Regardless if you are Irish Catholic or skipped church on Sunday to watch the Lions, there’s one fact that can be universally preached: the atmosphere for the very first night game on Saturday at the 84-year-old Michigan Stadium between the Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was electric (thanks Thomas Edison), memorable, long overdue and extremely loud.
The latest (and greatest?) version of the storied rivalry that began in 1887 will obviously be remembered for the Wolverines’ frantic fourth-quarter rally in which they scored 28 points, and the combined three touchdowns in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds of action, including the go-ahead score by receiver Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds remaining.
Seriously, how righteous was that, dude?
But the final score of 35-31 will soon be forgotten. What will stick with me as well as the rest inside that stadium was the atmosphere. It was amazing and often gave me goose bumps while snapping photos in the back of the end zones. I was thankful to be apart of the 114,804 fans in attendance — the largest crowd ever to witness a college football game.
Despite having the largest stadium capacity in Division 1 football, Michigan Stadium crowds have rarely earned the title of deafening or raucous. Part of it has to do with the “wine and cheese” alumni who sit on their hands and only occasionally let out a “rah rah.” I attended a Wolverines’ homecoming game against Indiana two years ago and was shocked at how such a big stadium could be so quiet.
Then again, maybe fans were too busy groaning about Rich Rodriguez.
For those who do enjoy to let their emotions be heard, they were fighting a losing battle before the luxury/press box renovations to the old stadium last year. Much of the noise would drift away, but now, with more structure on top, it seems to echo off the walls much like a loud yell inside a racquet ball court.
When Michigan began to make its comeback on the Irish in the fourth quarter, the public address team boomed out the song “Seven Nation Army” by the band The White Stripes, a rock duo formed in Detroit. The song has a distinctive bass guitar riff, and the crowd — let by the Maize-clad, pom-pom thrusting student section — followed suit with ohhhhhhh, oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhhhh, oh, and for awhile I didn’t know if I was at an American or European football game — or soccer in our circles.
The only thing I could think of as I heard that remarkable unison of splendid sound was, ‘I know Brian Kelly never heard this much noise while coaching at Grand Valley State.’
Apparently, the nerves of his players was affected by it as well, as the Irish crumbled in the clutch and coughed up a sure-fire victory with a combination of crucial mistakes, including a shanked punt and key fumble by quarterback Tommy Rees with 6 minutes to play.
And when the Irish needed to pick up critical first-downs on a pair short yardage situations to extend drives and eat up valuable time off the clock in the fourth quarter, they were stuffed. Stuffed by the same Michigan defense the Irish abused throughout the first half and gained 513 total yards of offense against.
Notre Dame had no business losing this game; in reality, if it was held at Notre Dame Stadium, they would have won by three touchdowns. But never underestimate the power of home crowd noise in inspiring a suspect, underdog defense.
The second chances for Michigan allowed Wolverines’ quarterback Denard Robinson to do what he does best — create magic. Robinson may not be completely comfortable operating head coach Brady Hoke’s pro style offense — as three interceptions attest — but when he’s scrambling on the fly and using his natural athletic ability to create plays, there’s no one in college football who is more dangerous.
Who else in the nation can rack up 446 total yards of offense — as Robinson did Saturday — and have it considered not his best performance?
Robinson completed only 11 passes on Saturday, but when he needed to be razor sharp with his accuracy, he was, including the perfect fade pass to Roundtree in the corner of the end zone with seconds remaining.
When the clock struck zeroes, the thriller had ended, the celebratory chaos had died down and the players had left for the locker rooms, I walked to midfield and looked around. It was still a Maize blur around the giant oval. Nobody — expect stunned Notre Dame fans — had left their seats. The party was still far from over. It was like they were expecting a curtain call.
In a way, there was. Over the loud speakers wasn’t The White Stripes, but “Oh, What Night,” the oldie by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. That summed it up pretty well.
I stood on the Block M and just for the fun of it, maybe because it was such an enjoyable scene under the lights, pointed to the sky.
Michigan said ‘let there be lights’ and it was very, very good.