It was interesting trying to put the Big Chill in the context of some of the greatest games I've ever seen. There's really three categories that can make a game great: competitiveness, importance, and spectacle. Normally, I'd put spectacle as a distant third among the three. I'll maybe watch the Super Bowl every other year, because it's not really my thing. But Saturday was incredible. It was one of the greatest spectacles I've ever witnessed. It was far and away the greatest spectacle the game of hockey as ever seen.
113,411 is a pretty special number. Odds are good that it doesn't last forever as the largest crowd in Michigan Stadium history, and thus NCAA history. All it should take is a return to relevance for the football program and one big game to surpass it, but the fact that they set a new high mark for the stadium is pretty crazy. They'll definitely have the high mark for hockey for a very long time. I kind of scoffed at this Wall Street Journal article when they said the game was expected to beat the previous mark by nearly 40,000, until I actually did the math and realized they beat the mark set in Germany by over 35,000 people.
But it wasn't just the sheer enormity of people watching a hockey game that made the event special. Michigan was absolutely pitch perfect in the combining of the great traditions of their football program with the great traditions of their hockey program. My pre-game path took me through the golf course, which was closed, but from the little I saw on State Street, tailgaters appeared to be out in full force. The Michigan Marching Band took the field under the direction of their drum major. The hockey team touched the banner on their way out of the tunnel. Michigan football greats past and present were honored with John Wangler and Denard Robinson each getting a nice moment during stoppages. While all the chants and jeers from the crowd that have Yost one of college hockey's most iconic and intimidating venues were still in place. And no one played anything by Josh Groban.
This wasn't the best played, or most competitive hockey game very. It will be just one small piece of the puzzle when they try to put together the league standings at the end of the year. But it was 113,000+ fans enjoying an absolutely perfect day of hockey, and experiencing something they will never forget.
-My other point of reference for outdoor hockey is the Cold War game at Spartan Stadium. I couldn't tell if it was a matter of sitting on the sidelines here as opposed to the end zone in Spartan Stadium, or if it was a day-time vs. night time thing, but it was really easy to follow the puck on Saturday, as opposed to last time where following the play was much more inferential.
-Row 68 of Michigan Stadium: still somehow closer to the ground than that time I had to sit in Row 12 at the old DECC. Try to figure that one out.
-Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon walked up the aisle past me twice on Saturday. I didn't have the chutzpah to ask him where Jim Harbaugh was, but he walked with a determined stride and a look in his eye that clearly said, "In the suite". So, you know, when he calls a press conference for January 2nd, you heard it here first.
-Perhaps it's a sign of the times, or the fact that I hadn't been in Michigan Stadium for over seven years, but I didn't even notice the infamous first in Michigan Stadium on Saturday until it was pointed out after the game, with the first ever corporate advertising inside the stadium. I get that profits need to be maximized, and like I said, I've apparently just come to think of dancing boxes of curly fries as a given at sporting events--my, how far we've come--but the lack of advertising is one of the truly, truly unique things about Michigan Stadium and would have been a nice touch.
-Something about the hockey game: I don't know if he necessarily needed to, but I think Jon Merrill made a bit of a statement in terms of making the US World Junior team. USA Hockey is pretty clearly looking for someone to fill a specific role for that last D spot, given the last couple choices they made, which would imply Merrill is pretty safe, but it's nice to see him raising things to a higher level regardless. His first goal wasn't exactly the rocket it looked like from 68 rows up upon further review, but his second goal was beautiful, even if I'm not entirely sure what he was doing up there in the first place.
-Michigan State is not a very good hockey team. They've got a couple talented players. They've also got a couple players who are there because their dad has connections to the Red Wings. But they certainly weren't helped by the fact that almost everything that could have gone against them on Saturday did go against them. They had a goal disallowed by fractions of an inch, and a goal against allowed by fractions of an inch. It was Michigan's day anyway.
-I was skeptical of the post-game fireworks since they were kind of limited in what they could do, but it was a pretty cool show despite not being able to have any fireworks explode in the air. Though I feel bad for anyone sitting in the north end zone, who likely now has Miner's Lung.
-Finally, here's a slide show of some pictures from the game, with all photo credits going to my Dad.