Sunday, September 2, 2007

Witnissing history at the Big House


As I stood in row 39 of section 15, I couldn't believe the view below me. The large throng of Maize n' Blue helmets were headed toward the tunnel on the east side of the stadium as if they were being chased by rabid boars. Meanwhile, across the field turf, players in white jerseys celebrated in many different fashions.

Some lay down. Some danced with the cheerleaders (seriously). Some pointed to people in the close-to-empty stands.

And then, in a quick minute, they all gravitated to the big, block "M" at the 50-yard to consider their feat together.

They had just knocked off the No. 5 team in the country. They had just become the first Subdivision college football team (I know, the NCAA is beyond inane with its titles) to beat a Division 1 squad ranked in the Top 25.

Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

A tough ticket
Now I understand why. Now I know why it took my boy, Tyler, and I an entire half of football to find two cheap tickets to a game against a supposed inferior opponent.

In past years, I've never had a problem finding a pair of $10 tickets to Michigan games. Among my best buys — two second-row seats to the first ever overtime game at the Big House against Penn State in 2002 (great game).

Additionally, there have been just two games which I've failed to scalp tickets for. The 1997 Ohio State game (Woodson, national championship, etc.). And a Michigan State game about five years ago (and that was only because my friend busted his ankle running to catch a scalper and couldn't walk for weeks afterward).

So I was shocked when Ty and I couldn't find two tickets for $20. And, boy, did we have an adventure going after tickets.

We must have walked about five miles within the two hours we spent trying to locate a pair. We even strolled all the way to Washtenaw Dairy to buy some of Ann Arbor's finest ice cream late in the first quarter (while Ann Arbor's finest football team was starting to travel down a rocky road).

At one point we had three tickets, but it turned out that two of them had already been used (scammers!) and the other one was a student ticket, which wouldn't get either of us inside the stadium no matter how long we begged the stiff U-M ushers.

At one point, Ty had a ticket and was heading inside — to later meet up with me. But when he tried to enter, he was turned away again. It was yet another used ticket.

At 1:30 p.m. EST, an hour and a half after the game began, we found ourselves back at square one (minus $4.50 for the ice cream).

Meanwhile, what was transpiring inside the stadium had grabbed our attention. A disgusted pair of Michigan fans exited the Big House cursing to themselves. "What's the score," I asked? They admitted that it was 28-14... Appalachian State.

Woe, I thought. I knew it was just the second quarter. That within 15 minutes (or another mile of walking for Ty and I), the Wolverines could be back on top. But still. Something crazy was going down. This only further dedicated me to finding us those hard-to-come-by tickets. I had an inkling that we weren't just going to witness another Michigan massacre.

The final minutes
And, sure enough, what we bore witness to will never be forgotten in Boone, N.C. — or anywhere, for that matter.

We finally coerced a man on a bike — wearing a yellow shirt and sporting some dirty teeth — to sell us two $10 tickets, and as hundreds of Michigan fans exited the stadium at halftime (no joke), we entered.

We made it to our seats — located behind the south end zone — about 50 seconds into the third quarter and proceeded to stand for much of the final 29 minutes, 10 seconds of history.

What's funny is that I never actually believed the Mountaineers were going to pull off the monumental upset until they kicked the winning field goal with 26 seconds remaining. For some reason (which didn't include the product Michigan was putting forth on the field), I never felt the upset would be completed.

Especially not after Mike Hart zig-zagged his way across the field for a 54-yard score (he actually ran about 101 yards) followed by a Michigan interception. Folks around us left their seats and headed up the aisles, figuring an ugly, but season-saving win was guaranteed. Or maybe they could sense the impending collapse and didn't want to bear witness to it.

I, for one, was a Michigan fan who welcomed the final-minute drama. I figured Ty and I deserved a dramatic ending for the two hours spent walking around the Big House with two fingers pointed to the sky (indicating the number of tickets we needed). Even in my yellow Michigan No. 2 jersey, part of me wanted the Mountaineers to pull off the impossible. Part of me wanted to witness history.

As the Mountaineers drove the ball down the field in the waning seconds, my heart beat faster and faster. Ty, an Illinois fan, was pulling for the upset, and I found myself tacitly wishing the same outcome (although I continued to cheer for Michigan; I know, it doesn't make much sense).

As I stood on the balls of my feet, anticipating but not knowing the end result, I remembered something my father had told me several years ago after Michigan had been upset by Northwest. He had said, "Think of how happy the Northwestern fans must be." Now, I was considering how great an Appalachian State victory would be for its fans and the small town of Boone (which I actually lived in with my parents for a few months as a young kid).

They would never forget an Appalachian State win over Michigan. No matter the losses and struggles in the years to come, a "W" over the mighty Wolverines would stay with them for eternity. That sounded more appealing to me than another lackluster Michigan victory. Plus, it would give writers a topic to scribe about for days to come.

Yet, when Mario Manningham made a great catch to put the Wolverines within field goal range in the final seconds, I pumped my fist in the air. I am, after all, a lifelong Michigan fan. A loss to a FCS school would be embarrassing.

And that's how I arrived at the moment of fate. Both teams' destinies riding on the leg of a college kid. Except that they didn't. U-M place-kicker Jason Gingell never had a chance at converting the 37-yard field goal attempt because Corey Lynch invaded Michigan's backfield, practically swallowing up the ball before running it almost back to our end zone.

He proceeded to collapse in exhaustion and exultation. The clock read 0:00. The scoreboard read, Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

All around me, people sat stunned, heads in hands, many cursing, some on the brink of tears, others looking stoically toward the blue sky as if to ask, "What just happened on a day as picture-perfect beautiful as today?"

Ty and I were fully aware of what had just occurred beneath us. Which is why we stayed inside the stadium for a good 15 minutes afterward, soaking up the stunned atmosphere (and I thought the Big House was quiet after wins).

As we exited, I picked up a game program and handed it to Ty. "This is a game you'll never forget," I told him. "You need a souvenir."

I wasn't saying that because it was Ty's first visit to the Big House. No, a much bigger first had taken place before our bewildered eyes.

Something worth much more than the $10 price of admission.


jane said...

I am sitting here reading your article to Corey. It was one fun and special day. The Michigan fans were very friendly and polite as we walked around finding a place for lunch and very gracious when we left the stadium. Thanks for having us and maybe one day we will be asked back to play again. Enjoyed your article......

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