America 2017: Day Thirty-Six (25 November)

Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
the leaders and best
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!

– Louis Elbel

Saturday 25 November

Arlington Heights, IL

What a day!

It started hellishly early – my alarm went off at 4:00am and I was under strict instructions to not wake mum and dad up as Nathan and I left the house just after 4:30am and drove over to meet Mike and Scott in Wheaton. In the darkness, we piled into Mike’s car and commenced the four-hour drive up the highway through Indiana and into Michigan, to Ann Arbor.

College football is one of the most American things there is. For better or worse, there’s nothing quite like it, and if you’re after a unique experience in this country, you can’t go past watching a game, which has the accompaniment of cheerleaders, marching bands, varied and interesting mascots, and comes complete with impressive pageantry and ferocious fan support.

Especially in the Midwest, where football is something approaching religion. Two of the area’s most famous schools, the University of Michigan and the Ohio State University have played 113 times before today, and we were up in the Wolverine State to witness the 114th meeting between two teams who absolutely hate each other’s guts. I’ve seen Bledisloe Cups, Ashes tests, Collingwood vs. Carlton, Yankees vs. Red Sox and a laundry list of other big rivalry games here and back home in Australia, and none – absolutely none – of those come even close to matching the outright animosity of a Michigan/Ohio State game.

Michigan Stadium, where the game was played this year (it alternates year on year between there and Ohio Stadium on the campus of Ohio State) has a capacity near on 120,000 people, but you’d never know it. The place doesn’t look much bigger than the Sydney Cricket Ground back home. You’re jammed in on bench seats like sardines in a tin. It’s definitely close quarters, and definitely not comfortable, but the discomfort of standing or sitting on cold benches is completely wiped away by the fever-pitch atmosphere in the stadium. When Michigan are playing defense and it’s third down, that place is louder and more hostile than anywhere else I’ve ever been.

Four years ago, I was witness to one of the great, high-scoring Michigan/Ohio State games in history. Today’s game was more a defensive struggle. Michigan’s offense was not great but their defense is as good as there is in the country, and watching them shut down the Ohio State offense for most of the day was great. Ultimately, Ohio State had enough big plays (not to mention a competent quarterback) and prevailed. Not the result we were looking for, but a fantastic day nonetheless.

We arrived back in Chicago around 8:30pm, hung out with Scott and his wife Kristina in their new place for a while – the last time I was here, back in the summer, it was a construction zone, so it was cool to see the finished product – and headed home for a well-deserved sleep.

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