Friday, November 27, 2020

On a rivalry day different than any other, two 'ghost towns' experience gameday

October 31, 2020
Entrance of Coach and Four, a barber shop in Ann Arbor, MI on Oct. 31, 2020.
Entrance of Coach and Four, a barber shop in Ann Arbor, MI on Oct. 31, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Ann Arbor, MI.

There have been 113 games played between the University of Michigan and Michigan State, few were like this one. 

Two cities, both dominated by the annual clash between rivals, remained relatively quiet leading up to the game.

“There normally would be a couple of hundred kids in the front yard across the street,” Gordie Todd, a barber at Ann Arbor’s Coach and Four Barber Shop said. “You wouldn’t know there was a football game going on today, could be a Saturday in July.”

He gazed at an empty street, an empty lawn and an empty town from the shop that was in the heart of student neighborhoods. 

The walls of the barbershop littered with memorabilia framing moments that fans won't get to see this time around in person. 

“It’s a lot different, being the Michigan State weekend this would’ve started two, three days ago, everybody coming to town … it’s a ghost town,” Todd said. 

Todd walks to work at the barbershop, he has since he started six years ago, the silence that has replaced the thousands of tailgaters, he said, is strange and deafening. No more people enjoying the game along with the barbers cutting hair like normal.

Societal shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are visible in every aspect of our lives. 

A game that was won 27-24 by MSU in an upset of No. 13 Michigan felt less like a battle of state school titans and more like a spring scrimmage at first.

Business owners, students — in both cities — may never experience a rivalry Saturday like this again.

From inside the stadium, the empty stands stared back at players and coaches lining the sideline. Only seldom family members remained in the stands to cheer on their loved ones.

They were joined by the silence of wind and the yells of coaches.

Outside the stadium, students hung on to whatever normal they have.

Shawn Waynick is a senior at the University of Michigan. He’s seen the big game a couple of times, even though it's different this year, he gathered with his 18 housemates and painted his face or the entire face: blue. 

It’s what they have left as students in Ann Arbor.

“Gameday is one of the most brutal things about it (the pandemic) because that was always the one day a week where everybody would be able to get together. This kind of takes away from that,” Waynick said. 

He and his buddies decided that full face paint, A La Blue Man Group, was the play, it was evident that even if it can’t be normal — they still can at least enjoy the day.

“We’re all stuck within the confines of our own house,” Waynick said from his lawn as the Chicago Bulls theme song: Sirius by The Alan Parsons Project, blared loudly in the background. “Just kinda takes away the whole fun part of game day … we try our best, you know, have 19 people living in the same house, we all know each other. So it kind of makes things easier in terms of having to deal with (COVID-19).”

There were students with masks, some not, but they were mostly distanced and not gathering in groups larger than 10 or so. It’s how life is now in college towns that once became the epicenter of excitement for an entire state.

East Lansing, MI.

The busiest streets of East Lansing were unnaturally quiet in the preceding hours of MSU's 27-24 victory over Michigan on Saturday.

Other than a few scattered lawn games of beer die and students walking from one destination to another, at the start the streets were so silent you could hear a pin drop. 

Senior interdisciplinary studies major Nathan Peterson was cooking eggs on his lawn before today’s game. His game days this season look a lot different than previous years. 

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He said he has been hanging out with a much smaller group of people and is trying to be as safe as he can. 

Even before the game started, Peterson said he still had hope for MSU and would stay updated on the game via Twitter while he grilled. 

“I have some faith in the guys, there’s always the times where we have been the underdogs but we always somehow prevail,” Peterson said.

Peterson's underdog hope, eventually came true.

Business preference junior Ryan Buckles and his roommates were spending their time before the game in a similar fashion, playing beer die on the lawn of their house. 

They were all discussing how unfortunate it was that on a Saturday game day they were just sitting around when typically they would be amongst large crowds of over 100 people. 

“It’s like a ghost town around here,” Buckles said.

Senior accounting major Shane Tazzia said she was really thankful to have a football season and has always been a huge fan Spartan football.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t attend games and East Lansing’s not as lively as it usually is but we’re just hanging out with our roommates,” Tazzia said. “We have eight of us so we’re trying to make the most of it together by just playing games on the lawn, hanging out and just trying to do what we can because it’s out of our control and we’re just trying to enjoy our senior year with our friends.”

He’s had such great memories of MSU vs. U of M games with family, friends and people he loves. He also has a little in-family rivalry. 

“I go to Michigan State, my sister goes to U of M, so just the trash talk back and forth throughout the week always makes the game very fun and it’s always a special time of the year,” Tazzia said.

Campus Street Sportswear Store owner Dave Smaby, a U of M alum, actually slightly favors MSU more during the rivalry game. 

This year he’s noticed a lot less people around East Lansing.

“The bars were actually empty,” Smaby. “We’re just not seeing any of the students preparing for the game, no tailgating.”

But after the Spartans upset in Ann Arbor, in familiar East Lansing fashion, the scene changed.

Crowds of students flooded the streets, burning couches and chanting in celebration of the, as Peterson put it, underdog victory.

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