There have been a couple board posts about the game-day experience at Michigan Stadium in the last few days, ranging from the boring nature of Michigan fans to unflattering comparisons to Michigan's louder, more raucous and fun football schools. FWIW, such has struck a chord with me, and I've decided to post my first diary (diatribe?) on MGoBlog about it. Why? It's a valid question; I probably could have found a more productive way to spend the last 20 or so minutes. At the heart of the matter I felt so compelled to point out, in my opinion, is that where some may see 'boring', they should instead see Michigan culture and something of which to be proud.
For starters, the Michigan Stadium experience has to be considered on its own terms. It’s dishonest to compare Michigan's traditions to those of others schools hoping to come out with a break-even rubric. If it was all about noise, 'white-outs', and 'jump-around', then the hierarchy of college football fandom (and 'intimidation') in the Big Ten securely has its leaders.
However, when you think about it, you'll notice that's not remotely the case. Noise is nice, loud is good, and I'm all about drunken high-fives and back-slapping when it's appropriate. But that's not what Michigan Stadium is about.
Michigan has "the Victors". Only a handful of schools have such a storied and inspired/inspiring fight song, and even less with a band talented enough to do it justice. Michigan has the "Let's Go Blue" bell, Temptation and the Hawaiian War Chant. There won't be any jock-jams, amplified synthetic noise, or corporate pageantry at Michigan Stadium. The focus will be on the field, on the Band, and on Tradition. (Having said this, I'm not against amplifying a "Let's Go Blue" bell, Michigan fanfare, or the sound of keys jangling over the PA if it will get the whole stadium clapping and cheering together. PA prompts to cheer are OK with me so long as they don't overwhelm focus off the field).
On the scoreboard, Michigan Stadium proudly lists the years for all 42 conference titles, 11 claimed national titles. Michigan has had 150 All-Americans, 3 Heisman winners, and over 870 overall wins (leading the NCAA). These are the stats that each of the 107,501 Michigan faithful exude en masse every game-day; some express the Michigan tradition with facepaint, maize shirts, blue shirts, no shirts... and for many, in no Michigan apparel at all. And I think we should be OK with that. Because to me, having a grandpa at the game who sits quietly and watches his 100th, 150th or 200th win at U-M with little to no fanfare of his own making doesn't take away from my game experience but has a hand in making it.
When the new additions are completed, Michigan Stadium will draw over 108,000 people (young, old, alums, students), and we can rest assured it will be a classy crowd: folks who've come to watch a game played the Michigan way, and chances are they'll see the other team lose.
Conversely, every time an opposing team comes to the Big House, chances are slim they're coming away with a win. Michigan's all-time wins: 872–294–36 (.740); the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Such is a level of intimidation that a bunch of idiots in white t-shirts, or dancing around to music that wasn't even cool in 1992, can only dream to achieve. What more do you really want?
As I’m trying to emphasize, the crowd and "intimidation" of Michigan Stadium can't be considered along the same terms as most any other school. It's my sense that many MGoBloggers would like the U-M experience to match game-day at Bobby-Dodd, the Swamp or Tiger Stadium. My response to this is that stadium (and collegiate) experiences in southern and certain western states where you can wear t-shirts and shorts year-round, attend night-games, and project sports-bar culture into football Saturdays are on a different plane than their mid-western counterparts. You could almost do a case-study on the geographical/sociological factors contributing to 'fandom' with these comparisons. Because I find that kind of thing interesting, I'll continue.
First: If the Michigan crowd could wear t-shirts to every game and didn't have to bundle up in fleeces and coats as the temperature drops, then you would see 108,000 people wearing the same shirt to every game-day. Same would likely create a mob-mentality, and people would be more apt to yell and cheer with singular voice and purpose. As it is at Michigan, when folks have to start donning heavier clothes, each fan is individualized in his/her own clothes and winter-gear. Individualization detracts from extroversion, and people become less apt to cheer with 'one voice'. (There are interesting psych studies on the issue of fans and mob-mentality I would link to, but you can just Google it and find some for yourself).
