It's been two weeks since Michigan's last home game, and for me and the wife it meant two Saturdays at someone else's stadium: Notre Dame and—unrelated to the Great Meeting of the Bloggerati—Georgia. The first I went with my cousin and her kid, who's about the age I was when his father took me up to campus and I got Desmond'ed. The second was with two of my best friends from college, one of whom married a major Bulldog fan and couldn't bring his kid because you don't bring kids to SEC conference games—maybe Florida-Atlantic, but people still look at you strange.
I thought I'd use the bye week opportunity to share the experiences as compared to Michigan.
South Bend and Notre Dame du Lac vs. Ann Arbor: If not for the signs (which you should ignore because they tell dirty lies) you wouldn't realize there's a city here. Northern Indiana once you leave the part you pass to get to Chicago is right out of Rudy: small industrial belt homes nooked close together right up to the point campus has to start. We parked (for free) on the south side of Coquillard Park and at this point you notice or somebody informs you that Notre Dame is a fifth of the size of your median Big Ten school. The closest thing they have to a State Street or South University is a one-block collection of chain-ish restaurants in a pair of newer building complexes that straddle Eddy Street.
Their Main Street/downtown is about 2 miles southwest of the stadium and reminds me of Kalamazoo or a smaller Grand Rapids. The College Football Hall of Fame is here but we wanted to tailgate and it's something you rope Greg Dooley into doing with you but probably not a 12-year-old.
Coming from the south you are hitting a collection of buildings constructed or heavily renovated after 2004. The stadium owns this area. Once past (and to the left of) that and the new stuff you're in something a late Bourbon king probably commissioned. And it's here you remember or someone tells you that despite the mascot this started as a French institution, and was designed to French tastes. Having been to Ireland extensively and lived in France, this is a good thing.
On to the stadium and such, after a jump.
As Brian mentioned, it's in a big parking lot. It is a BIG parking lot, and unlike the haphazard, equal-sized tents at Michigan or East Lansing there's an air of permanence to many of their sprawling, 20-parking-spot (complete with tables) tailgates that could pass for upscale rehearsal dinners. Michigan had these too until the Victors Club washed away old timers' 20-year land claims and parking restrictions on the golf course broke up others.
The stadium gets about a 100-foot buffer zone from this. Entrances are named after their great coaches and come with statues of such. The players enter from the Knute Rockne gate, which faces TD Jesus. Fans line up from here down around that whole square to greet the players; the away team got a separate little corridor of fans. It's here I met the only four douchebags all day: one tall, drunk, braying old man who was escorted away before Lewan took him for a donkey, and three Ohio State fans, because wherever you are Ohio State fans want you to remember they are the worst fans.
That's our equipment bus saying "Mine's Bigger."
Once inside your designated gate you can see the old brick bowl now housed inside the modern megalith. It's a stark contrast with the oodles of modern "tradition"—the statues, banners, displays, names, etc.—they put everywhere else, like finding Fenway housed inside the exterior and amenities of Comerica Park. Of those amenities are not listed "enough bathrooms." OTOH their concession prices are reasonable.
When you see inside, well, that's the thing you come for. It's really one the things college football fans ought to see:
I sat in the Michigan section high in the South end zone, 10 rows from the top, and felt as close to the action as in Row 45 of the Big House. There's the one tiny scoreboard over each end zone that doesn't have much more than the score. One side has the pressbox/box seats, the nominal upper deck is cut off by a concourse akin to Michigan Stadium's new layout, and the super-expensive seats have backs. People filled in about the same rate as Michigan fans, many the worse for wear; you could tell the earlier tailgaters because they'd been drenched earlier in the day, and used that as an excuse to replace enough blood with alcohol that wearing a t-shirt in 40-degree weather seemed like a good idea. The bands are made to squish into the corners. Not ever being able to hear ours was about the only thing that a visiting fan can complain about.
You are reminded of their athletic department's reputation for fumbly incompetence when they do silly things like send their band into a clear night in Zoltanist raincoats or try to get ND students (their section goes to about the 40-yard line behind the seatbacks) to synchronously unfurl three 50-yard pieces of an Irish flag. As mentioned in last week's Dear Diary, the most NDNation thing about them was Notre Dame itself: they miked up their band and did a bunch of other obnoxiously homer things to make up for the non-threatening nature of flowerbeds, 80,000 pleasant folk and a mural of someone's savior. Their attempts to be SEC-like looked especially pathetic when compared with…
The way is shut. It was made by those who wear red, and the red keep it.
