Michigan's Devin Gardner (12) and Denard Robinson (16) greet fans as they enter Michigan Stadium for pregame warmups for a game last October. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
A few weeks ago, during a Detroit News photo shoot with Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, our photographer decided we should meet and begin in the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
While waiting, I decided to sit on the tunnel floor, my back leaning on the white painted wall.
Then, it hit me as Gardner approached. I was sitting on years of sweat, spit and who knows what else.
Yeah, not a good idea, Gardner assured me, making clear he would never take a seat there. He offered me a hand.
But this isn’t about launching a germ study of the tunnel floor, although I shudder to think what that might produce (I burned the pants I was wearing).
Players walk up and down that tunnel every Saturday, as they will again this fall Aug. 31 when the Wolverines open their season against Central Michigan. Many former players have told me through the years it is the most special of places, especially as they advance together toward the field before kickoff with all of their teammates and coaches.
It is a time like no other on game day, collective hopes and anticipation, the deep breaths, the jumping, the bumping, hearing the roar from the seats above them and just outside the tunnel opening.
All the hours of practice, of lifting weights, and of studying film bring them together in that long space that is dark when they exit the locker room, and then brightens as they approach the mouth of the tunnel as it spills onto the field.
Fitting place for tribute
It is a unique space, probably taken for granted, too.
While sitting there that day, I looked around at the mostly bare white walls, some with penned messages from fans who have made the walk through the tunnel, and it occurred to me, as it has before, this is wasted space. Those walls need something more fitting. Something grand.
Why not make it a “Tunnel of Honor”?
On the vast stretches of white walls, paint the names of every Michigan football player, decade by decade.
Make them large blue letters, big enough for the players to point to as they walk with their children and family and big enough for fans to see, sparking memories of games and players who played there all those years before.
We all know the award-winning players, the Hall of Fame coaches.
Often, we forget the walk-on who earned a coveted letter or the second-string offensive tackle who played every bit as hard in practice as the starter but never got the glory.
This is the most fitting of player honors, their names forever tied to the Big House.
After all, it was their blood, sweat and tears that have made Michigan football what it is.