Two weeks ago I made my first trip to Michigan Stadium (a.k.a. "The Big House") to see my favorite college football team, the Michigan Wolverines, take on the Penn St. Nittany Lions. I would guess I have been to roughly 15 or so so college football games in my life. This was the 5th different stadium I have seen a game in.
The group of us that went is the same group that went to State College, PA last year for the Penn St./UCF game. One of the four guy's wives tagged along for the ride because we were crashing at her parent's house, about 30 minutes or so from Ann Arbor. It cannot be overstated enough how convenient a scenario like this is. Finding reasonably priced hotel rooms in most college towns is hard, because there just aren't that many. Last year's trip to State College required a stay about an hour outside of town. An hour of highway driving. Not to mention that despite being in the middle of sparsely populate Pennsylvania the rooms were still over $100 a night.
For the second straight trip, the benefit of a night game allowed for ample time to explore the town (and to a lesser extent, the campus). Michigan Stadium, in a similar fashion to Beaver Stadium at Penn St. is a walkable (albeit a bit lenghty) trek to downtown. Downtown Ann Arbor is mostly filled with ecletic shops and one off restaraunts. There are few different places to buy Michigan gear, but mostly there are just M Den stores over and over again. This was different than State College, which had quite the variety of Penn St. stores offering both differening selection and prices. There was also pretty much no memorabilia for sale anywhere, except for a small tent near the stadium with a dozen or so framed pictures, and a really crappy underground store with too much stuff to really browse comfortably. This was probably the biggest disapointment of the shopping experience.
All told I came home with a couple of t-shirts, a hoodie, a lightweight jacket, a football (that we bought to throw around while tailgating), a winter hat, a Michigan banner and the "commemerative" jersey seen in the picture above. I am very anti-jersey (long rant), but because it didn't have a name on it, and Chris hounded me all day until I bought one, I figured I might as well go for it. I can always frame it later.
After shopping downtown we ventured briefly onto campus and ended up walking down the row of fraternities. This street was full of college kids partying. It was an experience that left us feeling old, and regretful, the latter a result of none of us having gone to a big school like University of Michigan.
The tailgate scene felt very inline with most college experiences, and provided one is willing to pay a decent amount to park, there seems to be pretty ample parking near the stadium. We ended up in a lot for $50, but for a one-time trip it was worth the convenience.
The stadium itself is definitely a different experience. It's the highest capacity stadium in the country, but because it flows out much more than up it doesn't actually feel as large as Beaver Stadium does. This is both a blessing and a curse as far as seating goes. Because there isn't much room between the field and where the seats are, being further back doesn't feel awful, and because it's not so vertical the furthest seats aren't all that high, but they are still very far from the field.
The stadium is sunk into the ground, which means that the concourse is actually more than halfway up, which means that most people walk down to get to their seats, even though there are 90+ rows. The steps for each row are actually full steps, as opposed to half steps so getting up and down is a chore, especially for short-legged people. The seats are all benches, designed forever ago, which means that a typical American cannot comfortably fit in the space alotted.
While the renovations drew the ire of longtime fans, the video boards are really nice, and the stadium just feels great. Sitting in the endzone with the video board directly straight ahead made it a lot easier to use when the tough endzone viewing angle got in the way.
And nothing beats the college experience. The band, the traditions, the fans, all of it puts NFL games to shame. One particularly entertaining moment came when PSU kicker launched a short field goal over the net and the ball went into the stands. The ball boys patiently awaited the return of the ball, but instead fans passed it back and forth up the stadium, until it got near the top and the fans just threw it right out of the stadium.
Overall, the Michigan game was a great time. Despite their recent woes the place was packed and the crowed was into it. Ann Arbor is an OK town to visit, but isn't going to blow anyone away. I have no lodging recommendations, but as far as parking goes, there are plenty of places, both official and unofficial ((i.e., someone's lawn)). The food selection in the stadium was ample, but we didn't sample any of it. The selection of Michigan gear/stuff is mostly limited to MDen, most of which can be found online. As usual, getting out of the parking lots after the game is a lengthy process, so plan accordingly.