Friday, September 09, 2005

Football Saturdays In Ann Arbor Even More Special When Notre Dame Is In Town

If there are five ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that are better than to be at Michigan Stadium during the fall, then I'd sure like to know what they are. And I haven't been to the Big House since 1989, when there was artificial turf.

U-M's old nemesis, Notre Dame's Rocket Ismail, ran back a couple of kicks against the Wolves in the rain that day to help defeat U-M. Bo Schembechler was still coaching.

I think about that game every time the Fighting Irish come to town. Then I start thinking about how awful of a day that was, weather-wise, and how miserable it was to sit on the metal bleachers in Michigan Stadium. And then I also think of how, despite all that nastiness, Ann Arbor is still the place to be on football Saturdays.

So many memories flood back, to a time when I actually managed to get to a game every couple of years, starting when I was about 13: tossing those mini plastic footballs around during halftime, sipping cocoa out of a thermos (age 13), sipping a nip out of a flask (age 21), tailgating on the grass outside of Pioneer High School.

In college -- I went to nearby EMU -- I worked at a drugstore in Ann Arbor. Football Saturdays were unlike any other. As early as 9am, when we opened, the liquor counter would quickly have a line forming around it. Some of the customers already appeared to have had quite a few, even at that hour. Anyhow, we were as busy as all get out until kickoff, then it was like a morgue the rest of the day, until the game ended, when everyone loaded up for the Saturday evening parties. Almost always it was to celebrate another Michigan victory.

I wasn't much of a U-M fan, truthfully, maybe partly because of my resentment of the school, having attended little EMU -- that "school down the road", as it was derisively known. But that didn't keep me from appreciating how special those autumn Saturdays were, whether I was working, or attending the game. Surely God must have had Ann Arbor in mind when He created college football Saturdays.

So Charlie Weis, that hotshot NFL assistant, brings his troops into Ann Arbor tomorrow, hoping to build on ND's fast start, courtesy their trouncing of Pittsburgh, also on the road, last week. Just another guy prowling the sidelines for Notre Dame, in my opinion. The U-M/ND rivalry was never about the coaches, like the old days with Bo and Woody during those classic Michigan-Ohio State wars of the 70's. But it has been about the teams and two great schools with wonderful football traditions.

I wonder if they still sell those mini plastic footballs.

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