On Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending my first Michigan away game, attending it as a 29th birthday present, which fell on that same day. My accompaniment for the game was none other than a friend and MSU grad from New York. You see, I had gone to the MSU at OSU game with him a few years back and we decided that Penn State was a good game to spend a weekend at my in-laws cabin in Central Pennsylvania. My immediate family and in-laws were there. And they are all Buckeye fans (except my 3 year old son, who is very much into saying Go Blue, though he still doesn't grasp the concept). Yada, yada, company you keep, bla, bla, bla.
Sparty and I got our tickets well in advance. A homecoming game at night seemed to predicate that. Our reasoning was confirmed as I saw very few scalpers outside the stadium. At Penn State, they have giant rolling grass hills that can more than accomodate the parking for the game. The problem is that you have to buy parking passes. In advance, they are $10, but on gameday, they charge $40. Both he and I had known about the parking passes, but failed to buy them in advance. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought the passes. We parked off the road about a mile from the stadium, which was free. We also had literally zero traffic until we hit the highway, which was nice. The parking was on Puddintown Road. Unfortunately, we missed out on the bulk of the tailgating, which was huge due to the cheap price of parking. There were likely tens of thousands of vehicles all crammed into a few giant lots.
(Damon's Grill, stock)
We rolled into Happy Valley at around 11:40am. State College has the lower-middle class feel of any random rural Michigan town, only larger. Picture Jackson, MI with a college in it. Sparty insisted we stop at the first spot we found to watch Michigan State adequately beat Indiana. That first place was a Damon's Grill by a hotel, which meant that a large portion of the lunchgoers were Michigan fans. It was a generally suitable "generic sports bar" to a T. Slightly dingy, but with a bevy of HD TVs on every wall. Their menu featured an item for each Big Ten school. "The Wolverine" was a chicken and bacon club with pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo. It sounded delicious, but I got the generic appetizer sampler as I prefer food without spit in it. The phrase "Can I get a liter of soda... for a Michigan Fan?!?" resounded.
During the first half, I found myself rooting hard for Indiana. But by the second half, I was pulling for the Spartans to pull away so we could make our way to campus. Sometime in the 3rd quarter, Sparty informed me that Gardner would throw two picks and lose a fumble. Had he known who Nostradamus was, I'm sure he would have reminded me of this fact. A small part of me wanted Gardner to lose an inconsequential turnover in the second half so that smug bastard would be wrong. We left Damon's towards the start of the 4th quarter once MSU went up three scores.
After a short walk in unseasonably sunny and warm weather, we arrived at the stadium. I haven't been on a college campus in about 4 years, so I'm just entering that phase where being on campus means I'm the awkward old guy. We didn't stop to tailgate with anyone. I had a decent beer buzz, but what was I supposed to do? Swoop in and pick off a football being thrown from father to son, then offer myself one of their beers? I'm a pretty social guy, but nobody prompted any conversations on my way in. No sarcastic Michigan comments, no "good luck" wishes. It dawned on me quickly that parking BFE was a bad choice, as sobriety would set in before game time. In briefly eavesdropping on passing conversations, though, I can confirm that soroity girls still literally say literally about literally everything. When I was younger, it was cute. Now it is just kind of grating.
So we sauntered through the tailgate for a bit before arriving at the stadium. It was the typical tailgate wares. Grills, beers, underage drinking, and footballs. The only thing I did see which was new was a game in which opposite sides threw a frisbee into a barrel. The barrel had an opening up top and a slit in front for the frisbee to pass. Teammates were able to bat the frisbee to help direct it. Points were scored for various outcomes. It was like east coast cornhole. There was also a game where what looked to be litter boxes were filled with sand, and inside the sand was a coffee tin that people tossed rings into. Likely an artifact of the past, when everyone from Pennsylvania was a carnie in some sense of the word. I did not see any cornhole, though we played it at the cabin all weekend.
(gate E, stock)
Upon reaching the stadium, my first impression was that it was a high school bleacher on sterroids. The entrance gates take you into a spiders web of beams that support a thin layer of sheet metal which makes up the floor of the stands. The corrugation of the stands gave the impression that the floor was paper thin. It was actually kind of spooky how little metal stood between you and a catastophic fall. It got even spookier remembering how thin the bleacher floors were when everyone started stomping in unison late in the game. The whole stadium shook.
Our seats were located in EHU, directly below the luxury suites. The stadium is much more compact than the Big House, giving it the illusion of being much smaller. The announced 107,000 + crowd did not seem to add up to a packed Michigan Stadium. The benefits to this, though, were crowd volume, and though our seats were nosebleed, they were still awesome seats. The only bad seats appeared to be the third deck in each endzone.
(view from EHU, stock)
What struck me about the crowd was not the raucousness (though that was there), but the fact that everything was done in lock step. The "We Are" "Penn State" thing is annoying, but in person, it is a very intimidating thing. There was no argument over standing or sitting. It seemed everyone knew when to stand, which corresponded to all plays in the fourth quarter and OT. The crowd quieted on their offensive possessions. You all saw how white the white out was. None of those shirts were handed out, only the pom poms. I just had a sense of a crowd who knew exactly what they were doing. The student section was clearly GA. They filed in slowly and steadily, like a swimming pool being filled with milk, the sea of white creeping slowly up to the upper deck.
At one point in the game, I got a text message that asked "Are you sick of that stupid wildcat call yet???" to which I replied "Rawwaaawwwrrrr!!!". There is no way to overstate how annoying that cat call was. It was played at every opportunity, and then some. It sounded like a really loud gay guy kept teasing his friend for being too sassy, "Rawwwrr!" PSU needs a new DJ in their stands, as the sound was so crappy. There was no cross fades between songs, and that damned wildcat interrupted the canned music, completely out of beat. I'll hear that raaawwwawwwr in my nightmares, I'm sure.
I won't go into the game, other than the fact that there were some plays in which our receivers were further away from a PSU player than I was. It was nauseating to see us not capitalize on this.
The crowd was as expected. Overtime was surreal. Trying to portray how it felt to be sitting after the PI call in the 4th overtime would be pointless. I had my head in my hands, surrounded by a hornet's nest of activity. There was never another moment in my life so contradictory. My emotional state was completely out of mesh with the entire crowd. It was weird. Sparty was standing next to me jumping up and down. He's a dick. The crowd was loud. One giant unison of dick. They shook my hands, said "What a game!" I extended my hand as well. They were all dicks.
My reception by the fans was overall pretty tame. Coincidentally, my contact ripped in half just after the game ended, causing tears to pour down my cheeks. It was no use explaining this. The hive must have seen it funny to see a grown man cry. Sparty was filled in on the contact situation, he thought it hilarious.
Walking back out through the tailgate, I heard two "Michigan sucks" and a single "F*** you" from a guy driving by in a car. Car guy is always the most offensive, as he doesn't have to answer for his taunts. That's to be expected, although it got pretty scary when the crowd turned on the refs late in the fourth. I'm sure my reception would have been more colorful if Michigan had pulled it off.
Altogether, the experience was a solid B. It did not exceed my expectations, but given the outcome of the game, it went about as well as I could expect. I did get very drunk back at the cabin, still alone in my misery, surrounded by Sparty and the OSU fans. But that one was on me.