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A Bostonian at the University of Michigan.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005  

I'm not really even sure where to start with this.

Probably the beginning is as good a place as any.

Before the game started, I was leaning on the railing of the ramp leading up to my section gate, waiting for my friend Rachel to use to bathrooms one section over. I had my giant camera out*, idly scanning the crowd and photographing people who looked interesting. This fellow had on a tshirt which utterly confused me. "Roll up your pant legs, this is JoePa's house"? What does that mean? My interpretation is that Paterno is so old and infirm that he piddles all over the floor, and you've got to roll up your pant legs or else they'll drag in it, but that can't be the intended interpretation. I mean, it can't, right?

There were a lot of Penn State fans at the game, maybe the biggest out-of-town crowd we've had for a game so far (I'd say only Notre Dame might have given them a run for their money). There were a lot of college kids with painted faces and goofy hats who were getting into loud and obscene chanting matches with the Michigan crowd, of course, but there were also a surprising lot of older people wearing more sedate PSU gear, including several families I saw with small children.

Now, why would you do that to your kid? Even if Penn State wins, do you really want to deck your child out in navy and white and drag them into the Big House to be berated viciously by the drunken frat boys who are so far gone that they're only recognizing colors by halftime, and to whom your tow-headed little 6 year old is deserving of exactly the same kind of vitriolic scorn as their drunken frat PSU counterparts? Because that's what's gonna happen. And I'm not just talking about PSU families in the stadium in general... perhaps those sitting on the east side of the stadium had it easier. I'm talking about families whom I saw going into, and who therefore must have been sitting in, the student section. That's got to be a good easy way to traumatize your child in one productive afternoon.

Of course I'm not saying the atmosphere at the Big House is anything like the supremely un-family-friendly atmosphere at, say, Yost Ice Arena (some of the chants from Michigan hockey games are almost literally unprintable), but it can't have been the most comfortable experience ever for those PSU kids. And many thousands of Michigan students chopping their arms downwards in synch, hands clenched like wolverine claws, chanting, "You suck, you suck, you SUCK!" on every PSU fourth down must be a relatively terrifying sight for a small child.

In short: Penn State parents are dumb.

The Maize Out seemed to be a moderate success. It seemed like more people than usual were wearing yellow (your irritable blogger representing in a hugeass yellow sweatshirt, which seemed like a slightly dumb idea while walking down to the stadium in the mild weather, but which seemed like a stroke of genius by the end), and of course the pom poms helped.

The student section looked pretty yellow, and the rest of the stadium was a mixed bag like usual, although I did think they looked marginally more yellow than usual. There was a block of pretty solid maize in the endzone opposite to us, although it was unfortunately located directly next to a great big white cataract of PSU fans.

Spirit was much, much higher than I had been expecting. The place was mobbed so thoroughly that we lost our seats after leaving for a short while to try and get in touch with some other friends (fear not; we ended up one section over, at approximately the same height we usually sit [stand] at anyways). Considering the fact that this is our fall break, and that lots of kids have left to go home, it was shocking to see the Big House that full, even for a pretty big game like this. The crowd was loud too, very loud, to the point where there were several false start penalties called against Penn State that you just know were at least partly due to the PSU players' inability to hear play calls over the roar of the Big House.

A sure sign of how into the game the crowd was: sometime in the third quarter, the wave got started. It went around twice before dying the death of a wave in a stadium where everyone is actually more concerned with paying attention to the game than with the many permutations of wave we usually go through at a Michigan game (normal, slowed down, speeded up, two at once, etc). I don't think I'd ever seen a wave start up and then just die like that. Even at the Michigan State game last year, we went through all the wave acts.

This game was so close, though, the whole way through, and everyone was so very aware of Penn State's undefeated status, and Michigan's desperate need to save face, and the fact that there were rather a lot of PSU fans in our midst.

We played like crap for a lot of the game. Robinson, their quarterback, can move when he needs to, and when he set off running we had some trouble holding onto him. Bit of an understatement, that. We had some trouble holding onto him in much the same way that a man with no hands has trouble holding onto a heavily greased rattlesnake. We kept letting them get away with ugly mistakes too... I can think of at least two plays where the ball was dropped and then picked up for a sizable gain, which must be the single most frustrating defensive play I can imagine off the top of my head.

