For years, I wondered if I was missing something.
As a little girl, I remember hearing the voice of the football announcer wafting over the city to my front lawn. For two decades I’ve lived in Ann Arbor without ever setting foot into the Michigan Stadium. I had seen old women swear at Buckeye fans and grown men paint themselves yellow, and I had always assumed that something magical must happen behind those wrought iron gates on fall Saturday afternoons.
But a few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t been missing anything at all.
Maybe I made a mistake by making my first football game the wholly unremarkable home game against Eastern Michigan. I turned down tickets for Appalachian State, which at least I could have told my grandkids about years from now.
My plan was to get in and take my seat in the non-student section, and then, once I’d acclimated to the grandeur of the Big House, head over to the student section, where I had heard people stand up for the entire game.
In retrospect, I should have headed into the student section first; sitting wasn’t too much of a comfort wedged in between a man who was tuning into another game via his headset and a woman who was giving her friend a play-by-play of her hysterectomy last month.
After we sang the national anthem, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of excitement when the football team came barreling out of the tunnel.
The players moved into formation, and I was instructed to draw little circles in the air with my index finger and make a low “Ooo” noise. I did it, leaning forward in anticipation. The ball flew. Someone caught it. The game stopped. It started again. I saw the Michigan football team mount a graceful charge across the field until it was violently subdued by few Eastern players.
Maybe it was the nearly 90-degree heat, or more likely it was my untrained eye, but eventually all the plays started to look the same. My mind wandered and I realized the woman behind me was still talking about the surgical removal of her uterus.
It wasn’t until halfway through the second quarter when her narrative came to an abrupt end.
“But after the operation I – GET HIM!”
I refocused then on the game I couldn’t quite see, where a player in a white and green jersey had taken off across the field, leaving his pursuers behind until he was blindsided by a Wolverine.
I cheered. She cheered louder.
I realize college football is more than just a game. And I knew, sitting there in my only yellow shirt with a tattoo of a football helmet pasted on my arm, that just by virtue of walking through the turnstile, I was part of something bigger.
I left shortly after halftime and headed for the air-conditioned solace of Zingerman’s where I considered getting a cookie in the shape of a Block M but thought better of it. After the game, a friend told me I had made two crucial mistakes: First, I didn’t go to the student section. I actually sat across the stadium and was too intimidated and discouraged to venture over as planned.
What did I miss? He couldn’t explain.
My second mistake – I went sober.
When I told my father, a musically oriented person who can play “The Victors” on instruments whose names I can’t even pronounce, about my experience, I thought he’d be disappointed. He didn’t disown me, but he suggested that my real problem wasn’t that I didn’t know the difference between a defender and a receiver, it was that I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a Michigan Wolverine.
I recalled one night when I was in high school, walking on Main Street next to a group of old ladies, at least in their 70s, who started verbally assailing two men wearing Buckeye jerseys walking out of a bar, by chanting “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!” Those women, I think, might have known more about the Ann Arbor college experience – the rush of dopamine when favored team wins, the collective thrill of watching a burly guy in maize spandex evade other burly guys in white spandex – than I ever will.
But I take comfort in the notion that while football might be an integral part of the Ann Arbor college experience, it’s not the best part – if that game against Eastern were to qualify as the highlight of my education, I would have dropped out after freshman year. I don’t know if I’ll go back. If I do, I’ll be sure not to turn down that 3-story beer bong or those maize and blue Jell-O shots. And most important, I’ll go straight to the student section, where the pill is still the preferred method of contraception.
– Anne VanderMey is editor of The Statement.