Last week, Michigan Drum Major Matt Cavanaugh wrote a letter to the University community calling for better crowd participation.
“I figured that if I was going to ask more of the crowd, I would have to ask more of myself too,” Cavanaugh said.
Saturday, Cavanaugh bent over backwards, touching the ground in traditional fashion, but this time he accomplished it without the aide of his oversized hat.
Likewise, the rest of the Michigan faithful need to follow his example by creatively finding new ways to “bend over backwards” and quell the negative image of Michigan Stadium fans.
The Big House is recognized nationally as one of the best college venues for its classic structure, long-standing traditions and dynamic pregame environment for tailgaters. But its fans have often been accused of being remarkably languid and quiet for a crowd of more than 110,000 people.
“If there’s one area where Michigan falls shy, it’s the intimidation factor on the field,” Matt Hayes of The Sporting News wrote in his description of Michigan Stadium, which he ranked the No. 7 stadium in the country overall.
Fortunately, the Penn State game showed America another side of the Big House. From the moment that Ronald Bellamy and Bennie Joppru led their team out of the tunnel and onto the field, it felt like a different aura was surrounding the stadium.
Throughout the exciting second half against the Nittany Lions, Michigan supporters rocked the Big House with spirited cheers.
Even when Penn State took the lead in the fourth quarter, the fans helped push Michigan and quarterback John Navarre to a dramatic tying score. After throwing him a chorus of boos in the Utah game, the crowd finally trusted the junior signal caller, and Navarre responded by turning in his best performance to date.
The student section was clearly visible on TV thanks to the “Maize Out” – a practice that doesn’t change the game dramatically but still ought to be made a permanent tradition. And when the overtime struggle finally ended on Chris Perry’s three-yard touchdown run, the players met the students to celebrate the victory together.
There was a lot of excitement in the air on Saturday, but much of that was the result of a very tight and dramatic game. As much I as I would like to think that our fans are getting better, the real challenge is finding a way to maintain that fervor week after week. I still think that Iowa could jump out to a 14-0 lead in two weeks and kill the spirit of the Big House again.
But if nothing else, the Penn State game was a step in the right direction.
When students are confronted with the bland image of Michigan fans, they often blame the stereotypical alumni that sit and watch the game with a cell phone in one hand and a cane in the other. But some of those same students will grow to see football games as social events rather than sporting events later in life.
Somewhere along the line, the same people that demanded excellence from the Maize and Blue started to accept mediocre performances from their fellow fans.
The Nebraska and Tennessee alumni are famous for their passion, but both students and alumni at Michigan spend too much time working on the wave (which should only be done during the intermission between the third and fourth quarters) and clapping, when the situation really calls for screaming.
How do we transform the “symphony crowd” into raucous and passionate fans? It won’t happen overnight, but there are some steps that can be taken in the short term.
The band should play some inspirational music each time the defense takes the field. The football players should make a tradition out of meeting the fans after the game, and each and every one of the people in the bleachers should come to the game and make a conscious effort to live up to the high expectations they set for the players on the field.
Our stadium has capacity of 107,501; our fight song is the best in country; our boys in the winged helmets have won more Division-I games than anyone else, including 11 national titles, 40 Big Ten titles, three Heisman Trophies and 27 straight bowl appearances. So there is no excuse for us not having the best fans in the nation as well.
Steve Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.