Athens vs. Ann Arbor. Brian already provided The Full Bray and I co-sign on many of his observations. Though we stopped by and walked to the stadium together, my party was separate from the Great Meeting of the Bloggerati, so this is a little different perspective than the one all over college football blogs this week.
What you see in the picture above is the dividing line between campus and the city. Athens has a lot of bars, enough that even right after the game you can easily get a table for six and a couple rounds of drinks at the one that leans toward a grad student/professorial clientele. Preserved in its 19th century grid, Athens is what modern city planners wish they could make A-squared: about 6x6 city blocks of continuous neat stuff.
Like most Southern towns, you can still visibly identify where the segregation lines once stood—for example a barber shop and a barbecue mark the old Hull Street community—but this city always had a few mixed neighborhoods, and proximity was close enough that it largely avoided tarnishing from that history.
Game Day: One thing you need to understand about ESS-EEE-CEE schools is that they're tied inextricably with the campus towns they dominate. The cities are cultural oases that grew up around the universities, and the universities are learning oases that grew up around the football stadiums. From the air Sanford Stadium looks like the core of a planetary nebula. What transpires "between the hedges" is both literally and figuratively at the center of regional life.
The clever t-shirt du jour in Georgia is to declare themselves the brand of "Grown Man Football," because apparently a Missou player said Richt's team plays "Old Man Football." The spread is dead meme is gone now so I have no idea how deeply it penetrated. Richt is a late-Lloyd figure to them except blogdamn naysayers are not tolerated. If not expressing the maturity of their football brand, the men wear advanced synthetics golf shirts tucked into khaki pants, and the women wear dresses from sun to cocktail (more common). As our guide noted, Michigan fans dress like shlubs and act like gentlemen and ladies; in the SEC they dress like gentlemen and ladies and act like buffoons.
Those last I saw very little of—more from Tennessee fans than Georgia—however we were warned on multiple occasions to keep witty comments to ourselves as wit is unappreciated and liable to start fights. What we take for well-behaved fans, seen close up, is not the same breed of "I'm too snarky to start a fight"-ness we practice, but rather a kind of tribal politeness—the kind soldiers use with each other because they all know 19 ways to kill you.
I was strongly advised against wearing my Woodson-Heisman shirt; trolling the visiting fanbase isn't totally frowned upon, but temp an SEC thing and the South Shall Rise!
Though bringing a kid to the game is anathema, the mean age of Georgia fans has got to be at least 10 and maybe 20 years lower than Michigan's. It's a massive school, thus there are masses of students and alumni. The amount of standing and walking involved plays a role too but our guide blamed this on Georgia being unwatchable from WWII to Herschel Walker; this explains why the equivalent of our Bo die-hards weren't around. Churches and political groups, the latter all Republican, have multiple tents set up to proselytize. A Tennessee fan was handing out T-shaped cookies and nobody bit.
Nobody enters the stadium until 1/2 an hour before kickoff, because there is too much beer to be consumed first (I didn't once smell pot). Then it instantly fills. I like the more extensive pre-game rituals of Michigan, but it seems this "everybody in!" style does a good job of preventing any period when seats are half-full. There's no such thing as an empty seat at kickoff, and in the lower bowl there is no such thing as a seat with a butt in it when the game is happening. Through some machinations not shared because they're not very repeatable, we managed to get our group into the student section.
The stadium has ads, mostly on ribbons between the decks, and mostly ignorable. Fraternities and sororities have buttons they wear to announce their houses and serve as another opportunity to express their desire for canine motion. Other methods include the "Who's that walkin' down the line?" response cheer, the standard "Go Dawgs!" and barking at each other. There seemed to be specific times when this was appropriate, but other than kickoffs I couldn't figure out when. They believe they invented holding up four fingers to signify the 4th quarter is theirs, and there's music to punctuate this fact, and I couldn't argue that with them, but the Georgia D was happy to get my back.
After 4 hours and 95 points, Dooley's over-matched squad was duly dispatched, and we made a beeline to this free-standing bell they ring whenever they win. It reminded me of Grease and a thousand other movies that have football teams that ring victory bells, and made me envious that we aren't one of them. The chatter on the way out was all about Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks visit this week, and who has been poking fun at them in past and recent press conferences. A few yelled "Spurrier is a cock." Because it's so true.