Friday, July 15, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Michigan

The first trip to "The Big House" is special. For many years I watched games on TV hearing that annoying fight song, seeing the throngs of people fill the stands and every other year watching that famed rivalry when Ohio State comes to town. Being there in person, the impression doesn't live up to the expectations.

While the structure of Michigan Stadium is impressive, there is nothing that stands out. It is a bowl with bleacher seating that is the largest of any stadium in the country. Over 110,000 occupy the home of Wolverines every home Saturday, and when at capacity, it is an impressive sight. The Wolverines running through the banner, hearing the fight song...over and over... with the unison of each fan thrusting their fist into the air and the uniforms with the crazy design on the helmet.

But the 110,000 is one of the quieter stadiums in the country. As it is built, the noise can escape easily. And the fans almost expect their home town team to win each of their games which seems to make it even more quiet. But it is an experience everyone should take in. There is no outside advertising within the bowl, and the replay board which has recently been installed isn't obnoxious, rather blends into the background of the game. And as one who has had the opportunity, the walk from the locker rooms down the historic tunnel is a moment every player, coach and staff member will remember.

But my first trip to "The Big House" was very memorable. The week before the Maize and Blue lost to in-state rival, Michigan State and the Wolverine faithful sees consecutive home losses as often as last place conference finishes. But this wasn't Bo's team. It had been turned over to "Mo," Gary Moeller and those traveling from Iowa City expected to win their first there in over ten years.

The athletic director for Iowa was Bump Elliott. He previously coached Michigan, and very few knew this would be his last trip to Ann Arbor before his retirement later that school year. This game was important to him, and he watched it transpire from the photo deck just outside the Michigan Press Box.

The photo deck wasn't spacious. One tripod after another lined the railing, and our position was near the 40 yard line, underneath the open window of WHO's Jim Zabel and Ed Podolak. Typically the athletic director will watch from his own booth, but Bump wanted to be outside on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon.

Those who remember that game will recall the Hawkeyes were the better team that day, but could not shake the home team. An opportunity was lost at half as time ran out with the Hawkeyes near the goal line. Communication between the huddle and sideline was poor and Iowa headed to the locker room without points. But Iowa QB Matt Rodgers led the Hawkeyes on a drive late in the 4th quarter without one third down which resulted in a touchdown that tied the game, with the game-winning extra point. Michigan took the ball and was intercepted by John Derby to seal the game.

After that interception Mr. Elliott face had to hurt from the smile that went from one ear to the other. And the hand shake I received almost tore my arm off at the shoulder. This 60+ year old man was more excited than anyone else from Iowa on the field, in the locker room or in the stands.

As I said, everyone remembers their first time in Michigan Stadium, but Bump Elliott will definitely remember his last trip as Iowa's Athletic Director at the Big House.

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