Taming the Big House
Fans recall its rowdier past
by Jan Schlain
When Richard Frey was a U-M student in the 1960s, he had a friend who brought five bottles of Boone's Farm wine into Michigan Stadium for every football game. "He'd drink one per quarter, and one at halftime," recalls Frey, a retired school teacher.
In 2010, fans can't even bring bottled water into the stadium. But in the 1950s, Don Horning remembers, people would haul in coolers and drink throughout the whole game--beer, mostly. "There were so many empty seats before Bo came, people not only brought in coolers, they put them on the bench beside them," says the retired phys ed teacher.
"We'd carry in small coolers with booze, beer, whatever we could get our hands on to drink," concurs one former partier, an Ann Arbor native who was underage at the time and asked that his name not be used. Michigan was "losing with some regularity," he says, so the games were boring--but "there was plenty of space in the south end zone to run around, play catch, tease girls, and just generally have a wonderful fall Saturday afternoon."
Bo's winning ways, and then-AD Don Canham's savvy marketing, refilled the stadium in the 1970s, and congestion and tougher enforcement combined to tamp down the party scene. Though fans still occasionally try to smuggle in booze, "the punishment is severe," says Horning, who works the M-Den tent at the stadium on game days. "We've seen people at Gate 2 with alcohol, and they end up not letting them in, period. Their tickets are worthless."
Some fans suspect the water ban was imposed to make them buy bottled water inside the stadium. But Dave Ablauf, the athletic department's director of media relations, says that in the first four games of the season, sales were essentially flat compared with last year--in part because concessionaire Absopure started giving away free cups of water at four "hydration stations" around the stadium. "We have not received any complaints since the first game about
not allowing bottled water into the stadium," Ablauf emails. The athletic department's 41 percent of the gross water revenue worked out to $142,000 last year, and Ablauf expects about the same this season.
Besides alcohol, food, and water, the list of items prohibited in the stadium includes everything from purses to footballs. But the rebellious streak longtime fans remember survives in harmless ways. Though beach balls, too, are banned, they are a regular sight at games, sailing from hand to hand above the crowd.
[Originally published in November, 2010.]