They marched past in tight formation, the drumline rapping out their cadence, occasionally punctuated by a solemn chant of "Ohio!" The Game was over, by now a good 15 minutes over, and the devastation set in as pandemonium ensued on the field of the Big House. You could tell instantly from the looks in their eyes—many welled up with tears—that the Ohio State Marching Band was not marching nearly fast enough.
I knew that look, that feeling. For the seven years prior, that was me, just doing my best to stay composed—it's a game, after all—until I could find a place away from everyone, and especially away from anything resembling football—because, after all, it's really more than just a game. On Saturday, however, I stood in the front corner of the tunnel, watching a beautiful scene unfold while doing my best to maintain some level of professionalism. Despite being all-too-familiar with their pain, I felt no sympathy towards the opposing band; they were merely collateral damage in a world returned to its rightful state.
I was spoiled. Since my dad decided to move the family from San Francisco to Ann Arbor—home of his alma mater—in the summer of 1993, Michigan had gone 6-4 against the Buckeyes, and 3-1 in games I had attended. This included Tim Biakabutuka's 313-yard game in '95 and the Rose Bowl clincher in '97, when Charles Woodson cut once, then once more, and streaked down the sidelines towards our end zone seats.
It was the fall of 2003, and I was a baby-faced high school sophomore. My friend Amy sat down with me in the lunchroom at Pioneer and told me she had her grandmother's tickets for The Game, and I could come if I want. She already knew the answer. What she didn't know—what none of us could know—was that we would be watching the last Wolverine victory in the rivalry until we were both out of college. At the time, I watched the game with the full expectation that Michigan would win—despite the presence of some vest-wearing guy from Youngstown State named Tressel, who had inexplicably coached OSU to victory the previous two years—and when they did, we walked home with little fanfare. This was normal, and it was good.
After eight games, there is still no part of me that feels like a day in the Michigan Stadium press box is just another day at the office. That feeling was only reinforced as Jake Long strode by amidst awkwardly-loud whispers of "Is that Jake Long?" Meanwhile, a relaxed Gene Smith schmoozed with some unidentified bigwigs, the press box was announced as being full for the first time all year—yes, including the Notre Dame game—and Mike Rosenberg even made it for the first time since the release of the advance copies of Three and Out. In a year chock-full of remarkable scenes, this stood out as particularly surreal.
Still, once the game began, I fell into routine easily. Watch the play, attempt to think of something insightful, tweet (usually regardless of whether or not an insightful thought actually occurred), perhaps crack a joke to Heiko, rinse, repeat. At halftime, the nerves began to kick in, because despite seven years of misery the thought never crossed my mind that this game could end in anything but righteous victory.
With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter—not long after I tweeted "End of third quarter update: I'm dying inside"—I packed up my laptop and followed TomVH and Chantel Jennings down to the field. By the time we reached the concourse, we were practically running. Michigan held a three-point lead and was driving, and this was no time to be cooped up far above the action where anything resembling a partisan cheer is met with withering glares of contempt.
We watched, helpless, as Fitz Toussaint scored but did not score, as Denard ran it in only to be rebuffed by yellow flags, as Michigan settled for a Brendan Gibbons field goal, and then as Devier Posey ran right by J.T. Floyd, only to be overthrown by a margin too close to keep my heart from nearly escaping my chest cavity. The next thing I knew, Braxton Miller had spiked the ball on third down—to the amazement of the surrounding media members and the incredulity of the Buckeye fans in the visitor's section behind me—and then Courtney Avery came down with the football.
As Denard Robinson chucked the ball high into the sky, setting off the "bomb" celebration that so hilariously rankled Zach Boren, I was already walking onto the field. I never had the chance to rush the field as a fan, but now, thanks to a job I did not possess a mere four months ago, here I was accidentally walking right behind Fitz Toussaint as he answered a television reporter's questions.
Toussaint wrapped up his interview quickly and sprinted towards the end zone, to his teammates and their student brethren. I followed, snapping pictures on my phone and keeping an eye out for my younger brother, who had lucked his way into a front-row seat in the student section. By the time I reached the end zone, the stampede began—the players ran towards the tunnel as the first wave of students streamed onto the field, and for a moment I wondered if I would be trampled. I wasn't worried about myself, but instead hoped that my parents would understand that I died happy, doing what I love.
I snapped out of it, because getting bowled into by a drunk, screaming engineer in a "Shoelace For Heisman" shirt will kick in your survival instincts. I turned and went with the flow of the crowd, capturing a few poignant moments along the way: a homeless-looking Steve Everitt hugging Taylor Lewan, Brendan Gibbons embracing Mark Huyge, walk-on Zac Johnson—one arm raised in triumph—soaking it all in.
By the mouth of the tunnel stood Mike Martin—and I didn't realize it at the time, but he was next to John U. Bacon—and his look of pure elation nearly brought a tear to my eye. To the right, Denard Robinson flashed his 1000-watt smile as he was mobbed by adoring students, then lifted a cheerleader off the ground—Lewan would have been proud. The players, the fans, and yes, the media members, nobody wanted to leave. We were unleashing seven years of pent-up frustration, but more than that, we were basking in the joy of the players, the guys who have been through more than any others in program history.
