Ann Arbor — Throngs of fans started flocking to “The Big House” in the early afternoon to partake in the festivities ahead of the football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
The designated game day parking lots near Michigan Stadium, 1201 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, opened for tailgating to the general public at noon in anticipation of the game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The parking lots usually open at 8 or 9 a.m. for games with earlier kickoffs.
University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security public information officer Diane Brown anticipated the biggest challenge for law enforcement officials to be maintaining the flow of vehicle traffic since there will be thousands of football fans traveling to Ann Arbor from other cities across Michigan to participate in the game day experience. She said some people from out of town might not even have a ticket for the football game, they might just go to the stadium to tailgate or a nearby bar to watch the game on TV, so that will add to the work that needs to be done by law enforcement.
Despite the later than usual kickoff time, Wolverine fans wearing maize and blue started milling around campus and downtown Ann Arbor around 9 a.m. Spartan fans wearing green and white started coming out around 10 a.m.
Most of the fan activity was concentrated in downtown Ann Arbor in the late morning. But once it got closer to noon, the area around the stadium started filling up with fans on both sides.
Jessie Radden of Grand Rapids came out to Ann Arbor with her husband and friend. They spent Friday night at a hotel in Belleville because all the hotels in Ann Arbor were full. They didn’t have tickets to the game ahead of time, so they planned on just tailgating at the University of Michigan Golf Course.
“It’s just nice to spend time with family and friends in a fun atmosphere,” Radden said. “There’s nothing like Michigan football!” As she said that, someone walked by and said, “There’s sure not.” And she responded with, “Go Blue!”
Lots of fans had impressive set ups at all three of the designated game day parking lots with TVs, small satellites, and generators to watch the game. Some of them even had huge grills or smokers.
Christopher Reeves lives in Atlanta but grew up in Ann Arbor. He comes back to the area for a lot of the Michigan football games. He said one of the things that draws him is the community. His set up attracted lots of attention because it included a blowup sectional. He has tickets to the game, but he and his friends plan to come back and hangout at their set up after the game to wait for things to calm down.
“Our goal was to make the tailgate so funky that you don’t want to go to the game,” Reeves said.
Rachelle Kalee of the Kalamazoo area is a season ticket holder who’s been coming out to Michigan football games for 10 or more years. She came out to Ann Arbor Golf & Outing when the gates opened to tailgate with the M Go Blue Tailgate Crew and will attend the football game. She also was celebrating her “25th birthday for the 13th rotation.”
“This is the place to be,” Kalee said. “‘Cause nobody has it better than us, right?”
Some fans had plans to pace themselves, like staying away from liquor or drinking beer with a low alcohol content, so they wouldn’t catch too much of a buzz too quickly since their tailgating activities were expected to span from noon until at least 7 p.m. Many drinking activities, like beer pong and corn hole, were in full swing by 1 p.m.
Chris Peuterbaugh of Shelby Township usually goes to at least one Michigan football game each year. He went to Eastern Michigan University and used to live in Ann Arbor.
“To pace ourselves since it’s a night game, what we’re going to do is drink the light beers instead of the craft beers,” Peuterbaugh said. “You know, I’ve shotgunned a [light] beer or two to make up for the craft beers.”
The University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security is responsible for coordinating the deployment of law enforcement and other emergency responders on game days since the stadium is located on the university’s property. But it works with a number of local, state and federal partners in an effort to provide a safe and secure environment for fans and other people who will be in the surrounding area during University of Michigan football games.
Before every football game, the Division of Public Safety and Security works with the University of Michigan Athletic Department to take a look at its safety and security plans and discuss what might need to be revised based on a number of factors, according to Brown. Some of the most relevant factors in the case of today’s game are the University of Michigan’s longstanding rivalry with Michigan State University, the later than usual kickoff time, and a threat assessment based on recent local or national events. Based on those factors, one could surmise there will be an increased police presence around the stadium — especially after the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday — but Brown declined to comment on whether or not the Division of Public Safety and Security planned to bring in additional security resources.
“As far as this rivalry with Michigan State, indeed, it is a longstanding cross-state rivalry, but it’s actually a pretty friendly rivalry,” Brown said. “There are families who have split allegiances. There are friends and colleagues and coworkers who have split allegiances.”
At the tailgates, there were more Michigan fans than State fans, but there were lots of crews consisting of fans on both sides. The volume of Michigan fans was apparent based on the sea of maize and blue pop-ups spread across both golf courses.
Clare and Terrance Still of Ann Arbor are an example of a house divided. Their son was dressed in a neutral outfit because he’s too young to choose his allegiance. The couple goes to the Michigan-Michigan State game every year.
“We’re always at the Michigan-Michigan State game,” Clare Still said. “It’s like a holiday for us.”
Clare Still supports the Spartans because her whole family went to Michigan State. Her husband, Terrance, is from New Jersey but he played football and watched Michigan football while he was growing up.
Terrance Still has been painting his face for Michigan football games since 2003. He changes his face paint every game and shares his photos under the Instagram name “thisguygoblue.” He started painting his face at 4 a.m. for this game.
Clare Still said the rivalry isn’t always so friendly on social media, but she thinks it’s friendly once the fans are together in person.
Terrance Still said, “Go Blue!” so Clare followed it up by adding, “Go Green, Go White!” Then he claimed she said, “Can’t read, can’t write.”
Adam Sutherland of Royal Oak went to Michigan State. He came out to Ann Arbor Golf & Outing to tailgate but isn’t going to the game because tickets are too expensive. He and his brother have a tradition of taking part in the fan atmosphere for Michigan-Michigan State games every year.
“The rivalry brings me out because basically this game is almost always unpredictable, regardless of how both teams have played throughout the year,” Sutherland said. “Anything can happen in this game. It’s always exciting. I think it brings everybody out from [across] the state, whether you have gone to both of these schools. It’s just a great atmosphere for bringing people together.”
Sutherland’s friend, Vanessa Phillips, drove about seven hours from southern Indiana. She reiterated that the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry “literally brings people together.”