Saturday’s game at Wisconsin was the first time I had sat in the stands at a road game and, I have to admit – even though the wrong team won and on the long drive back to Ann Arbor I said absolutely nothing other than “What the hell just happened?!?!?!” every half hour or so – I had great time.

Michigan Football

Venturing into enemy territory is much more fun than I ever imagined it would be. Whether it was walking to the stadium before the game and getting heckled, watching the game and getting heckled or leaving the stadium and REALLY getting heckled, I enjoyed it all. And it wasn’t just students giving us a hard time. At the gate where we all exited, a man who had to be at least 40 years old turned his back to the field where the Badgers were celebrating, pointed at each and every Michigan student, shouting “overrated” at the top of his lungs. When I then thanked him for sending us to the Rose Bowl last year (Wisconsin ended last season with losses to Michigan State and Iowa), he seemed ready to fight me.

In a stadium of over 80,000, I was one of maybe 200 Michigan students. We had the worst seats in the house, in the corner of the upper deck, but that didn’t stop us. For about four hours, starting 30 minutes before the game we made all the noise we possibly could until John Stocco ran into endzone and Chad Henne slipped to the ground. When Mario Manningham caught that flea-flicker to retake the lead, the entire stadium became completely silent. Except for section AA, that is.

Not enough students realize this, but every April when we buy season tickets, we can go to the ticket office and order tickets as if away games. Seats aren’t guaranteed, but the last couple years it seems for everyone has gotten them. Keep this in mind next spring, because the Wolverines have tough games in 2006 at Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State.

Unlike a lot of others I’ve talked to, the more I think about the game, the less upset I’ve gotten. After all, I’m readily admitting I had fun at the game, and it was a real exciting finish.

So in case I wasn’t clear, I had fun at Saturday’s game. In fact, I have fun at every game I attend, whether I’ve been in the stands or the press box. But then I thought back to last year, when I covered the team and got a better sense of what it takes to play here. And here’s what I realized: The players don’t always have that much fun.

Too often, after a game, the players seem relieved to have won. It’s like they’re saying, We won? Big deal, now we’ve got to do it next week. In a way it is understandable. Though this Saturday the circumstances will be drastically different, usually when Michigan beats Michigan State they’re just taking care of business – if the Spartans win, the Wolverines’ year is ruined. Some talented teams walk onto the field determined to kick ass and prove how good they are while others are worried about the repercussions of a loss. As long as I can remember, Michigan has been the latter.

Why do you think we always go through early-season struggles? OK, OK, I hear you – coaching. That may be, but every year, you can count on a mid-season resurgence to follow the early missteps. And it makes perfect sense. When Michigan loses its first game, it’s out of the national title picture. If it’s a conference game, then it’s on the outside of the conference title picture. The pressure is off.

So this week, everyone is talking about how the Spartans are hot and the Wolverines are cold. Right now, Chad Henne and Steve Breaston can’t do anything right. Mike Hart is hurt, and his backups keep fumbling. The defense couldn’t stop Badgers running back Brian Calhoun. They’re a five-point underdog to the Spartans. I mean, doesn’t that say it all?

So now that the Wolverines are unranked and expected to lose, you can expect the best they have to offer.

They can finally have a little fun.

 

– Sharad Mattu is looking forward to two victories in East Lansing this weekend (the other win is over The State News on Friday night). He can be reached at smattu@umich.edu

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