Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I've lost my keys!

Literally, I have misplaced my car keys (well, key, I mean, it's just one key anymore, but the point remains.) But it's as good a segue as anything...

Ladies and gentlemen, we've been called out by one of America's leading college football bloggers, Orson Swindle of EDSBS, for the Key Play thing. Now, as is pointed out, this is not unfamiliar territory for readers of Michigan blogs as MZone went after this is October 2005, but that's more internal conversation memo than it is national calling out when we're already not at 100% as a fan base.

So the question is simple, what is a fan base to do? Well deal with that after the jump.

I have decided, like Geoff, that I, too, will make it through this season, but my current preferred method will be to use this moment to step back and look at the Michigan football experience in the larger whole. We are deeply proud of being Wolverines, the tradition, the heritage, of being Michigan men (and women). But we cannot rest on our laurels, stagnate, and be left to reflect on glories past without any glories in the future. We must be willing to commit ourselves to improvement as Michigan fans without abandoning those things which make us Michigan. So I will be writing a series of posts this year, I hope, in an effort to broach discussion on the fan experience. We know that Varsity Blue is already working this angle as well, but it is my hope in the notion that generating more conversation about this and other game day topics, we can find ideas and attempt to put them into use.

Please, also remember, that these pieces are designed to be conversations. I am one fan with one opinion, and often times, I miss a critical aspect. We have comments because we want to hear from you, I promise that I will do my best to reply to any legitimate point raised in one of these pieces. I will also be stockpiling them for a final look for the off-season.

In my mind, there are several problems that are not readily understood by the non-Michigan fan about the crowd noise issue:

1). We are actually concentrating on the game.


2). We're just anticipating the pivotal moment of failure.

Now, obviously, you can't make a monster noise in a stadium if you don't know what is going on in the game. And, thanks to a wonderful project by one of my students a few years back, I know the history of cheerleading stems, in part, from a desire to take the undirected and unfocused noise generated by fans and turn it into something useful to the team. But, when most of us are choking for air because we're, to steal a line from Art Alexakis, waiting for it to all go wrong again. It makes it hard to cheer when you can't open your throat, even in a metaphorical sense.

3). The Justified and Ancient

If I have read my MGoBlog comments correctly over the past year, there is a certain segment of Michigan fan, mocked by a writer last year as "a symphony crowd" who does not seem to appreciate the need to make noise to help the team on the field. They are appalled if you dare stand up and will use Event Staff to have you disappeared like a magician's assistant. They are likely fans who remember the glory days of Bump 1947's Big Nine Conference MVP. Any change in the overall culture of Michigan Stadium will require the social contract to shift with these fans as well as those who seek to make the Big House a loud house as well.

4). Keys

On the one hand, the key play symbolism and understated nature has its charm. It certainly has its tradition and has been institutionalized by the athletic department, much to the chagrin of many. This could end up being a line in the sand for fans, so we need a way to deal with it respectfully. Also, why is it presumed that because we're jingling the keys that we're not also yelling? I mean, we can multitask, no?

5). The Architecture

Michigan Stadium is a bowl that traps noise and the Field Turf eats even more than that. OK, we've been here before, we'll come back here later.

6). Who we are and who we want to be

This may be one of the most difficult questions of all. Do we, as fans, genuinely want to change. Is there so unspoken desire to become loud, boisterous, rowdy just looking for a leader and a vision? Is this just "the snobbery" issue, Michigan fans think they are better than everyone else, therefore, they don't need to act like every one else (which poses an interesting question in my mind. According to the U.S. News and World Report rankings, flawed as they might be, there are 16 schools among their top 40 which play Division I FBS football. Six in the ACC! (Duke, UVa, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Georgia Tech), three Big Ten schools (Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin), one independent (them...), four Pac-10 schools (Stanford, Cal, UCLA, and USC), one CUSA school (Rice), and one SEC school (Vandy). Off the top of my head, do any of these 16 schools have a standout crowd known for being loud, raucous, and "into it"? Wisconsin is often cited as one example and I realize that if we looked at basketball as well, the ACC steps to the fore in that regard, but that is another post for another time. But if you are a fan of one of these schools, do these allegations of apathy dog your fanbases as well?) The question for these schools might be: Do we just have too many geeks and nerds among us to truly just enjoy the game? It would definitely tie in my the fretful fan thesis. So, do we want to change who we are, or are we comfortable with the slings and arrows of other teams, knowing we are who we are?

I am sure there are many other issues, this is just a first blush take on my part. As a whole, there are times where I would love if Michigan were loud and noisy and crazy, because it would be an outward expression of the passion and intensity that I know in my heart that most Michigan fans have for their team. But I also know that just as most traditions develop organically, changes to any culture also tend to be evolutionary unless change is forced upon a population. So consider this an opening for a discussion, and let us take it from there.


Chris said...

I'm a Virginia alum (and a Michigan alum, too, -- grad school). Virginia is in the throes of redefining what it means to be a fan. The coach is trying to stamp out the old "wear a dress shirt and Virginia tie to the game" culture as they make the next step to being a "real" football school.

I think the biggest difference is that Michigan is a traditional football power with its storied winning tradition, etc. etc., and it wasn't that long ago that Virginia had its first bowl game (1984), first ACC championship (1989), and its first #1 ranking (three weeks in 1990). So, I think the educational ranking and the somewhat dilettante fan approach go together better there than it does at Michigan.

colin said...

If you're a Michigan fan, you know what heartbreak is. The acknowledgment of history is almost implicit in our fandom and, as a result, it's a considered and thoughtful one. It's when you know you've failed so so many times before that giving in to high expectations and eliminating doubt is so hard. I get really loud, but the entire time I'm thinking, "What the hell is going to happen on this play?" And subconsciously its "Kordell Stewart's dead, right?"