I became a Michigan Wolverines fan on Nov. 22, 2003.
Born and raised in West Virginia, I sought to have my own thing outside of the local selections. WVU and Marshall are fine, but I craved a fiery fandom and those schools represented feeble flames in my eyes.
I did not grow up in a family of sports fans so I came very late to this world. But I’ll never forget sitting in front of my TV that evening, when a Chris Perry highlight teaser flashed on SportsCenter.
After the break, highlights were shown of No. 5 Michigan’s 35-21 victory over No. 4 Ohio State, in which Heisman finalist and Michigan running back Chris Perry ran the ball 31 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Good conquered evil and I was immediately hooked.
The winged helmet, the fight song, Ann Arbor, EVERYTHING. Immediately after the game, I learned everything I could about The Game and Michigan football. The more I learned, the deeper I fell. It was love at first sight and obsession overnight.
However, I didn’t understand the inevitable pain that accompanies love at that point. Hell, I was only 11. Over the years I was quickly welcomed to the initiated: App State, Rich Rod, “Trouble with the snap,” “The Spot,” back-to-back blowouts to Ohio State in 2018 and 2019, the COVID season, and most recently, East Lansing this year, just to name a few.
Even the victory over the Buckeyes in 2011 is a semi-sore spot with me because I didn’t get to watch it. I was driving back from the beach with my family and could only listen on the radio. The victory still felt great, but after 18 years of fandom, a win over Ohio State felt more mythical than tangible.
As the 2021 season progressed, something felt different about this team. The preseason quotes from head coach Jim Harbaugh where he overstated the importance of this rivalry. Generational team leaders like defensive end Aidan Hutchinson returning for his senior season to cement his legacy at Michigan. Quarterback Cade McNamara providing a teary-eyed response after the Penn State victory about what success means to him and the team.
Something just felt different and after starting the season unranked, the now No. 5 Michigan Wolverines were 10-1 and again welcomed the Buckeyes to Ann Arbor for a top five showdown.
The similarities to my fandom origins could not be ignored. How could I miss this? Seeing it on TV would not suffice or make up for the past, I had to be in Ann Arbor.
I drove up Friday night and wrote this from the Econo Lodge. Everything after this was kept on my notes app as a live diary from Saturday.
12:16 AM: Can’t sleep — I keep sending my girlfriend Michigan hype videos & contemplating what this 80% chance of snow means for the Wolverines tomorrow. How’s the footing for Hassan Haskins? DJ Turner in coverage? Will the Ohio State passing attack be slowed in the snow or will the receivers gain an advantage? Ten years absent of victory will do this to you I guess. Back to counting sheep.
6:21 AM: O/U on sleep last night was three hours and I pounded the under. I’m enjoying a nutritious hotel breakfast of a waffle, super donut, cranberry juice and coffee. I keep doing what I can to distract my anxiety, but as Blake Corum posts the song “War With Us” on his Instagram, it all proves futile. IT’S GAME DAY!!!!!! We are going to do this.
7:03 AM: The front desk employee reminded me not to smoke too many cigarettes if the worst happens. I love Michigan.
8:31 AM: The College Gameday environment consists of fanbases trading profanities that rival elementary playgrounds and Ohio State fans are assuring everyone they can in fact, spell.
9:12 AM: Blue by 90 tailgate .. beer just tastes better in the morning. Other things better in the morning (let’s keep it PG): pizza, hikes, more beer.
10:43 AM: After a few shots of Fireball with Maize n Brew Site Manager Von Lozon, I have secured hot chocolate and a seat inside the Big House. I can’t feel my feet from the cold, nor my anxiety from the whiskey; win some, lose some. Oh, and I’m sitting next to an Ohio State fan. Let’s call him “The Enemy.”
Quick aside: While I was buying hot chocolate, there were two Ohio State fans in front of me: Papa Buckeye and Baby Buckeye. Baby looks up and says, “What happens if Ohio State loses?” Papa laughingly responds, “Hell freezes over,” and looks to me for joke validation. I no-sold it like a pissed off professional wrestler and added a glare for good measure.
11:31 AM: Michigan is rocking its all blue uniforms and the stadium is electric. This game is really going to be played, isn’t it? Ah, my anxiety has returned. Also, something named DJ Skee is doing intermittent sets on the sidelines? I’m kind of with it though.
11:38 AM: The snow has started and the sight in the stadium is amazing amongst the thousands of maize pom poms. This feels like it’s shaping up to be a classic.
12:14 PM: Here we go … Michigan ball first.
12:21 PM: Media timeout (this is a Fox broadcast after all) and Michigan is driving. Fan next to me is pontificating about how CJ Stroud is better than Justin Fields. Can someone pass me the “settle down” juice?
