As reported in Sunday’s edition of The Ann Arbor News, the Michigan Athletic Department will be giving out ThunderStix for the Feb. 14 hockey showdown against Michigan State. This idea seems to me remarkably similar to some ambitious groundskeeper at Wrigley Field removing the famous ivy walls; in my view, we’re talking about a complete destruction of a venue’s character.
Since coming to Michigan, I have become somewhat fanatical about Michigan sports. And I’ll certainly admit that one of my fondest sports memories of all time is my first game at Michigan Stadium, against Notre Dame, squinting from my 92nd-row seat to see whatever I could of a phenomenal game.
But despite the 107,501-seat monstrosity’s grandeur, nothing in my mind compares to Yost Ice Arena, the old barn on State Street that has housed some of the greatest moments in the long history of Michigan sports. Yost seats about 100,600 fewer fans than the Big House, but what it lacks in size is made up for with the greatest sports atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. Though I have never seen a basketball game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, writers far more experienced and noteworthy than I have been known to compare the two jewels positively.
Yost is a treasure. I’ll never forget the Michigan State game there last year, when Michigan completely outplayed the Spartans for the majority of the game, but couldn’t get onto the scoreboard for the game’s first 53 minutes. When it was done, Michigan had eked out a 1-1 tie and I was completely out of breath. I’d never seen energy like that, never seen fans so clearly rally a team to success.
Never, that is, until two months later when, in a repeat of 1998, Michigan’s supporters pushed the Wolverines to a huge upset win in the NCAA Regional and a berth in the Frozen Four. For the pivotal matchup against Denver, I was standing in the back row of the legendary arena, as far away from the ice as the venue’s meager size allowed, but close enough to be completely swept away by the tidal wave of emotion that filled the barn.
That’s what Yost is all about – intimacy. Sometimes painfully loud intimacy.
Contrast those examples with two incredible football games in Ann Arbor this year. In the first, Michigan beat Washington on a last-second field goal, ironic considering that at times this season it seemed like anyone in the student section was a legitimate to become Michigan’s placekicker. In another, Michigan needed overtime to beat Penn State, an unbelievable finish that sent fans crazy.
Those two games were undoubtedly great, but even standing on the field at both contests’ conclusions, I was still overcome by the relative calmness in the atmosphere. It’s no secret that Michigan Stadium is quiet. Whether it’s the architecture or the fans themselves, there’s no secret that “The House that Yost Built” never goes nearly as crazy as the one which bears his name.
With all that in mind, it’s so hard for me to accept the fact that I’m going to have to deal with the artificial – and completely superfluous – roar of ThunderStix at the Michigan State game. Why mess with the best thing going?
ThunderStix were annoying at this year’s World Series. But like it or not, Anaheim fans need foolish things like rally monkeys and noisemakers to get involved in sports. Likewise, I wouldn’t be this angry if I heard that the maddening maracas were being given out at Crisler Arena or Michigan Stadium. It would bother me, but hey, noise is noise, and those two places need more of it.
But Yost? Giving Yost fans ThunderStix is like offering the pope a bible. Thanks for the offer, but we’ve got it under control.
It’s surely too late for the Athletic Department to call off the promotion (and don’t worry, I’m not so arrogant as to think that if it wasn’t too late, my opinion would call for an emergency recall!). But it’s not too late for Michigan supporters to show what makes them the greatest hockey fans in the world. At the next home game, on Jan. 31 against Ferris State, the Yost crowd has a perfect opportunity to make noise the likes of which can never be artificially reproduced by the banging together of two plastic tubes.
I can all but guarantee that the Cameron Crazies would be offended if offered ThunderStix and would laughingly refuse to accept them. It’s not too late for us to do the same.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.