Even though Michigan has rolled over such opponents as Vanderbilt, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) in recent years, it’s tough not to get excited about the first game at the Big House.
But perhaps no one gets more hyped for the home opener than the freshmen – who attend their first football game before even taking a class at Michigan.
So I set out Saturday morning to capture the excitement of those eager first years, like Jason Reisfeld and Massimo Degaudenzi, who arrived about 90 minutes early “just to sit in the stadium and absorb the atmosphere,” according to Reisfeld.
The introduction to Michigan football came early in the day for some – even before they walked past the hordes of people on State Street.
A screaming fan outside East Quad woke up Danielle Thompson at 7 a.m.
“Everyone seems really excited,” Thompson said.
Including all the freshmen I met.
There were lifelong fans who’d been to plenty of games, lifelong fans who’d been to no games, non-fans who’d been to many games, non-fans who’d never been to game, and so on. There were those who hate football and just wanted to see the band. There were those sitting, waiting for their friends to arrive. And there were even those ready to meet some new ones. (“Are you No. 28?” one freshman asked as I approached, eagerly anticipating her seatmate. Nope, sorry, just an annoying Daily columnist here to pester you with questions.)
No matter who I talked to, the response tended to be the same: They adored the atmosphere of Ann Arbor on gameday, showed surprise at the size of the stadium and could barely wait for the game to start.
“Everybody from all corners of campus condensing in one spot,” Massachusetts’s Chai Pocknett said. “I’ve been to (New England) Patriots games, but it just doesn’t even compare to this.”
“I don’t think I’ve been around this many people at once in my entire life,” said Michigan native Sarah Berner, unable to contain the smile on her face. “I was sort of afraid of the size (of the school), and I love it so far. I’m super excited about the band.”
“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s incredible,” said Alex Montgomery, a lifelong fan from Michigan who had never been to a game.
“It’s surreal; it’s unbelievable,” said David Schwimmer, who is from Florida but has been a fan “since birth” thanks to his father, an alum. “I didn’t realize what 100,000 people look like. It’s kind of overwhelming.”
A number of the freshmen I spoke to had attended games in the past, but said those experiences didn’t quite meet Saturday’s standards.
“I’ve been excited; I couldn’t wait for this,” said Angela Lee, of Grosse Pointe, who vaguely remembered going to a game about 10 years ago. “It’s a lot bigger than I remember.”
“It’s the first game where I’m a student; it’s a different feeling,” said Rachel Rarus, who went to Michigan’s most recent appearance at both the Alamo Bowl and the Rose Bowl, thanks to parents who love an excuse to travel. “Sitting in the student section, with the student T-shirt, you feel more into it.”
I talked to converts (including one big Miami fan) and even some who became Michigan fans against all odds, like Stephanie Leeb, an Oakland County native who grew up in a family of Ohio State diehards.
She knows the rivalry well (she did a school project on it last year). Unfortunately, a little too well recently.
“Lately they’ve been ribbing me a bit,” said Leeb, another Michigan fan nostalgic for the John Cooper days.
Optimism emanated from the freshmen, whether it be about the view (“Every seat is pretty good,” Drew Orvietto said a row from the top) or the Wolverines’ chances.
“We’ll be back in a bowl game, preferably one with roses,” Alex Montgomery said.
My advice to freshmen: Cherish these moments well.
Because before you know it, it will be Nov. 21, 2009, the Buckeyes will be on the field, and you’ll have just 60 minutes left until these magical Saturdays will be over.