This story started with a conversation my brother and I had last November. A bit of background – my nephew Tyler plays the tenor drums in the Miami University Marching Band (the real Miami – not that pretender in Florida – Miami was a university when Florida still belonged to Spain). Miami’s band plays mostly home games, but makes at least one major road trip each year. When Tyler was a freshman, his first band performance was at the Horseshoe in Columbus when Miami played Ohio State. Of course we went to watch – and I told him afterward that he had played in front of 107,000 people in his first performance, and would never play in front of more than 20,000 the rest of his college career.
How wrong I was. Blake started that conversation in November with “Remember when you told Tyler that Ohio State was the only big place he would ever play? Guess where they’re playing next year?”
I didn’t miss a beat – “The Big House? We are SO going . . .”
And so it was that last Saturday my brother and his wife, her parents and I piled into Blake’s Explorer and headed north to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have always wanted to go to Michigan Stadium, but I really didn’t want to go as the hated enemy – for the uninitiated, Ohio State and Michigan are bitter rivals. But a chance to go there as a fan of the worst team in Division I college football (look it up – this week Miami is #128 and there are only 128 Division I teams) – a week after Michigan got throttled by Notre Dame? They might drop rose petals in our path as we approached . . .
We parked at this church, 1.2 miles from The Big House. I did some research – we parked here for $15, but any closer was going to get a lot more expensive.
Our first view of the stadium – that little building right above Lisa’s head. I have watched Michigan games on TV forever, and I didn’t realize until last week that all but the last eleven rows and the press box and luxury suites are below ground level.
Lots and lots of tailgating going on at the high school just south of the stadium – and lots and lots of money changing hands to get a space.
Much better views of the stadium – from outside, it looks like a four-story building with huge video boards at each end . . .
To put it in perspective, here are a couple of shots from the top row of the stadium – which was only two rows above our seats. You’ll note that like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Michigan Stadium is essentially in a residential neighborhood.
But before we went inside, Miami’s band was going to make an appearance at an alumni tailgate at the golf course across the street from the stadium. They were staging at the football practice field, which is surrounded by a chain link fence covered by tarps (which I assume are to keep the media and scouts from watching the football team – not the visiting band. I took this pic by wedging my cell phone through the fence between a couple of tarps.
The band made it across the street by marching through a narrow pedestrian tunnel. The band normally marches four abreast, which was plenty of room for most of them . . .
But not the tenor drums, who had to split into two rows to fit.
At the tailgate, we got to get “up close and personal” – that’s Tyler on the right.
After the performance, the band was encouraged to mingle with the alumni who had made the trip. For Tyler, that meant a chance to give Mom a hug and pose for pictures.
This is the funniest thing I saw all day – stickers that were passed out to the Miami Alumni. My first thought was “Who are you kidding?”
Michigan Stadium reminds me a little of the McKale Center (the basketball arena at the University of Arizona) – all of the concession stands are outside. There was a video board showing advertisements, that suddenly turned into a “Marquee Cam” as we approached it (I blew up a piece of the picture I took to show Blake waving and my face obscured by my cell phone).
And this is not to be missed. My favorite little piece of Ann Arbor was “Officer Laura” (I should have taken a picture of her – instead I swiped this one from an old article in the Ann Arbor News) – she has a perch with her name on it and directs the pedestrian traffic in the crosswalks at the corner of Stadium and Main outside The Big House. She has a microphone and talks with the crowd constantly – and she was an absolute riot.
As we walked inside, an usher told us “There are no bad seats in The Big House.” He wasn’t kidding – this was the view from our seats, 94 rows above the field. After the game, we moved to a spot 25 rows from the field at about the 30 yard line to watch the bands’ postgame performance – I would have been happy in either place. But even though the flags were billowing at our level, the wind was actually stronger on the field.
Of course, Blake and I had to go to field level and get an “up close and personal” look . . .
Then we wandered over to the sideline where Miami’s band was stationed – and I happened to look up toward our seats and realized that Lisa and her parents were directly between the goal posts.
The tenor drummers were vamping, and we weren’t sure why until we realized that a cameraman from the Big Ten Network was getting shots of them that might be used as filler during the telecast.
One of Tyler’s housemates couldn’t resist photobombing the shot . . .
Miami’s band takes the field for pregame. And the Michigan band did a nice tribute to the flag on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner.
Michigan struggled with Miami early – and I couldn’t resist a shot of the scoreboard while the score was tied halfway through the second quarter. I knew it wouldn’t last long – and it didn’t. The final score was Michigan 34, Miami 10.
Halftime – the Miami band performed a quick number, and then joined the Michigan band in another salute to the troops and the flag.
After the game, the Miami and Michigan bands gathered on the field and performed for nearly half an hour. The shot at right is out of focus, but I wanted to show the tenors swaying arm-in-arm while the Miami Alma Mater was played . . .
Because it was on the stadium video boards at the same time – very cool. And then we headed for the car and the four hour drive home – not realizing that the Michigan and Miami Drumlines would decide to have an impromptu “Drum Off” outside the stadium. Thankfully, someone recorded it and posted it on YouTube so we got to watch it on Monday.
Impressions – we could not have been treated better. We heard “Welcome to The Big House” dozens of times during the day – of course, we also heard a few “We’re glad you’re not those awful Ohio State fans” and “What a shame you have red in your school colors like those awful Ohio State fans”. Ann Arbor is very much a college town – much like Oxford (where Miami is located) but on a much larger scale. And getting in and out of town couldn’t have been easier. I was very impressed with Michigan Stadium from the outside – lots of personality and so much of it below ground level. But the inside was very vanilla and that surprised me – it was just a big bowl for 110,000 people, with nothing all that distinctive and no tributes to famous players from the past (those were also outside).
Still, at least once in a lifetime The Big House is not to be missed.