The other day I spotted this headline on the website that brings us all the news from Ann Arbor, Michigan, my college town: “Police: U-M frat members arrested after breaking into the Big House.” One’s first reaction might be, “What are these clowns learning in that overpriced school? Haven’t they ever seen a prison movie? You’re supposed to break OUT OF the Big House!”
However, the House in question, for those who aren’t steeped in college football, is Michigan Stadium. And I can’t condemn the frat guys too much because I once did the very same thing. In fact, I did it on my third night at the University of Michigan.
In late June of 1972, barely a month out of high school, I borrowed my mother’s ’67 Dart and drove to Ann Arbor for freshman orientation. You spent about a week living in a dorm, touring the campus, maybe taking some tests related to your fall classes, and generally getting a feel for college life. I remember being crammed into a single room with another guy, maybe two, and the staff blasting the Beatles outside the door to wake us up in the morning. I also recall the thrill of walking around and knowing I’d soon be there full time, free of my high school self and all his struggles, starting over, being somebody different and better.
What I remember most is that one evening, after the frosh-to-be had finished the formal program for the day and some of us were hanging out in the lounge of the dorm, one of our sophomore and junior advisors suggested we go play Frisbee in the stadium. Of course, I said, “Sure!”
Now up to that point, I was not a Michigan fan. I had no idea the place was “The Big House.” I figured it was just another football field, a bigger cousin of the one where the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix Knights played.
Four of us walked down there: the older guy, two freshwomen, and me. Our “guide” knew right where to find a gate that wasn’t chained tightly and we could squeeze through.
It was midnight. The field was still and quiet, bathed in soft white light. We walked to the 50 yard line and tossed the ‘Bee around, then sat down on the artificial turf and just talked for a while. Because it was night, I didn’t really get a sense of how big the place was. But I was thinking that this college business was pretty cool and I’d probably do all right.
Of course, we were putting ourselves in some serious jeopardy. I can only imagine what would’ve happened to us if we’d been busted. I’m pretty sure the legendary coach Bo Schembechler would’ve been extremely PO’d if a bunch of hippies had been caught defiling his field.
A couple of months later, I got my first view of the place in daylight, as Michigan bested Northwestern in a real Big Ten barn-burner of a home opener, with a final score of 7-0. I spent a lot of fun Saturday afternoons there in the next four years, but don’t remember any of them half as well as that night.