After several minutes, when the team had finally gone off to the locker room, I slipped into the tunnel to watch the recruits—and, as it turned out, the Ohio State band—make their way through. The faces of the visiting prospects said it all: a mix of jubilation and wonder, the wide-eyed looks of those wondering if this all was real. Devin Funchess snapped out of his joyful daze just in time to sidestep an equipment box being pushed by some Buckeye band members—"Man, they're trying to kill me!"—then proceeded to laugh his way out, bouncing with each step.
Just when things seemed to be quieting down, the traffic through the tunnel thinned out, three men emerged from the Michigan locker room, smartphones in hand: Captain Mike Martin, the heart and soul of the defense; Ryan Van Bergen, the face of "Those Who Stayed"; and Will Heininger, the Ann Arbor native who turned down a potential baseball career to walk on to the team he grew up idolizing. They headed back into the fray, capturing the moment for eternity.
They didn't just stay. They had returned.
Well done Ace. I enjoyed the read.
At the same time that I was insanely jealous of your awesome game day experience, I was also incrediby happy for you since I can tell it meant just as much to you as it would've meant to me.
It's gonna be a great year!
Excellent piece, Ace. It brings back exactly how I felt when I witnessed The Game on Saturday. It also makes me really, really want your job.
Stop it dude, you're gonna make me cry.
There was no stopping it, just came to tears at my desk on a Tuesday. So happy! Great read!
This is like whacking your thumb with a hammer, or watching Brian's (NTB) Song. Finally, the anti-streak is over...let it flow!!
Thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts and memories. This is a tremendous read.
Two questions for you:
1. Did you tell Rosenberg to go f-ck himself? (kidding, but not really)
2. Did your little brother get to stand next to either Lloyd Brady or Facepalm Guy?
Thanks, profit. I haven't said a word to Rosenberg all year, mostly because he hasn't been around (I wasn't joking, he hadn't been in the box at all during Big Ten season), but also because I have nothing to say to him. Or, at least, nothing that would be okay to say in the press box.
My brother, despite being my brother, is completely unaware who Lloyd Brady and Facepalm Guy are, though he was likely right next to them. He's a diehard, but not an avid MGoBlog reader. I'm working on it.
Great piece. Really glad you're able to experience UM football as part of your profession as well. Kudos.
Also, quick edit to your post: "My DISOWNED brother, despite being my FORMER brother ..."
because your brother IS LLOYD BRADY! No wonder you were able to land such a dream job.
Thanks for this. After everything that's happened the last 5 years, we can all use a few positive emo pieces.
I was a junior in the band for the 2003 Game, and it never even entered my mind that we would lose. Won't it be nice to get that feeling back? Even on Saturday I spent most of the day terrified. If Posey had scored after the Fitz (non)TD, I think I would have to retire as a sports fan.
exactly my thoughts. It would've been too much to take...there's no way I could've carried on
...a truly Epic finish to this game if that pass hadn't sailed over Posey's head!
It's almost (but only almost) too bad osu didn't score there... a ND-type ending would have been kinda like too much birthday cake... the day was sooo sweet already!!
After the Toussant TD ruled non TD (which was crap) and the next TD negated by 25 yards in penalties I was convinced that Akron State would win. I sat in shock during the 3rd down play and peered (still seated) through the forest of standing people to watch the field goal attempt on the scoreboard. To go from a 10 point lead with two minutes to play to (in my mind) a missed FG and Akron State trailing by three with the ball and two minutes left was almost too much to take.
Man I want a highlight video/celebration video of this game with the players elated with that song playing during the Geico commercial with the repetition of "It was the best day" and then when it says "Because of you" Have a collage of the players/seniors
Thanks for the new memories. You put me back in the Big House for the first time in way too many years.
Brian sure knows how to pick 'em....
Excellent piece Ace.
I got some in my eyes...
I don't think Will Heininger has received enough credit this year. His value to this team is remarkable and irreplacable.
A huge shout out to you Will! Those who stay will be champions! And to your boy PWC.
Well done Ace, well done indeed. Great read.
This day was so movie-esqe. I'd love to watch a documentary or short movie on the Michigan career of this senior class.
Super job, Ace. I flew up with my two boys for their first game at the Big House. It cost me an exhorbitant amount to do it. And it was... priceless... for them and for me. For the rest of their lives, this game will have been the first Michigan experience. Pretty sweet.
John U Bacon standing in front of Mike Martin? I'm sort of shocked the AD would let him anywhere near the field after the cold reception to his tome of the RR era....we shall overcome. Good to see the family is talking again.
Anyway, nice piece of Ace.
Bacon has very little official access. At a recent alumni event, he explained that he has no inside access and has one of the worse seats in the press box. I assume he was on the field simply because anyone could get on the field after this game.
Great to see him in the picture with Martin.
Yep, quite plausible.