Chad Henne had what is rapidly becoming his usual number of air-mail lobs to the sidelines, causing one of the guys behind us to start chanting to himself, "I hate you Henne, I hate you Henne, I hate you Henne," over and over again, softly, for a good solid 5 minutes. Which, you know, got kind of worrying after a bit.

I don't remember many specifics about that complete breakdown near the end of the game, where PSU drove down and scored a touchdown, then had that miffed play that ended up being a two-point conversion. You'll have to excuse me, I wasn't in a good place just then, by which I mean that Rachel and I were hanging onto each other and gibbering helplessly while Dante gazed beseechingly at the heavens and one of the girls next to us violently shredded her pom pom.

A guy behind us (not the "I hate you Henne" kid) kept saying things like, "2:28 is a lifetime," when that amount was left on the clock.

He then amended it to, "1:15 is a lifetime."

(why would you kick it to Steve Breaston? I don't know. It doesn't make much sense, but thank god they did, because that kick return was a thing of moderate beauty)

Then, "Don't worry, guys! 38 seconds is a lifetime!"

(get out of bounds get out of bounds get out of bounds)

"One second is a lifetime!" Mostly sarcastic, incredibly nervous.

I'm not sure this sensation can be properly described. Maybe you had to be there. But the entire stadium, all 111,249 people in there, was terrified. Absolutely fucking terrified. The score was 25-21, PSU leading-- it was touchdown or bust, because a field goal wouldn't do diddly-squat. Michigan had been 'driving' up the field with a series of infuriating little dump passes. There was time for exactly one play left in the game, with one second remaining on the clock.

Henne dropped back, the second ticked off the clock, and with everything showing zeroes he looked left, looked right, and nailed Mario Manningham in the endzone.

The stadium, as you might imagine, erupted.

I don't think any of us actually believed that Henne, confused, not-seeing-his-own-open-receivers, throwing-the-ball-away-rather-a-lot Henne, had any chance of making that touchdown. I think we were all steeling ourselves for another crushingly disappointing Michigan home loss, resigning ourselves to the chilly trudge home in the dark, heads down, doggedly ignoring the PSU fans who would doubtlessly be lining the route back to Central Campus in blue-and-white glory.

But no.

My friend Mike later ranked this game as number 2 on the all-time list of Awesome Games He's Seen in Person at the Big House, right above the OSU game our freshman year where we stormed the field, and right under last year's MSU triple-overtime masterpiece. I'm not entirely sure about that, since we did play like something a wolverine would excrete after having eaten a particularly disagreeable vole for much of the game.

But that ending may have made it entirely worth the ranking.

PS: Mike Hart is a goddamn stud and he can make something out of nothing and I love him a lot and there were many, many Mike Hart mancrushes born during this game, if they weren't already in full bloom.

Photos from the game can be seen here. I think this is one of the better Michigan game photo galleries so far... I feel like there's a much better mix of scenery shots, and shots of people in the crowd, and shots of football players that no one will be interested in except for me and maybe Brian.

Best insults of the game:

"It's a cougar! It's a goddamn cougar! Why you got to call it a Nittany Lion!" (by the by, he was right. The Nittany Lion is another name for a mountain lion, or cougar, or panther, or whatever you prefer to call it)

"You're gettin' beaten by a team that's 3-and-3!" (the self-deprecating Michigan fans. I heard this one a lot)

"You can't even do blue right! Your color is fucked up navy!" (this was after the crowd had been chanting "Go Blue!", prompting a PSU fan to indicate his blue PSU jersey and say, "Yeeeeahh! Go blue is right!")

and my personal favorite, to Michael Robinson, their quarterback.
"Robinson, you filthy goddamn pirate hooker!" (I don't understand it either)

I love this shot of Mike Hart stretching to try to reach the endzone. Mike Hart. Love.

Me, Rachel, Dante. Thanks for the nice shot, dude sitting behind us.

Moon rising over the east wall of the stadium.

*I am not sure I can thank my parents enough for this camera. Like, ever. My parents love me and I am a lucky person. Also, I got a package from home a few days ago, containing food and newspapers and things, you know, the usual fare. Folded up at the bottom? Was a jacket.

A Red Sox jacket.

I have the best parents ever.

2:44 AM

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