12:25 PM: TUDDY !!!!!! Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis dials up a beautiful fake-swing pass, reverse to AJ Henning. Michigan is blocking exceptionally well at all levels.
12:30 PM: Michigan forces a three-and-out and the stadium is shaking! Are we going to blow them out?
12:33 PM: No is the answer. Quarterback Cade McNamara throws a pick and you can feel the deflation. This feels like the same movie again.
12:43 PM: The Wolverines hold the Buckeyes to a field goal in the red zone after an Aidan Hutchinson sack. Michigan up 7-3.
12:51 PM: The first quarter is over and running back Hassan Haskins is already a force to be reckoned with. If Michigan can stay ahead, Haskins could chew through this clock.
1:01 PM: Michigan forces another punt and AJ Henning promptly drops the ball but recovers it. My heart is somewhere on the floor.
1:06 PM: Anddddd Michigan punts. The Enemy is happy.
1:13 PM Ohio State takes the lead and all I feel is pain. Immense, familiar pain. 10-7 Buckeyes.
1:23 PM: Fox truly takes more breaks than a corporate intern. Michigan is facing 4th and 1 with 5:30 to go in the second.
1:26 PM: Hassan Haskins punches it in after a dime from McNamara to Cornelis Johnson inside the five. Let’s go! The Enemy is sad, 14-10, Michigan.
1:35 PM: Michigan safety RJ Moten drops a pick at the goal line and Ohio State is threatening before half.
1:37 PM: Another red zone field goal for Ohio State,
1:43 PM: Halftime. Michigan leads 14-13. I can’t feel my toes, but walking seems to be helping. The line for the bathroom is longer than War & Peace and an older gentleman is trying to half step past me and read my phone while I’m typing this. (IF YOU CAN READ THIS YOU LOOK LIKE ALAN ARKIN). Michigan has played really well all things considered. Cade throwing the pick was devastating, but he’s bounced back and demonstrated his trademark poise. Defense has been the epitome of bend-don’t-break and has held Ohio State to field goals in the red zone to allow Michigan to cling to a one-point lead. Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson has been contained on the ground and quarterback CJ Stroud is very uncomfortable under pressure. Ohio State gets the ball at half and a stop would be huge for momentum.
2:05 PM: THREE AND OUT. Aidan Hutchinson is playing the best game I have ever seen a defensive end play at Michigan.
2:07 PM: THREE AND IN. Blake Corum breaks off a 13-yard and 55-yard run, and Haskins scores his second touchdown of the day from 13 yards away. 21-13. The Enemy looks gravely concerned.
2:17 PM: Hutchinson sets the single season sack record!!!!!! His third of the game and No. 13 on the season. Ohio State is punting again. I am convulsing with excitement.
Roman Wilson’s helmet is ripped off and the offensive line looked ready to rip this Ohio State cornerback limb from limb. Hassan Haskins makes them pay in a more painful fashion with his third touchdown of the day. This has become the Haskins game. 28-13 (I forgot to timestamp this entry). The Enemy just sat down for the first time all game.
2:42 PM: Three quarters are over and Michigan leads 28-13. What could possibly go wrong? Oh yeah, I am a Michigan fan, everything could go wrong.
2:49 PM:..Ohio State is within eight. 14:05 remains in the fourth quarter. The Enemy is standing again and I am repeating, “Breathe,” internally so I don’t pass out or have a stroke.
3:00 PM: HASKINS WITH HIS FOURTH!!!!
3:19 PM: A missed hold on 3rd and 20 sets up another Ohio State touchdown. 35-27 with 4:45 to go. I feel strangely confident Haskins can ice this.
3:26 PM: AHHHHHHHHHHH HASKINS SEALS IT WITH HIS FIFTH TOUCHDOWN. Five straight runs facing 7-9 in the box and nothing can stop this man. Build the damn statue. The Enemy is apoplectic. Time to change views.
(These final two sections were written after the game.)
3:35 PM: Let’s storm this field, shall we? While the Ohio State Buckeyes have the ball down 15, this one is all but over. I methodically make my way down the steps and the elation increases with each level of the descent. I hugged entire families, spoke about the disbelief of this reality, and shook the hand of a 93-year-old Michigan fan as we both cried. “Finally,” he kept repeating. It’s actually happening. 42-27, ball game, Michigan beats Ohio State and I am on the field of Michigan Stadium.
3:52 PM: I can’t believe it. I danced on the 50-yard line to “Mr. Brightside.” I hugged close to 100 strangers. I chanted mean things about the state of Ohio. I took my beanie and gloves off and twice walked from end zone to end zone soaking up the sounds, feeling the snow landing on my exposed hair, embracing the atmosphere of pure euphoria, and breathing in every second of the moment. It was everything I dreamt about in 2003. Suddenly, I was 11 years old and falling in love with Michigan all over again.