BERLIN – You may think you know what big is. After all, this is the University of Michigan.
The Big House is our playhouse.
We wrestle with foes in the Big Ten.
But while we enjoy record crowds in our stadium, our level of passion doesn’t always seem to coordinate. We’re often the biggest crowd watching a football game in the nation, but we’re certainly not the loudest. With more than 100,000 fans packing our bleachers, you would think we could summon up more than just a tiny roar.
Looking around any football game, it’s easy to spot someone chatting on a cell phone. This is a huge problem. Not because someone has the guts to disregard the game for a phone call – people will try to do that anywhere. The problem is that it’s quiet enough for them to carry on the conversation.
How can this be remedied? Who can we look to for inspiration? Camp Randall’s seismic stands? Maybe even fans at – as horrible as it seems – the Horseshoe?
No. Let’s think bigger than the Big Ten. Bigger than the NCAA. Let’s think global. Let’s cross the Atlantic and observe a month-long tournament that ended yesterday. Let’s talk about the World Cup.
It’s a different kind of football than we’re familiar with. It’s also a different brand of fan support. Match after match, each country draws an army of fans to games that understand what being a fan is about.
Outside each game, you could really learn about being a fan. For the first time in tournament history, each host stadium threw a giant party for people without tickets. These “fan fests” projected each match on giant screens, and the fans came in droves to cheer on their team. Their cries couldn’t be heard in the stadium, but each fan still acted as if their cheers would zoom directly into the players’ ears.
The thousands upon thousands of fans from around the world are perfect role models for a timid Wolverine crowd. So let Berlin be your classroom and the fans be your professors. Here are the lessons from a World Cup fan fest.
– Never underestimate the importance of the pre-game. Getting into game mode shouldn’t happen as you sing, “Oh say, can you see?” You should be ready to cheer way before player introductions. The night before the Germany vs. Argentina quarterfinal match, fans on an overnight train to Berlin packed each cabin. The dining car transformed into the official Argentinean pre-party. They controlled the bar the entire train ride, donning their blue and white with pride. Those not at the bar sang songs in their cabins. Thought overnight trains were for sleeping? Not at the World Cup.
– To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. Filtering in the stands in time for the first play just isn’t acceptable. The fan fest in Berlin, stretching about one mile, was jam-packed with more than half a million bodies. Shoulder to shoulder, the suffocating crowd barely left room to breathe. But proper oxygen flow was necessary – each fan was cheering their lungs out. Flags were waving. Hands were clapping. Feet were dancing. One small detail: Kickoff wasn’t for three more hours.
– Dress to impress. The rule of thumb for most Michigan fans seems to be that throwing on any shirt is fine, as long as it’s somewhat close to being maize or blue. For the fans in Berlin, any old shirt is not enough. Their rule went something like this: Any possible way I can wear my country’s colors, I will. There were flags as togas, body paint as clothing, outrageous wigs and hats, leis, dresses, strollers, wristbands, noisemakers, underwear, sandals, bathing suits, chairs . you get the idea.
– Cheer loud! It’s simple, yet somehow this concept eludes the majority of Wolverine faithful. When Argentina scored first, German fans would not be silenced. Stunned for just a moment, they immediately responded with rousing songs for Deutschland. They pushed on with each cheer, increasing volume and intensity until the German team responded with a goal of its own. And if the fans were loud with Germany behind, imagine how they were when the game was tied.
n Cheer together. Complete strangers could have passed as intimate friends during the match. They embraced each other. They screamed together. They might not have spoken the same language, but that didn’t matter. Those who didn’t know the cheers and the songs surely knew them by the end, and the unified front was an overwhelming form of spirit. So to the freshman bewildered at kickoff, listen. To the people who would never associate in other situations, come together. We’re all just fans.
The people in Berlin defined passion. After Germany’s shootout victory, the city practically shut down. Fans swarmed the streets. Flags were waving at every corner. Grown men cheering for Argentina cried silently into each other’s shoulders. Some buried their heads in their jerseys. Others screamed until they grew hoarse.
Think this is too much passion for a regular season Michigan football game? Not when your regular season has just 12 games.
Maybe someday the Big House won’t earn its name by its capacity. With these lessons, “big” could stand for our spirit.