If Michigan football has anything going for it, it’s tradition. The maize and blue is legendary, its greatness and legacy unquestioned. But on what is this tradition built? I ask you to consider that question in light of the recent controversy surrounding the addition of luxury boxes in Michigan stadium.
I’m as big a Michigan fan as you’ll find on campus. I had season tickets before I became a student. I cheered for Tom Brady and Anthony Thomas from the stands the same as I did Chad Henne and Jason Avant last year. But in love as I am with the maize and blue mystique, I can’t for the life of me understand the backlash towards the skybox idea.
Any fan worthy of his ticket stub will tell you Michigan has had three Heisman trophy winners: Tom Harmon in 1940, Desmond Howard in 1991 and Charles Woodson in 1997. The wholly folksy argument put forth by Joe Skybox-hater goes: “Skyboxes would change the appearance and ‘character’ of the stadium. Them Wolverine legends played over 50 years apart, and yet they still walked essentially the same stadium. We can’t let that change just to make a few bucks.” I guess I would agree – if that were true.
Ever seen highlights of Michigan games from the 1980s? One thing that jumps out right away is the ugly artificial turf, or Astroturf as it is more commonly known (though, if we’re minding our p’s and q’s, it was actually Tartanturf). Desmond Howard played on that turf. By the time 2003 rolled around, however, the stadium featured state-of-the-art Fieldturf, made from – of all things – ground up tennis shoes and tire rubber. And Tom Harmon? You can be damn sure he never played on no turf other than God’s green earth.
Why was there no backlash when artificial turf was installed? Frankly, because times change, and the stadium must too. The same argument applies to skyboxes. Almost every other football stadium in the world has them – not because their owners are insane, but because skyboxes are a necessary financial reality of the time we live in.
The tradition argument blown to bits, Joe I’m-reaching-even-more-now turns to blatant demagoguery. “Skyboxes are a sellout to the corporate interests and will pollute the Michigan brand,” he’ll slobber at you, with minimal regard for coherence. Funny – where was this guy when Domino’s signed the contract to monopolize pizza in the stadium? Where was he when Nike decided a checkmark was all our hallowed jerseys were missing? Where was he when the University, along with the rest of the Big Ten, took God knows how many millions from ABC to give that network exclusive rights to its games?
Unfortunately, much of the opposition to skyboxes is built up not on true feelings, but by a bandwagon mentality rivaled only by the fight to tear down the halo that once encircled the Big House. How many of you who mock the halo today actually saw it? Though it may be easy to whine about how gruesome it was, more people simply jumped aboard the anti-halo bandwagon than actually detested it.
And while we’re exposing falsely folksy arguments, what’s all this nonsense about skyboxes promoting elitism in the stadium? Face it, folks: People who can afford tickets to Michigan games are not the huddled masses anyway. At worst, the skyboxes will separate the rich from the richer – what a tragedy that would be. We already have different levels of seating, and with the steep price of good seats – not to mention monstrous seat premiums and taxes – the average fan cannot afford first row, 50-yard-line seats anyway.
But you know who can? The 84-year-old alum from the class of ’44 who made millions from his business ventures. Will this guy, care though he does for the team, stand and do the cheers and jeer his lungs out at opposing safeties? I doubt it. Why do skybox-haters get so much pleasure out of making this man sit in the pouring rain with sharp pain creeping up his spine, thanks to the wonder of aluminum benches? You want rowdy fans? Move people like this up to their luxury boxes and the stands will be filled with none but the most rambunctious.
And the stadium will be louder for it, too. The skyboxes will hold in more sound – something the Big House desperately needs (how can 110,000 people be so quiet, Detroit sports talk radio personalities often wonder). Will the skyboxes be ugly? Well, they will certainly change the look of the stadium, but as they say, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.
The crusade to ban skyboxes is about as disingenuous as they get – all this talk about protecting the sanctity of the stadium. Is the lack of skyboxes the one thing that makes you love Michigan stadium? Is it the one thing that makes it unique? Of course not. The stadium has changed plenty since it was first built, but it’ll take a lot more than a few luxury boxes to take away the maize and blue tradition.
Syed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.