Detroit — Fans wore scarlet and Carolina blue while supporting their teams Friday night.
But we mostly saw deep blue empty seats as Rutgers pounded North Carolina, 40-21, during the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field. This was a game that hardly captivated the community — not by a long shot.
They announced a crowd of 23,876, which is the second-lowest attendance in Ford Field bowl history. The low was 23,310 two years ago when a huge snowstorm crippled Detroit before the Central Michigan-Western Kentucky game.
The good news is the Quick Lane Bowl actually got a Big Ten team to play in its bowl, something the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl often failed to do. Unfortunately, it got the wrong Big Ten team.
We are not wired yet to accept Rutgers as a Big Ten team. That's one reason the community did not show up. You'd have a better chance of luring Detroiters if you could draw Illinois, Penn State or even Purdue.
They've been in the Big Ten for years, not months.
"To get over 21,000 in the building I think is a positive for us," Lions president Tom Lewand said. "We obviously want to continue to grow it and we'll never say we're satisfied, but for us a very good start."
Michigan fell short
The big coup for the Quick Lane would have been luring Michigan. Little did we know that Michigan's 26-24 loss at Rutgers in October was a showdown for Motown. The win would have made Michigan bowl-eligible and you can bet the Detroit Lions and Lewand (a UM graduate) would have made a bold push to include the Wolverines.
Michigan against North Carolina has more appeal and my guess is Ford Field would have been a near sellout. Michigan might not be able to fill a 100,000-seat stadium these days, but it could draw 60,000 for a nice holiday indoor game.
Central Michigan did it in 2007 when 60,624 saw the Chippewas drop a heartbreaker to Purdue.
"I always root for Michigan and I hope they win every week, especially in late November when they face the Buckeyes," Lewand said. "For us it was a lot more than a given team from the Big Ten and the ACC during a given year.
"It was about an annual matchup between two great conferences and it is about building relationships. I rooted and will always root for my alma mater. I could not be happier with Rutgers representing the Big Ten."
This is not the ideal bowl for Michigan. However, it is better than sitting on the sidelines.
Playing in this bowl would have been good for Michigan.
It got better
Let me leave you with a story:
Michigan was accustomed to playing in Rose Bowls under coach Bo Schembechler. However, the program took a stumble in 1984, finishing 6-5 during the regular season. Michigan lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State and was sent to San Diego to play No. 1 BYU in the Holiday Bowl. It was not a good year for blue and some players did not want to play. Schembechler convinced them otherwise during an emotional meeting.
"He told them we needed to go and why," said Jamie Morris, who played four games that season at tailback. "He said it is not beneath us to go to a lesser bowl. I hate to call them a lesser bowl but that is what they were. It was not the Rose Bowl, it was not the Sugar Bowl, but we needed to go."
The sentiment was that unbeaten BYU played a soft schedule and did not deserve to be national champions. It was up to Michigan to save college football, which it failed to do, losing 24-17.
Here is the good news. Michigan was able to develop a young quarterback named Jim Harbaugh who guided Michigan to a 10-1-1 season the following year and was MVP in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 1986 he quarterbacked Michigan to a 10-2 record and the famous guarantee victory at Ohio State.
Now Harbaugh is Michigan's dream coaching candidate.
So there is value for playing in the smaller bowls even if you are Michigan.