I arrived at Michigan Stadium at about 2:00 on Saturday. I expect my appearences to become more frequent in the coming years, but as it stands now I make it to about one game a year. In the past I generally don't do much when I get there. I always go with my dad, and he takes care of stuff; buys a program, buys us some hot dogs, etc. I usually don't chat with any other fans, since I'm usually surrounded by dinosaurs. I'm not sure if it's a Michigan Stadium thing or just general bad luck on my part, but I'm always surrounded by old people who can barely stand, let alone cheer at a football game.
This time was different. I ended up in the "Illinois section" for this game. That's not to say I was the only Michigan fan in a mass of orange and blue. Not at all. The majority of the fans in my section were of the Michigan ilk. But of all the Illinois fans that made the trip for the game, I'd say 80-90% of them were in my section. I chit-chatted with a couple decent Illini fans around 2:15. They said they were confident in their team, but were still nervous that they might get "Winged Helmet Paranoia", an affliction that every Big Ten team not called Ohio State has experienced. It's a disease that locked up Wisconsin last week. It's a disease whose cure Joe Paterno has scoured the earth for for roughly 10,000 years (I think he might find it this year).
I assuaged the Illini fans' nerves. I told them, "As long as Stevie Brown, Brandon Harrison and Charles Stewart are at the safety positions for Michigan, Illinois will be fine." I told them that Arrelious Benn was a horse; they agreed.
Around 2:30, I surveyed my section again, and noticed a somewhat...large woman wearing a #7 Illinois jersey with "MOM" on the back. I quirked my head a bit and wondered. Somewhat timidly, I shuffled over and said hello. Sure enough, it was Juice Williams' mom. Nice lady. She had an air about her like she knew her boy was going to explode today. If I had been able to talk with her four hours later, I would've congratulated her and asked her for the lotto numbers.
I chatted with a few Michigan fans too. One was a few seats to the left of me and one row back. He looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s. We'll call him Mr. Clean, simply because he was bald and looked sort of bulky and odd. He expressed grave concerns about the Michigan secondary against Benn. I echoed his sentiments. Another guy, probably in his 40s, sat directly behind me and was fascinated by my knowledge of Michigan recruiting. I'll call him Sam because he reminded me of my Poly Sci professor from last year who was also named Sam. Sam spoke about the QB situation and how "the Force-ee-ayyy kid from California" and "the other kid from Texas, I forget his name" would help make things better next year. He asked me what the latest was. When I told him that Michigan had added the first two commitments for 2010, he looked at me like I had just split the atom right there in the stadium. He nervously asked me about Will Campbell. I told him everyone - recruiting analysts, fans, Cass Tech coaches - believes he will be back at Michigan.
Perhaps the most horrifying spectacle was the woman who sat one row in front of me. She was older, in her 70s, I'd guess. And for nearly the entire game, before the game, during the game, during plays, while touchdowns were being scored...she sat there reading a fucking romance novel. @#%^#%^$#%^#$%^@#$%^$%^^%$#%#$%&$%%&^$#%. Are you KIDDING me? You're at a FOOTBALL GAME, YOU MANIAC. If you want to read Through My Eyes by Barbara Delinsky, STAY HOME!!! I resisted the urge to snatch the book out of her hands and fling it 20 rows down. While I resisted this urge, I debated in my head if I could throw the book more accurately than Steven Threet could.
I was surprised at myself when I realized that the non-existant expectations I have placed on this season even applied when I was there in person. I mean, I still yelled my head off when Michigan scored, and I belted out The Victors at the top of my lungs, but when things started to go south, I didn't lose my cool. The same cannot be said for Mr. Clean, though. Around the time Shaw lost his fumble in the 3rd quarter, Mr. Clean exposed himself as an oafish baffoon. He started booing loudly and railing against the coaches. I lost count around seven, but at least seven times he made the comment that "YOU CAN'T FUMBLE THIS MANY TIMES AND NOT HAVE IT BE COACHING." I also overheard him moaning that "Rodriguez is the biggest mistake Michigan has ever made." I resisted the urge to punch him in the throat, especially when he said with 100% seriousness that the cheerleaders could take the field with their pom poms and play better defense. This nonsense continued for the balance of the game.
Sam grew increasingly negative too, but not like Mr. Clean. He just complained about the lack of execution and the bad play of the defense. A friend of his (or maybe a relative) in his mid 20s joined him at the start of the game, and I chatted with the two of them as the game progressed. Once it was 38-20, Sam left, but his colleague remained. Our section started to thin out, so we just kicked back and talked. He had gone to the Notre Dame game. I offered my sympathies. He was a little more knowledgable about recruiting, so I went in depth about how while it's tough now, recruiting is still going strong. I offered my theory that unless Threet completely turns it around, Forcier will be the #1 QB next year. He was skeptical, but agreed.
And that damn woman still read her goddamn book and tempted my rage.
Illinois fans were a bit annoying. I mean, the "ILL" and "INI" chants were a given, but the "MUCK FICHIGAN" shirts were stupid, and the majority of their fans started to get on everybody's nerves. One in particular, lets call him Obnoxious Illinois Tool, starting yapping in the 3rd quarter and didn't stop. Whenever a play occurred that was a positive for Illinois (or a negative for Michigan), he would scream "SCRUB-A-DUB-DUB" or "BIIIIIIIIIIIG BLUUUUUUUUUUUUE!" I'm pretty sure the latter was a mocking of Michigan (I wanted to tell him that nobody here calls UM "Big Blue"..."Big Blue" is the New York Giants), but I haven't the faintest idea what the hell the former was. I think he was just an idiot. I speculated to those around me that he must've been an Illinois fan born in Ohio.
Quick game-related note: Juice Williams is sick. I don't know if he's actually as good as he looked Saturday, but he's a legit QB now, and probably the best in the conference. There was soooo many times during the game where he'd fake it to the running back, the running back would get smashed, everyone around me would cheer, and on the times I kept my eyes on Juice, I would lament, "Juice kept it...he's in the endzone." I think people disliked me for that. Somebody in the Michigan blogosphere should do a post about whose performance against Michigan was the best: Juice, Dennis Dixon, Troy Smith, Vince Young, or Donovan McNabb. I don't recommend doing that analysis with any sharp objects nearby.
After the game ended, as I made my way toward the exit, I shook hands with a few civil Illinois fans. They offered their thanks, saying Michigan fans were very classy and that in a couple years we'd be a damn good football team. I told them what Illinois did out there is what Michigan aspired to be. They seemed taken aback by such a statement, but then agreed with me and said that it'll happen.
My dad and I waited in line outside the stadium for the trolleys (trollies??) to take us back to our parking lot. While waiting, as it got progressively colder, I chatted with a few Michigan fans that were not unlike myself - sarcastic, a bit disappointed but not running around saying the world was ending. When some of the little golf cart type things picked some people up but left only half full, I made a joke: "What is this, Titanic? Those aren't even full." It got a big laugh from about a dozen people.
When we finally got on the trolley, a couple Michigan fans hoped aloud that Juice Williams was a senior. I told them that not only was he a junior, that Arrelious Benn was only a sophomore. When they asked who he was, I told them, "#9, the wideout." "Oh, the guy that tore us up today?" "Yep." "Jesus Christ."
Somewhere along the way, I made a profound statement, something about how it's always the darkest before dawn. I also made that statement during the 4th quarter. I believe I provided comfort to many ailing Michigan fans.
Except for Mr. Clean, that douchebag.
And that old woman with the book. I hope she fell asleep Saturday night and lost her page.