. It was packed and roped off, to the point where students complained about not having enough room, but that was forgotten by kickoff. There was an air show before the game, which was similar to a flyover in the same way that a Honda Civic is similar to a Lamborghini. At halftime, Beyoncé apologized for not being able to make it — Queen Bey apologized for not being in the Big House — before finishing her video message with a “Go Blue.” Then, complete with a lights show, the Michigan Marching Band proceeded to perform a few of Beyoncé’s hits with the lights off. Not exactly a traditional show, but one that matched the situation note for note. Plain and simple, it was just cool.
Saturday would have been special even if the game was awful, which of course it wasn’t, because there’s no situation in which Notre Dame and Michigan could play a boring game. Before Saturday, the past five games were decided by a touchdown or less, and three were determined in the final 30 seconds.
Notre Dame got into the game with a touchdown that came off a deflection into the back of the end zone. Michigan ended the game with an interception that deflected off a defender’s foot. In between, fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner touched greatness, if only for one game.
Wearing Legacy jerseys — Gardner wearing Tom Harmon’s No. 98 and Gallon wearing Desmond Howard’s No. 21 — the two combined for almost 200 yards and three touchdowns. Harmon’s son, Mark, was in attendance for the pregame ceremony. Howard was in attendance. Past and present, under the lights, one more time.
This week or next, maybe even today, there will be a debilitating realization that the Wolverines are replacing the Fighting Irish on their schedule with UNLV and that there won’t be an Under the Lights III for a long, long time.
In 2015, we get UNLV, along with BYU and Oregon State, all of them during the day, and none of them with any sort of historic significance. Michigan hasn’t played BYU or Oregon State since the 1980s and has never played UNLV.
Maybe the Wolverines will play another night game in the future, and maybe they will convince Beyoncé to show up in real life instead of just on the video board. It could be as amazing as Saturday was, who knows, but I doubt it.
Before the game, the video boards showed highlights of former greats, people like Harmon and Howard. Future generations will see Gallon’s performance playing on those screens, but there will be no highlights of Oregon State or BYU.
You can blame whoever you want for that, but the bottom line is that it’s truly a shame we won’t get an Under the Lights III.
On ESPN’s Football GameDay on Saturday morning, analyst Lee Corso showed a clip of Michigan coach Brady Hoke saying over the summer that Notre Dame “chickened out” of the rivalry game before donning a green hat and producing four live chickens. It wasn’t win one for the Gipper — it was win one for the chicken.
“I don’t think we took it personally,” Hoke said after the game. “We were playing Notre Dame. I’m going back to the Michigan teams I coached on as an assistant. There are just certain games you get very excited about, those rivalry games. I don’t think there was any kind of anger … we just wanted to win.”
That mattered on Saturday. All those people, 115,109 of them, knew it was the last time they would see things like Gardner to Gallon dominating one the best rivalries in college football, with the shadows of Harmon, Howard and rivalries of old somewhere off in the distance.
Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @everettcook