U of M Football On the Brink

. August 21, 2014.

Michigan Stadium opened in 1927 with head coach Elton “Tad” Wieman at the helm. Among his 9 career victories were the first-ever game at the Big House, beating Ohio Wesleyan 33-0 on October 1, 1927. Three weeks later, for a game against Ohio State, the stadium held its official dedication ceremony, before an astounding standing-room-only crowd of 84,401.

There is a remarkable film of that dedication on YouTube. It shows Michigan Stadium surrounded by open fields. Cars lined the streets, and well-dressed people streamed through the gates. Men wore suits and hats, and women sported furs. Vendors sold flowers, pennants, pins and programs.

The ceremony before kickoff featured more men in hats, shaking hands and posing for photos. Among them was U of M President Clarence Cook Little, who boldly predicted a Michigan victory. They removed their hats for the flag-raising and national anthem.

There was no flyover. Beyoncé (in those days, it would have been Josephine Baker) did not address the crowd. Louis Armstrong’s music was not piped through the P.A. system. The band played “The Victors.” Michigan beat the Buckeyes, 21-0.

The video is a silent one, but is backed by the Glee Club’s dramatic rendition of the complete version of the official Michigan fight song. As they build into the familiar refrain, it is guaranteed to give you chills.

For many years, this was Michigan football. The stadium capacity steadily expanded; the first 100,000 crowd was recorded in 1956. Longtime radio announcer Bob Ufer famously called Michigan Stadium “The hole that Yost dug, Crisler paid for, Canham carpeted, and Schembechler fills every cotton-pickin’ Saturday afternoon.” Not since 1975 have fewer than 100,000 attended a game.

Nearly 40 years later, that streak is threatened. A perfect storm of an average football team, uninspiring home schedule, and arrogant athletic leadership has led us to this brink. Many observers have lamented the athletic department’s basic repudiation of customer service. The most glaring example was last year’s decision to end nearly 100 years of seating tradition, treating students as cattle herded into penned areas. It is no wonder student season ticket requests dropped from 21,000 to 13,000 in one year. Yet administrators blame not themselves, but big screen TV and the lack of cell phone coverage in the stadium. Their brilliant marketing ideas run the gamut from fi- to fl-, fireworks to more flyovers.

The Michigan fans I know are all trying to rid themselves of their season tickets. Good luck getting anywhere near face value. Even charitable donations may be difficult. The hottest ticket in town was the August 2 Real Madrid/Manchester United soccer match, and it’s all downhill from there.

 

After viewing the 1927 dedication, I watched more football highlights. From Tom Harmon to Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard to Charles Woodson, and my favorite Wolverine of all – Denard Robinson – I started to remember why Michigan football was so thrilling.

But if anyone wants three together this year, give me a call.

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