With yet another day out, another story is finding its way through my fingers and keyboard to you. As the chant in the title indicates, it’s going to be about a game. No, wrong. It’s not just any “a” game. It’s the Game. From more than one reason. First, it is the Game because after all, I’m in Ann Arbor, the home of Michigan Wolverines, the place where Saturday home games are social events of the highest importance. Second, it’s the Game because today was also one day of the Homecoming week, that is a week of alumni coming back to say hi to their alma mater and naturally if it's Saturday, to watch the Game. And third, just because it was my very first game here.
Oh, I haven’t said what game yet. Of course, a football game. Now, particularly my Europe-based readers, when I say football, I mean a kind of sport which is for the majority of time not played by foot and which is never played with a ball (maybe it is a ball, but to my mind the concept of a ball has always indicated something round and sphere-like). Yes, I'm talking about American football. But anyway, it was my very first experience of this kind. And I’m not saying I didn’t like it. To my great surprise, I was willing and able to stand for the whole three and a half hours, watching the game and enjoying myself! Yes, I was! It was great fun, both the playing itself and the place with its atmosphere. In a sense I had a chance to enjoy the whole event with all its multiple layers even more profoundly than other students. After all, this hasn’t been the first game they have seen or attended and majority of them just naturally lacks the outsiders’ eyes. As an outsider, not so much a fan as a viewer, I could perceive both the game proper and the rituals surrounding it.
But let me start from the beginning. Today’s plan was clear: to get up and to get myself something maize (read: yellow) and/or blue to wear. Even despite my ignorance of the rules, I was dead sure I couldn’t go to the game in a red, or even worse, orange, t-shirt. Next step was to type “American football” in Wikipedia and study the rules hard. I succeeded with the former, was totally useless with the latter. That is, I have two new t-shirts yet still don’t have the clue what the real rules of American football actually are.
As far as the t-shirts go, people may point to the fact how much overweight American population is these days. This May be so, but when I was in the shop, contemplating if I wanted a t-shirt which had “Michigan” on it in this or that font, or which said “Go Blue” or any other of the tens and tens of other M-featuring designs, all the S and M sizes were hopelessly sold-out whereas stacks with all those L’s and L’s on the second power were still full. So much for the Americans’ dietary problems. What I liked the most, though, were the senior ladies and gentlemen carrying in their hands their t-shirts and other paraphernalia of the team apparel. Yes, football is taken seriously here. I’m not particularly sure if by “here” I mean Ann Arbor as usual or the whole of the USA, but this time the latter might be the case.
As for Wikipedia and the rules, never mind. I was to go with my flat-mate’s girlfriend who is an American, and thus, my European self thought, would surely know how to answer my all questions (she didn't, but I didn't mind in the least). Proudly sporting my maize t-shirt with a huge “Michigan” across the breast, I was ready for the experience. And so set out we did.
Our first destination was a tailgate party. If I was to have the experience of a football game, then with everything else belonging to it. We didn’t manage to find the place of the party. But then, with parties going on on each and every porch it’s not such a big wonder. One gets easily lost. As well as one gets quickly lost in all those huge crowds pouring in the direction of the Stadium. Attendance of today’s game? 109,750 people.
Well then, tailgate party, maybe next time. It was time to join the crowd and drift where everyone else was heading to; drift among the waves of blue and maze. But also among slightly, or sometimes not so slightly, intoxicated people. Yes, students seem to be the same all around the world.
I won’t pretend I wasn't astounded once I found myself finally at the Stadium. The place is huge! And it was sold out. Our seats, on which we were standing for the whole of the game, were in the students’ section, that is exactly where the atmosphere was the most charged.
My room-mate was right, I did understand the basics of the rules fairly quickly. This being mainly due to the fact that the game goes on for probably thirty seconds, is stopped, the teams re-group and start all over again. Playing for thirty seconds max, stopped, re-grouping. Played, stopped, re-grouped. On and on and on. After three and a half hours of watching this (the game having officially four fifteen-minute quarters), even people as little gifted iin sport as I am could understand the basics.
What was far more difficult to understand was the social rituals the students around me were so ardently performing. All the particular body movements accompanied by certain songs, cheers and/or gestures. My, that was complicated! My friend was constantly telling me that I should be able to grasp at least the fundamental “Go blue” part of being a fan. I did not. But how could I? My time was equally divided between grasping what was going on in front of me, pestering her with millions supplementary questions and taking pictures till my batteries went flat. I promise I’ll do better next time.
Oh, and a marching band! Each and every day on my way home from school I can seen
the band practicing on a near field. I’m still having some difficulties understanding how playing music and moving to and fro go together, but as I’ve seen today, it does work. I loved their performance the
best during the break when they were all over the field, joined by the forces of the alumni marching band, playing and marching at the same time, with the conductors standing high on step ladders, vigorously
waving their hands.
To sum it all up, I loved this typical American experience. Despite the body-shaking cold that settled in in the last quarter. Despite the fact that majority of the fans had left before the game ended because they deemed it hopeless. Despite the fact that Blue lost (again, one has to add). Despite the fact that it lasted three and a half hours. I enjoyed it.