Second: Michigan Stadium has to some degree been forced to stick to the Saturday afternoon schedule in lieu of greater 'fandamonium' at night-games because of restricted game-day commuter options. You and I may likely agree, a party-atmosphere is at the heart of the game-day experience at all of the schools we sometimes fantasize Michigan could level up to. Unfortunately, Michigan, as home of GM and the Big Three, emphasized family cars over trains and busses. Without a viable option to commute after rounds of collegiate revelry, people have to be considerate of their commutes home. No/less spirits prior or during the game = less "spirit" in the Stadium.
As for the night-games, I've read scholarly opinions that people become more extroverted in the dark and under the light than during the day-time. I believe there's truth to this. However, Michigan Stadium has its hands tied a little bit here; I think we'd have to wait and see if a night-game experiment could still draw the same crowd and revenue as the afternoons. I would guess that the Stadium would be louder in any event.
Third: winning has a funny way of ‘stuffying up’ a crowd. Teams with winning traditions attract front-runner fans; and to a degree these people don’t do the term “fan” (short for “fanatic”) justice. As a by-product, the winning program may often realize the unfortunate result of having its biggest rival seemingly boast “better fans.” This bothers me more than anything: that Yankees fans are somehow less "fanatical" than Red Sox fans. I've heard the same problem with respect to our neighbors across the Pond; Manchester United fans vs. Liverpool.
All else being equal, I would suspect that if you thinned the Michigan Stadium crowd by eliminating the fair-weather and/or front-runner fans from game-day, and then transplanted the remaining fans into a Stadium that trapped noise instead of sending it into the ether (Autzen?), you’d have a very loud and enthusiastic group.
Last: weeks ago, someone posted a great article written by Mitch Albom discussing the state of the State of Michigan. It was a really well-written piece, irrespective of your affinity for the author. In the column, Albom discusses the "Michigan fan" in sociological terms: as humble, respectful, tradition-oriented folk. I think there's something to this, and it correlates to the type of crowd you see at Michigan Stadium.
For me, I tend to embrace these factors as a fan, because it speaks to unique qualities about what makes Michigan football "Michigan Football". Where you see boring, I see Michigan culture. As an out-of-state student (NYer), I considered the humble friendly nature of most mid-westerners with whom I engaged as an asset to the state and to the school (it's a stereotype, but well-placed in my opinion).
Where you might demand volume in decibals, I look in awe at the volume in numbers for a Stadium that demands its fans to actually drive to game-day. It may be a lot to ask of family-men and women to commit to an hour+ trek to the Stadium, have their family tailgates, and then up the excitement level for 3 hours only to get in their cars and sit in traffic on the way home. The people blogging on this site represent a faction of the fans who probably would up the ante upon entering the Stadium, but most fans at that point are just going to want to watch the game on their bums, cheering wildly after TDs and interceptions but in restrained merriment throughout.
When all is said and spoken for, you're left with a very "Michigan" (I hope not boring?) experience: an unrivaled sense of support for the home-team, loyalty through thick and thin (numbers dropped at the Stadium in 2008, but never below 106,734 [Miami-Ohio]; think about that), and above all, pride. Pride for tradition, and pride for the men on the field. I think and I hope that the players sense same. I get the impression that they do, because I believe this is what’s at the heart of being a “Michigan Man”: an athlete deserving of such unbridled, almost religious, support. I would imagine the opposition senses it, especially our mid-western rivals; such would certainly intimidate me as a player, as far as any level of noise could intimidate. It’s my new hope that when fans look out across the masses at Michigan Stadium, even the quiet ones, they’ll have a greater sense and appreciation for the thing that is the Michigan Experience, and Michigan Culture. In my opinion, it’s really something to be proud of.
If booing has become an issue at Michigan Stadium, I'm glad I didn't witness it during my run at U-M from 2000-2004; I don't remember ever hearing multiple fans boo. It's unacceptable. If it ever happened, the 'booers' would have been sorely derogated. I sincerely hope this is not becoming a recurring problem.