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Wojo, Niyo, Angelique and Matt look back at Week 1 of the college football season, and take a glimpse ahead at Week 2. Detroit News

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If you were outside Michigan Stadium before a home football game, if you were hungry, even if you weren’t hungry, Theresa Wangler would feed you.

Not chips and dips and a package of store-bought cookies. She would cook the entire week, making hot roasted turkey sandwiches, special hot pasta dishes, bratwurst and, for the Ohio State game, her special chili and rice that was recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the nation’s top-10 tailgate dishes.

Her son, John, had been a Michigan quarterback, and after games, he and his friends would pile into the Wanglers' home and she would feed them.

In 1981, after her son’s college playing days were over, she started a tailgate that would become the go-to stop for former players and coaches.

The way John Wangler figures it, his mother fed close to 100,000 people over 37 years at her tailgate outside Michigan Stadium.

Theresa Wangler, or “Mama Wangs,” as she was lovingly known by former Michigan players, friends and family, passed away Aug. 25. She was 85 years old.

“It’s been a numb process,” John Wangler said. “Reality is setting in.”

The tailgate will go on Saturday when the Wolverines open at home against Cincinnati. Former Michigan player Dick Caldarazzo, whose tailgate has been a part of Mama Wangs’ for 30 years, had 250 buttons made for the tailgaters. They read: “In Loving Memory of Mama Wangs.”

John Wangler jokes his mother “wasn’t the best at delegating.”

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So the job of one is now being shared. The tailgate will feature its annual Game 1 meal of sub sandwiches, but she would always make a number of side dishes and desserts.

“We’ll just try to carry on her legacy,” Wangler said. “She’d come down and rip us all if we didn’t continue it. You can’t replace my mom on a thousand levels. My cousins are stepping up and a lot of my teammates and their wives are stepping in and will try to help out. Everyone doesn’t want to see it stopped. Everyone will step in and pitch in.

“My mom was the best. She wasn’t the best at delegating. She wanted to do everything and she could do everything and she did do everything.

“The biggest thing will be not seeing her smiling face and having her energy and her presence there. The food was the food, it was great, but the way she made people feel will be the thing that will be difficult to replace.”

Jim Brandstatter, a former player now handling Michigan play-by-play on radio, has been a tailgate regular, along with radio partner Dan Dierdorf.

“She kind of was the hub. She was kind of the motor,” Brandstatter said. “She fed everybody. When you needed something, you’d go to her and she’d be at the ladle and would be throwing stuff in your bowl.”

Theresa Wangler would remember your name, even after only briefly meeting you. And if you told her you liked a certain type of food or candy, she’d have it available at the next tailgate.

While she took great pride in seeing her son play for Michigan, as well as her grandsons, Jack and Jared, who currently are on the team, the tailgate was also a special source of pride.

“She never turned anyone away,” John Wangler said. “I didn’t even know half the people there.

“They would come up and she would feed them a meal. That was her greatest joy, seeing people happy and fed.”

Game day will be bittersweet for Wangler, who will see his sons wearing the winged helmet, but it will be the first without Mama Wangs.

“She was never looking for the attention, never looking for adulation,” John Wangler said. “She was a humble servant. She wanted to make people happy. She was good at it.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

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