Among the greatest games in sports are those which pit longstanding rivals against each other in rowdy battles for bragging rights. Rivalries are one of the things that make college football great, powering masses of fans each Saturday throughout the fall in cheering their teams to victory.
Think Alabama vs. Auburn, Harvard vs. Yale, Army vs. Navy and Texas vs. Oklahoma. Within college football, there are few pilgrimages higher on the list than Ann Arbor. A TRIP TO THE BIG HOUSE One of college football’s most historic rivalries is Notre Dame–Michigan. On Saturday, September 10, the “Big House” (aka Michigan Stadium) hosted the Fighting Irish for its first-ever night game in a showdown that came down to its final two seconds. Quarterback Denard Robinson stunned Notre Dame with a 16-yard touchdown pass to carry the Wolverines to an unbelievable 35-31 win. As Robinson put it, “It’s never over until you see zeros on the clock.”
|The Big House seats more people than any other stadium in the U.S.|
No matter the opponent, on game days, the streets of Ann Arbor are ablaze with chants of “Hail to the Victors” as a sea of Wolverines, faces painted in maize and blue, crush down State Street, Stadium Boulevard, and Main Street. Be it basketball at Crisler Arena (home of the beloved Fab Five) hockey at Yost Ice Arena (the team has won an NCAA record nine national championships) or football at Michigan Stadium (the largest football stadium in America, with a seating capacity of 109,901) a trip to Ann Arbor isn’t complete without taking in a game. But, make no mistake; this liberal Midwestern city isn’t just a stop on the Big Ten train, it’s a city full of personality and history, coed-filled streets and a funky arts scene. With various festivals and fairs calling Ann Arbor home throughout the year, a weekend here can be filled with plenty of action off the field, too. CAMPUS SITES
Let’s be honest; the biggest draw of a college town weekend is the girls, so be sure to swing through the University of Michigan Diag, the tree-lined campus meeting point marked by an inlaid bronze “M” plaque. It’s here that students (read: scores of girls) gather between classes, demonstrations gain momentum, and annual traditions like Hash Bash (read: stoned girls) and the Naked Mile (read: naked girls running)—a rite of passage for graduating seniors—take place. For the less voyeuristic, or those who prefer more cerebral chicks, shops, galleries, bookstores, indie-theaters, bars, and restaurants line the streets further downtown on State and Main Streets. If art’s your thing, just look around. The Cube, a 15-foot-tall, 2,400-pound glossy black sculpture inhabits Regents Plaza while small doors painted like murals on city buildings are said to be used by fairies to enter and exit businesses. Random? Yep. Cool to spot? You betcha. If it’s raining, take cover in the university’s Museum of Art, where there’s an excellent permanent collection and provocative temporary exhibitions, as well a bunch of artsy types.
GET MOVING Ann Arbor lives up to its campy nickname of “Tree Town” with nearly 150 public parks, so if you’re hunting for a unique way to get your heart rate up first thing in the morning, hit Gallup Park and kayak the Huron River. Not in the mood to get wet? Fair enough, there are three miles of nearby asphalt trails for runs and sprints. If you’re looking for a low-key spot to walk off that stadium-size hangover, Nichols Arboretum (aka “The Arb”) with over 120 acres of green delivers in spades. But if, like most, you just want to showcase your guns in front of a cute swatch of Wolverines while you get your sweat on, Palmer Field, near the hill dorms, has a basketball court, a quarter-mile track and a full field for sports. REFUEL
|The No. 18 from Zingerman’s.|
For the populist gourmand, Ann Arbor is overflowing with great grub. Start your morning right with three-egg omelets and killer pancakes at Angelo’s, a campus standby that’s been serving bleary-eyed customers since 1956. For a midday caffeine fix, and a never-ending list of two-handed sandwiches, it’s a toss-up between Amer’s Mediterranean Deli where #25, the T.M.H. (turkey, muenster, honey mustard on toasted sourdough) takes top billing, and the James Beard award-winning team behind Zingerman’s Deli where #18, the Georgia Reuben, has its own cult following. Late night, students favor Pizza House—not for the obvious pizza, but for chipatis—whole wheat pitas stuffed with vegetables, meats and spicy homemade dressing. If you’re looking for something a little less collegiate, choose between Gandy Dancer’s massive Sunday brunch spread overflowing with raw bar items like crab and lobster claws and Gratzi, which corners the market on the region’s Italian food and would earn some serious date points. GET LOOSE Ann Arbor’s bars and clubs are often overrun by college folk, but pay no mind to the young, dumb and full of rum—many good joints round out the town. For live music, head to The Blind Pig, a dank, old-school spot that has seen the likes of bands like Dave Matthews Band and Nirvana. For casual pints (over 60 on tap) and a cool crowd, it’s all about Ashley’s on State, and for the possibility of free legal advice owing to its Law Quad location, loiter over pitchers of sangria at Dominick’s.
|Dreams are two for one,
weekdays at Rick’s.
But if you’re just in town for the birds, bear the line that winds down Church Street and head to Rick’s—cramped quarters, dim lighting, heaps of scantily-clad women… even in winter. When the bars close, or you’ve hit your last campus party, book a room at the centrally located Campus Inn or the Bell Tower. The hotel duo, owned by the same management team, offers the city’s best overnight digs. With football at full throttle, it’s time to jump a flight to Detroit, head 45 miles west and snag tickets to one of the upcoming games. Saturday, November 26th is Michigan-Ohio State, so get moving. Photos courtesy of VisitAnnArbor.org and The University of Michigan.