Is the Michigan football team the best team in Ann Arbor? On a year-to-year basis, the answer is yes. The Wolverines are one of the most storied teams in college football history, and are usually just two or three plays away from competing for a national championship. Lately, though, those two or three plays have blown up in Michigan’s face.
Take last season’s Notre Dame and Iowa games. In South Bend, delete the hold by offensive tackle Courtney Morgan in the end zone, which resulted in a safety, and the score is 23-23. At home against Iowa, in an embarrassing 34-9 defeat, delete cornerback Markus Curry’s muffed punt return and you’ve got a 10-9 ballgame in the third quarter, and Michigan has all the momentum.
But that didn’t happen. When people voted the football team the best team in Ann Arbor this year, they must have neglected to consider the Michigan hockey team, which is going to its third straight Frozen Four. Now, of course, the competition for the football team in the Big Ten is obviously more fierce than the best of the CCHA, but you can’t argue with a team who gets it done in the clutch.
How about the men’s swimming team? The women’s gymnastics team? The women’s cross country and indoor track and field teams? These are all currently Big Ten champions, and you probably didn’t even know it. The football team has failed to win an outright conference title since its magical run to the national championship in 1997.
The point is, it doesn’t really matter what other teams do in this town. Football is god, and it always will be “the best team” as long as it puts up 8-4 records. Is that because the fans in this town are detached from every other sport besides football? Partly, yes. But more than anything, it’s that other vote – Best Gameday Experience – that glosses over all those heartbreaking plays and mediocre records, and still makes you think those Wolverines on the gridiron are the best.
There’s nothing like the sights and sounds of a Football Saturday in Ann Arbor. While some people (myself, included) think that the in-game atmosphere in the Big House needs a major boost in enthusiasm, the apathetic, stoic and graying contingent of fans makes the Michigan football atmosphere what it is – one of a kind. Where else can you find a team built on a tradition like Michigan football – with fans that are so die hard, yet can’t even raise a whimper on a critical third down?
Even though Michigan football fans are laughed at by most of the Big Ten for their indifference, it’s the “We don’t care what they think, because we’re Michigan” attitude that makes it socially acceptable to sit on your hands for four quarters.
And maybe Michigan alumni and students have earned that privilege. We are Michigan. We have the best uniforms and helmets in college football, regardless of what players are wearing them.
Then there’s the walk to the stadium, and if you do it right like a real “Michigan man or woman,” you’ll go an hour early, even if that means getting up at the crack of dawn, to see the world-famous Michigan Marching Band make its march to the stadium under the picturesque fall foliage that lines Hoover Street. There will be people to your right, tossing the pigskin around on Elbel Field, imagining they are wearing a maize and blue No. 21 and striking the pose for 110,000 people to see.
There will be volleyball being played at “The Volleyball Frat,” and music will be blasting from the houses on State Street. You’ll smell the “dollar dogs” aroma from a mile away, and in 20 years, you’ll buy your kid one, and you’ll tell him or her that this is your school.
On your way to the stadium, you’ll tell your kid to ignore the countless scalpers, who are trying desperately to get rid of tickets before the game begins. When you get to the stadium, you’ll brace yourself for that moment when you walk through the entrance to the Big House, and you see the band on the field. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there just in time for the first rendition of “Hail to the Victors.” You’ll sing that song at the top of your lungs with chest-bursting pride, and you’ll clap – clap like you’ve never clapped before – because you are about to witness something special. Halfway through the first quarter, your kid may ask, “Why is there so much clapping?” And you’ll answer – “Because that’s how we do things here at Michigan.”
Nothing shows off the University and its incomparable pride like a Football Saturday. And that is what you will remember. You’ll remember the emotions you shared with total strangers in exhilarating wins over Washington and Penn State. You’ll remember the experiences – not the records.
And that’s why nothing compares to Michigan football. No matter what the votes show next year in “Best of Ann Arbor,” the Wolverines on the gridiron will always be the best team in this town.