We went in early, a very rare occurrence for my crew and I, but everything that happened throughout the day said that this one was different, that this was that time where the warnings of stadium crowds and needing to be at the gate before the band took the field needed to be heeded. The glow emanating from Stadium and Main, the one I had seen nearly every night driving by throughout the late summer, was no longer a sign that the scoreboards were being tested, it was a sign that the build up of over a year of waiting for THE night game, and a lifetime of waiting for "cool" to come to Ann Arbor was over. Walking into the section with a little over 30 minutes left on the pre-game clock, it became apparent that even though I was early as I had ever been, I was most definitely late. Of the record crowd of 114,804, over 100K of them were already making noise at 7:30pm. It was brimming as the band took the field. And it was certainly already over capacity as cheers and tears accompanied Desmond Howard's ceremonious acquisition of "Michigan Legend" status.
The sun set at 7:54pm, and then we played football. And we did so very poorly for the better part of three full quarters. Yes, I wanted Denard pulled. And yes, I gave up on the game and the whole season long before the entire receiving core channeled Braylon Edwards catching Chad Henne's freshman ducks. I cursed Borges's offense, and the fact that we ruined the most exciting player in college football with our coaching change. And the defense was the same defense. Gashed by runs, continuously picked apart by passes to the same receiver over and over and over, long gains on 3rd and long, and long gains on 3rd and short.
But there was something weird about the whole thing. Maybe it was the lights and the hoopla, or my brain bleeding from having to watch black leotard wearing band dorks blink in the night at halftime, or maybe it was the fact that Notre Dame just couldn't put us away despite dominating the Wolverines in every facet of the game. Again, just something in the night air, something weird that made me think that we were about 5 or 6 miracles away from pulling this out of our ass. I think we received no less than 15 of said miracles...odd bounces on kickoffs, Denard's magical breakaway style jersey, Hawthorne orchestrating his own personal 3-and-out, Denard throwing rainbow lobs to the endzone as if all of our receivers were 7 feet tall and would just take the ball away from defenders (which they did).
And suddenly, it became last year. Hurry up and let them score so we can get the ball back to Denard. Last team with the ball wins. Football? Not so much. Fun? Yessir. And our timing was impeccable. Somehow we won on the biggest stage...our stage...on a historic night AND in dramatic fashion. Every Saturday that I return home from a game and watch the national night game on TV, wherever it is, I am always in awe of the atmosphere. It's something that I always assumed couldn't be accomplished at Michigan. Too many old alumni with their hearing aids and "down in front" attitudes. But I was wrong. When Michigan began to gain some momentum late in the third quarter, the entire stadium was in unison. Maybe the old people didn't come because of the late start, or perhaps there was a Matlock marathon on somewhere....or maybe they just finally gave in. Because it was Club Big House in there. Techno beats and pom poms and singing and dancing and Seven Nation Army and the 12th man....and whatever other clichéd things you can cram into a sentence.
We were a factor. We were part of the momentum.
And when the game ended, a smiling but reserved Brady Hoke was approached by Erin Andrews. She was looking for the emotional response, for what this meant to Brady. Coach didn't budge an inch, going over a laundry list of things that needed work, chastising the offense for never finding a rhythm, and a defense with glaring problems. Erin would try a second and third time to pry out some personal feelings...she got "It's a great win for Michigan."
"The team, the team, the team" indeed.
At this point, after two previous years with September triumphs that left us overrated, I shouldn't have to remind you to stay grounded. Notre Dame is not good...and they dominated us in every category except turnover margin. The hype surrounding the game has already vaulted us to the cusp of the polls. Barring an egg-laying on Saturday, we will be ranked going into San Diego State...and that's crazy.
So let's just enjoy this week, our blissful ignorance, and revel in a wild, historic night in Ann Arbor while savoring a third consecutive victory over Notre Dame.