The Road Warriors: Cheering the Maize and Blue behind enemy lines
If Michigan season ticket holders are true believers, then road warriors - the fans who support the maize and blue behind enemy lines - are the zealots.
Take Frank DiMaggio, the founder of UMTailgate.com. He runs a tailgate off the corner of Main and Snyder across the street from the Big House.
And DiMaggio and several friends from his tailgating crew also take their act on the road - not only traveling to support the boys in blue, but staging tailgates behind enemy lines. DiMaggio has been to 128 games straight; the last game he missed was the Michigan State game in 1999.
DiMaggio and a core group of about six or seven carloads of friends coordinate caravans to away games. When the game is nearby, like this week's game in East Lansing, they'll return same day. If it's a in a place like Madison, Wisc., they'll stay the night and get a taste of the town.
DiMaggio said they've learned Wisconsin is about as far as they should bring the tailgates; for games in Minnesota or postseason bowls, the crew just samples the local bar scene.
Another member of DiMaggio's crew, Stephen Kelke, lives just west of Chicago but has been to upward of 150 straight games, including bowls. He started that streak in 1997, when Michigan won the National Championship after a perfect 12-0 season.
Kelke recalled a 2002 road trip to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. After Michigan lost 17-45, Kelke and crew drove straight home, barely saying a word as they mourned the blowout loss.
Which environment is the most hostile? Outside the obvious choice - Ohio State - several road warriors mentioned Illinois as a hostile road environment.
Jason Currie, a tech executive from Fort Wayne, Ind., recalled an incident after a recent Michigan-Illinois night game in Champlain.
Currie said the rowdy, ruckus crowd at Memorial Stadium gave him the usual heat for cheering on the Victors. That much he could handle - heckling is almost commonplace at schools where Michigan has historically had the upper hand (U-M's record against Illinois is 66-22-2).
But when Currie returned to his car after the game, he saw it had been vandalized with the same "Michigan sucks" message he'd gotten verbally from Illinois fans.
"I didn't have any U-M flags, or anything on the car," Currie said. "(Illinois fans) must've seen me get out of the car wearing Michigan gear and waited for me to leave."
When Currie travels beyond driving distance to follow the team, he flies with Michigan Sports Travel, which offers charter flights out of Willow Run Airport to away games beyond driving distance.
"Driving burns up your weekend," he said, noting that traveling with Michigan alums, university officials, and other football fans affords opportunities for socializing and networking with friends.
Along with the flight and a bus ride to and from the game, the package offers a pre-game tailgate featuring the Michigan Marching Band and Michigan cheerleaders.
Currie follows the team, despite having four free tickets to every Notre Dame game as a result of his firm's partnership with the Irish athletic department.
When Notre Dame plays USC in South Bend on Oct. 17, Currie will be in Ann Arbor watching Michigan play Delaware State. He gave the Notre Dame tickets to friends, free of charge, and told them to have a blast.
"What can I say?" Currie asked. "I bleed blue."