Depending on whom you ask, Michigan-Notre Dame is either one of the country's premier rivalries or just another big game. Also depending on which ESPN talking head you ask, he may or may not have fake memories of watching the series as a kid. One thing is certain: With a rare night game in Ann Arbor this Saturday, fans will have plenty of time to partake in Ann Arbor's various tailgating scenes.
"You've got all day for what looks to be one of the best outdoor tailgating days of the year," said Shash, who writes for SB Nation's Michigan site, Maize N Brew. "Every parking lot within a mile of the stadium should have tailgating going strong. Pioneer High School (corner opposite the stadium) turns into a tailgating lot during the day of the game -- lots of RVs park there. There's a lot of fun to be had with people that aren't just from Ann Arbor there.
"The students will trend toward frat row during the day. The best sites are probably the golf course or Pioneer if you're above 25, or anywhere downtown if you look like a student.
"The best experience on a Michigan game day, especially for a packed game like this, is walking down Hoover [Street] and then onto Greene Street and just seeing how many people are there. It's a sea of maize and blue, meaning the idiots wearing red stick out like sore thumbs. My favorite sign I've ever seen was the in, like, '05, when OSU came to the Big House and a bunch of M Law guys had a banner saying 'M Law: Clarett Could've Walked.'"
It's nice to know a Michigan Man has a sense of humor to go along with such a storied football history. Zach Travis, manager of Maize N Brew, describes a Saturday in Ann Arbor in a way that makes it sound like a medieval village swarmed by a band of nomadic raiders -- without all the looting and plundering -- transitioning into a pilgrimage to Mecca.
"It is a really great experience because so much of the hustle and bustle of tailgating happens right in town, so it gives it the feel of some mongol horde descending on this otherwise quiet little city, slowly sweeping through, eating and drinking everything in its path," said Travis. "Front yards turn into parties, beer pong games, and parking lots. Eventually, everyone walks together in one giant procession to the gates of the stadium."
In the South, tailgating cuisine revolves around barbecue. In Pac-12 territory, fish and other lighter fare get into the mix. At Michigan, the spread is meat-and-potatoes Midwestern. And thanks to the local brewing culture, fans can polish it off with a quality beer if so desired.
"Depending on who you tailgate with, it could be anything from a cooler and a small charcoal grill to a huge spread of grilled meats, snacks, desserts, and beers of all types," Travis said. "The food is typical Midwestern fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, brats are the main course; chips and any number of pasta- or potato-salad combinations are handed out in heaping helpings; and all of it is washed down by anything from the cheap swill that students gravitate toward -- anything with Light in the name -- to the good stuff like Bell's Oberon or Two-Hearted Ale.
"Depending on what area you tailgate in, food is either a big deal or hard to find. Frat row will serve mostly cheap, warm beer, while the golf course and Pioneer High School will cater more to the bigger tailgate spreads."
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Ann Arbor is a city of roughly 116,000 people, not the biggest college locale in the country -- Columbus has 795,000, for example -- but it's no small town. As such, there are plenty of options for postgame celebration or consolation and Friday night revelry.
"Ann Arbor is big enough that there's something here for everyone, but the best options are a bit off the beaten path," Shash said. "Both phenomenal beer destinations, and I'm biased here, but Ashley's has hundreds of, or millions of, beers, give or take, and is right downtown, and the Heidelberg has beer boots bigger than your head. I didn't do the club scene much, but I spend a lot of time at those two places."
"Most of the younger crowd is going to gravitate to the bars on South University Avenue, and there are a few good options there," per Travis. "You can't go wrong with The Brown Jug or Good Time Charley's. A few years ago they expanded the popular local burrito joint formerly known as Big Ten Burrito and added the BTB Cantina on the second floor of Charley's, so not only can you get some of the best burritos you'll find anywhere, but you can drink, as well; a true win-win situation.
"Main Street will offer a lot of different options, from Irish pubs to breweries to sports bars. It also has the benefit of not being completely packed with students all the time -- you know, if you're looking to get away from that after a day tailgating and crammed in the Big House. While it doesn't really fall into the drinking/tailgating scene, you absolutely have to find time to visit Zingerman's Deli. The wait in the morning before a game may be long, but you'll be glad you stopped there."
Any fall Saturday in Ann Arbor is a good day, possible Michigan loss aside, but with Notre Dame in town, everything is amped up a bit. This is the last time, for the foreseeable future, that the Wolverines will host the Fighting Irish, and that isn't lost on the fans. That, combined with the late kickoff, should equal Michigan game day at its best.
"The Big House gets a lot of flack for being quiet relative to its size -- although that has gotten better with the stadium expansion that added luxury boxes to either side and walled in a lot of the noise -- but it is a really incredible feeling to walk in and look down 60-some rows to the field below," said Travis. "And with all those people, the whole town is bustling, all the way from North Campus down past the golf course. Just thousands of people finding any little nook they can to enjoy a fall day, eat and drink their fill, and cheer on Michigan.
"WIth this week's game being the second night game against Notre Dame, I can only imagine how much energy is going to radiate out of the stadium. The first Under the Lights game was raved about by everyone there. With this rivalry set to take a hiatus after next year's game, I know all 115,000 are going to send it out in style by blowing the (figurative) roof off the place."
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