I assume he knows the majority of 132 pretty well after being embedded for three years. I've often wondered what the players think of Bacon and the book. I assume they all have to have read it at this point; would be interesting to get their take on it.
I'm sure almost none of them have read it, what with it coming out in the middle of both the season and the semester. We're not exactly talking about a cohort with a lot of free time for reading.
Delete me too
I couldn't agree with you more Ace. Being on the sideline for this game made it not feel like I wasn't working at all. You should have sent me a text when you got on the field.
Here is my favorite moment from this season though. I'm the photographer in the Maize and Blue jacket. I felt like such a wimp after this play. Considering I'm 6'4" and I have about 100lbs on Martavious Odoms. It was pretty awesome though.
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Huh? You need me for something?
Dude, those are tremendous survival instincts. He was headed for your knees, and you'll never make it to the bigs if you don't take care of your knees.
I say you celebrate those cat-like reflexes
Ace, that was a tremdous piece. You obviously "get it."
Amy- did you marry her?
Sounds like a keeper.
What a great 8 days for us Maize & Blue fans. The basketball team takes 2 out of 3 from a strong Maui field and is off to a 5-1 start. The footballers destroy Nebraska and beat Ohio to finish 10-2. It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
Excellent post. I shared all of your emotions from my seats far from the field in row 87 (luckily near midfield). I'm older and have seen many more wins and losses, but the seven-year drought was outside the norm for any of us. Getting Michigan back to where it belongs was dramatic for all of us in some way.
For me, the emotion bubbled over when Avery intercepted and we all knew the game was won. I began to sing The Victors with everyone as I had all afternoon, and as I did after the game. However, at that moment the words didn't come out and I realized I was starting to cry. Then, my knees buckled. It was weird. I just had to take a moment. We have been through a lot together.
I wanted to be on the field more than anyone, but row 87 is not very conducive to charging the field. I left it to my sons, who stormed the field from the student section. I was thrilled that they could enjoy the moment. It was a great, great day.
I think this is the first "fluff" piece Ace has posted on this site, and he friggin' nailed it. Take the rest of the day off!
mike martin had smartphoneS? like multiple smartphones? or did this mean headphones?
anyway, nicely done
I'm pretty sure he meant smartphoneS, plural because all the guys he mentioned had them, not just Mike Martin.
You've been a great addition to mgoblog. This piece was great, and the podcasts have been noticeably more entertaining with you on them.
It's nice that that you're still humble enough to be thankful for where you're at. As you continue to move up in stature, never forget where you came from.
Did I read this wrong? "Denard Robinson flashed his 1000-watt smile as he was mobbed by adoring students, then lifted a cheerleader off the ground—Lewan would have been proud. "
Denard lifted a cheerleader in the air? If true, I wish I could've seen it.
I enjoyed that.
Yes, thank you Ace.
And also, thank you to Nike and Adidas for allowing the uniforms to actually look like, ya know, the team's real uniforms.
The last 2 years didn't would have hurt worse if Ohio had worn their regulars.
for putting into words what so many of us feel. The passion for this university and the courage displayed by those young men really strikes at the heart strings and reaffirms why those who stay really do become champions. Go Blue!
There are only a few that I know who are as passionate about M football as I am, and I always explain to those who aren't that they just don't understand what being a true childhood fan of a college team means. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it's not that big a deal. But on a personal level, this piece by Ace, and Brian's writing, sum it up pretty well. It just matters to us, in ways that folks who aren't true fans of a team wouldn't understand.
If your little brother is an undergrad would he like to cut some bangs and be Lloyd Brady II ?
I've known JUB for a lot of years and had a chance to talk with him after the game, back at our tailgate. He said he's gotten a lot of positive feedback from former players regarding the book. He's always got a smile on his face, and if he has to serve a pennace in a crappy press box seat, he'll do it with more class than anyone else I can think of.
Great recap Ace. The overall feeling after the win was palpable. I can't recall the last time I've sensed that following a game.
Ace hit on something big for me here. When I was in the MMB, I made that same depressing, soul-crushing march out of four Ohio losses. Twice in Columbus, twice in Ann Arbor.
I've spent ten minutes here trying to put in words what it felt like. And I just can't do it. It's strange, I seem to have forgotten so much of those days, but I can't get out of my head what it felt like to get into half ranks and march off a loss after an Ohio week.
Those feelings are what came to mind at the end of the game on Saturday. Like Ace, I was on the field as a high school senior in 2003, running around like an idiot thinking how great it would be to do it four more times when I made it to the MMB. It didn't happen.
But Saturday, being back on that field running around like an idiot, the nightmare vanished. The demons are gone. I felt like anything was possible again. My entire adult life has been spent with a bad taste in my mouth. Not anymore.
Those looks on the Ohio kid's faces was the melting away of complacency. I don't feel bad for them at all.
It felt like rays of sunlight poking through dark, angry clouds, flowers coming to bloom in what once was a barren, desolate wasteland, and chains falling from the wrists and ankles of the long-oppressed as their hands reached toward the heavens in jubilant, incredulous celebration