I am in the “Big House” at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. The Big House is the world’s biggest sports stadium with a capacity of almost 115,000. Part of the ritual of visiting Cost Centre #2 is attending an American football game in this sports crazy university town.
The stadium is a sea of men and women dressed in “maize”, a deeply unflattering shade of yellow. The team banner of the Michigan Wolverines football team is blue and the said maize, a colour chosen to honour the local crop. The stadium erupts to shouts of “Go Blue!” as a group of very large men in tight pants take to the field.
The players settle down to perform set piece rituals of extreme violence. Elsewhere, cheerleaders, wholesome farm girls in short skirts, perform athletic looking splits for the crowd. Their male counterparts, muscular young chaps of dubious sexuality, invade the pitch periodically to entertain the audience during frequent commercial breaks. The commercial breaks are a reminder that university football is big business. The football programme at the University of Michigan rakes in almost $90M annually.
The atmosphere is one of cheerful bonhomie with good natured ribbing of the visiting team, the Cincinnati Bearcats. The cheers are time honoured and loud – a practised counterpoint to what happens on the field. These rituals are part of what binds the current generation of students to a network of fiercely loyal alumni; a group who will play an important role in their lives beyond university. The power of the network is global. Wearing my “Michigan Dad” T shirt while running in London inevitably attracts a cheerful shout of “Go Blue!”
Outside the sports arena, Ann Arbor (the entire population of which will fit in said arena) is a hospitable Mid Western town. Visitors can choose from a wide range of bars and restaurants – of varying quality. They can be divided into places that the students can afford to frequent, and those where their parents take them when visiting. In the latter category I like Sava which has a modern continental menu, and reliable cocktails. Their Jalapeño Bloody Mary is a firm brunch favourite. Down the road, Knights serves excellent steaks. Their prime rib, a cut of beef rarely seen outside the US, is superb.
A trip to Ann Arbor is never complete without a visit to Zingermann’s – a deli which has been keeping generations of students and parents happy. Their cinnamon rolls are to die for. A find on this trip was the Blank Slate Creamery, a craft ice cream barn where everything, including the delicious waffle cones are made on the premises. Ice cream flavours like lime and ginger, goats cheese and cherry, and natural basil are standouts.
Ann Arbor is the kind of town where people don’t bother locking their front doors. Its people are genuinely warm hearted Mid Westerners who go out of their way to make you (and your university going child) feel welcome. You wouldn’t visit unless you have a child going to school here. But if you do, it is a reminder of much that is good about America.