“Touchdown Michigan State!” the announcer called. The thirty-five yard pass flew into the end zone and landed right in the wide receiver’s outstretched hands. The entire stadium erupted. Whether a fan was wearing maize and blue or green and white, they were all Michigan fans and they were all cheering. The Michigan vs. Michigan State rivalry went back decades, and the only time a fan wasn’t cheering for a Michigan State player was when they were cheering for a University of Michigan player. When the two teams played against one another, it was like brother competing against brother. The mood in the stadium was electric.
Ashley was dutifully wearing her maize and blue and sitting beside her boyfriend who was proudly sporting his green and white. It was just three weeks into the start of their freshman year of college and not much had changed.
Because Paul and Ashley both lived at home while traveling in opposite directions down I-96, they still saw each other pretty much every day.
Paul was pulling double duty as a full-time student and a farmer at the height of harvest season. Ashley had things a little easier with limited duties as a farmer’s daughter but a full load of intense biology and chemistry classes as part of her pre-med program.
They still got together for trail riding and helping each other out with milking the cows and other chores. They had dinner at each other’s houses frequently and even studied together, giving them the chance to spend time with one another even if the textbooks they read were completely different.
But that day, all thoughts of classes and farm life were on hold as they stood up in the stands of The Big House on U of M’s campus. The Wolverines’ stadium was the largest university stadium in the United States. That day’s attendance was over 112,000 fans, not the largest in the school’s history but definitely inflated because they were playing their closest and most passionate rivals. In this case, it didn’t matter which team had just scored, Ashley and Paul were on their feet cheering alongside every other resident of the state of Michigan.
The next couple of plays were uneventful until the quarterback on Michigan’s offense sailed a high throw out to a receiver who gained a few yards then got pushed out of bounds and right into the MSU cheerleaders, taking down a pretty blond cheerleader.
“I guess he was hoping to ask her out later and decided to get a jump on it.” Paul laughed.
“That’s not funny, Paul!” Ashley turned and smacked him on the arm, but tried to suppress laughter. “She might have been hurt.”
The players waited as everyone helped each other off the ground and the officials moved the chains to adjust for the first down. The quarterback threw another long pass and suddenly it was Michigan that was celebrating in the end zone. The game was only in the first quarter and it was already exciting. The band started playing the Michigan fight song and the fans clapped along.
After the celebrations, the teams headed back to the sidelines, and the announcer came on to award the winner for the ‘Best Tailgate’ display. The large screen on the scoreboard showed a close-up of a tent full of partiers in the parking lot that was shot prior to the start of the game. The group was mostly made up of guys with their chests painted half green and half blue, spiked colored hair, and cheerleading skirts on. The tent was all decked out with banners and flags and poms from both teams, and had a big grill and lots of food and beer.
“Ah, they should have given the award to our tailgate party,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, I don’t think they even go into the ‘alcohol-free’ zone.”
“Well, they should.” Ashley pouted a little. “It was a lot of fun. I’m glad the school hosted that.”
They had discovered a little area that was set up with picnic tables and games and tents with free food and a keg full of root beer. “That was totally cool to get all that free food!”
“You’d go anywhere for free food though,” Ashley teased.
“Yeah, but it had the added bonus of not having to deal with drunk people.”
“Speaking of, when I went to go get my giant pretzel, these two girls were fighting in line ahead of me. Apparently, some guy named Eric had dumped one of them to be with the other, and it got pretty heated. They were both too drunk to realize they were making a scene, and they were alternating between hugging each other to say they were sorry, and swearing at each other because the one stole the other’s boyfriend. It was… enlightening.” Ashley looked over at Paul and they just rolled their eyes at each other.
As they turned back to the game, Ashley took a deep breath and put her hand in Paul’s reminding herself again how lucky she was to be sitting next to a guy who would neither get drunk, nor sneak off behind her back with her best friend.
Ashley didn’t really have very many ‘girl’ friends. She mainly hung out with her brothers and Paul. She tolerated her older sister, and loved Paul’s younger brothers and sisters, but other than her family and church friends, she didn’t really have a wide circle.
She was glad that she hadn’t gotten caught up in the clubs and sororities on campus, and was lucky enough to live at home so she didn’t have to deal with the dorms. She had gotten involved with LDSSA, the student association for the Latter-day Saints kids on campus, and had been invited to a study group with some kids from the pre-med program. But other than that, she went to her classes, studied while she ate her lunch in one of the many cafeterias on campus, and went home to her farm each evening. Her only other best friend was her pretty mare who stood in her stall back in the barn. It was a simple life, and she loved it. She was content.
At half time, they watched the University of Michigan marching band, and the second half was a little uneventful. Michigan State got one more field goal that clinched the game, then it was time for the long walk back out to Paul’s truck. It had been a fun afternoon, but it was getting cold and they were glad to have brought their big, hooded sweatshirts and stadium blankets.
“Well, your favorite team beat my favorite team,” Ashley mused. “Just as you predicted!”
“But Michigan is my second favorite team!” Paul admitted. “And my third favorite team is whoever is playing against Ohio State!”
They both laughed, and swung their arms as they held hands walking through the parking lot. Paul kicked an empty beer can out of the way as they stepped around the debris left over from countless pre-game tailgating parties.
They were sunburned, wind-blown, and tired. It had been a fun day, but they were ready to drive back to their farms.