Barring a graduate school admissions offer, these next two Saturdays will be my last in the student section at Michigan Stadium. I’ve got to be honest, I’m going to really miss the place. I’m going to miss everything from the band coming out of the tunnel to the horde of people walking down Hoover after the game is over and everything in between. I will really miss laughing at 111,000 or so people completely failing to stay on beat when singing “The Victors” and wondering whether everyone is too drunk to keep time. I will really miss standing and watching football games with 20,000 other students who may or may not realize that watching a game from a student section will be one of the last places they can be young and dumb and have it be not only accepted but expected.
During my college career I have seen some of the greatest games in University history. I began my freshman year with the Washington game when Phil Brabbs kicked the game-winning field goal after having been benched earlier in the game for missing kicks. My sophomore year I witnessed Chris Perry run himself to being a Heisman trophy finalist while destroying Notre Dame. That same year I witnessed a victory over Ohio State that was one holding penalty away from being a full-fledged blowout. During my junior year there were several memorable games: the last-second victory over Minnesota comes to mind, but the most memorable game was against Michigan State. I was about 10 seconds away from being one of the unfortunate masses who left the stadium that evening. Thank God I stayed. I missed the Penn State game a couple weeks ago, possibly missing the one great win my senior year may have to offer. I was in Washington for the Millions More Movement – a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But part of me will probably always wish I had stayed to watch the game.
Slowly but surely college football is becoming more commodified. The University made several ill-fated attempts to get fans to tailgate on both Palmer and Elbel fields. The generic ESPN tailgates were colossal failures, and I couldn’t be happier. I would hate to lose the experience of walking past the individual tailgates in student neighborhoods on the way to the game. I went to the Detroit Lions game against the Carolina Panthers in October, and maybe it’s because the Lions are so bad, but the spirit in the building just couldn’t compare to the Big House. There was no monumental anticipation as the teams took the field, no shaking of keys on 3rd down and definitely no crowd-surfing after touchdowns. All the fancy graphics and bright lights on the video-board advertisements seemed too contrived – there was nothing natural about the experience, nothing organic.
When the renovations to Michigan Stadium actually happen, I hope the place doesn’t lose too much of its character. With so few people sitting up in the walled-off universe of the press box, there is a certain sense of equality in the stadium. Equality in the sense that when I go to these last two games I will be sitting in the same seating bowl as a Law student, the same seating bowl as a 65-year-old alum, the same seating bowl as a guy who bought tickets from some guy standing in front of the Union at 11:30 that morning. There are no upper and lower decks to separate everyone – no club seats and luxury boxes.
If indeed the luxury boxes and club seats do come to the stadium, which they eventually will, it will be up to the student section to ensure that Michigan Stadium is undoubtedly a college venue. The students have to make sure all of the traditions stay. The student section must continue to stand the whole game, must continue to control the most coordinated wave I’ve ever seen, must scream and yell to fight the perception that the Big House is a wine-and-cheese crowd. The student section is the unquestioned lifeblood of the stadium. We don’t contribute the most revenue to the Athletic Department, but we easily contribute the most energy. It’s the only place I’ve seen someone dressed as Santa Claus crowd surf after a touchdown. It’s the only place where people will shake keys on 3rd down and then do the claw, or chop or whatever arm motion, if the defense gets a stop. Regardless of the destiny of the cement and steel aspects of the stadium, the student section must continue to be the bastion of loud, youthful enthusiasm that separates college from professional football.
I’ve got two more chances to go to a football game as an undergraduate student, and I hope they’re monumental experiences. I’ve got two more chances to watch the band come out of the tunnel and see the drum major lean back and put his head on the ground. I’ve got two more chances to make the painfully long, yet entertaining walk from the Hill to the Stadium. I’ve got two more chances to be a kid at a football game in a section specifically reserved for kids.
Betts can be reached at email@example.com.