Two big football games in neighboring cities bring similar result
They stood along the street in the cold mist Saturday morning, looking for a way in.
As cars passed destined for their traditional tailgating spots, the two men stood a half a block apart from each other, arm extended, flashing two fingers.
"I need two," the ticket seekers said 5 1/2 hours before kickoff. "Who's got extras?"
Football on Saturday in Ann Arbor is officially open for business.
On this particular Football Saturday - in both Ann Arbor and neighboring Ypsilanti - the story lines were more compelling than most weeks.
Michigan, off to a 5-2 start after winning three games all of last season, is hoping to make a statement against No. 13-ranked Penn State. The Nittany Lions entered the game having not won in Ann Arbor since 1996.
Seven miles away, Eastern Michigan entered Saturday in search of its first victory. To make things more interesting, the Eagles are facing Ball State, another winless team.
As it turned out, Saturday wouldn't be a good day for locals hoping hoping to get a win to forget about the dreary October weather.
Barry Anderson arrived in the Michigan Stadium Blue Lot at 10:30 a.m. to set up tailgating.
As always, the lot is filled with tailgating stations, a virtual smorgasbord of football food. Games of parking lot catch go on despite a steady rain. Most spaces are kept warm with portable fireplaces and heaters.
Anderson, who drove two hours knowing a steady day-long rain was likely, could easily arrive in time for the 3:30 kickoff.
"It's a magical experience," he said. "The tailgating, the atmosphere, seeing the band go through the tunnel. It's all part of the experience. I love it."
Mark Lazzer understands.
Lazzer, along with his brother Dave and friend Tim Hollabaugh, is huddled under a small blue tarp at the far end of Eastern Michigan's Convocation Center.
Mark Lazzer, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., hasn't missed a Ball State home game since 1976 and makes one road trip per year to see the Cardinals play.
After Ball State started last season with 12 straight wins, Lazzer endured an 0-7 start this fall heading into Saturday's game with Eastern Michigan. The two schools help make up a group of six Division 1-A programs yet to win this fall.
Somebody, he says, has to win. Dave Lazzer feels he and his tailgating friends are seeing history.
"I've been through the good, the bad and the ugly," Lazzar said 90 minutes before kickoff at Rynearson Stadium. "We've pretty much seen it all."
Closer to the stadium, Kevin Frisbie stands behind a grill, preparing burgers for an Eastern Michigan parents' tailgate party.
In more than 20 years around the program, Frisbie has lived through the good and the bad. He recalls the school's 1987 season when Eastern Michigan earned a California Bowl berth, finishing the season 10-2.
But he's also been around for lean years, watching sparse crowds filter in and out of Rynearson. He can't understand why people don't show up given the cost effectiveness of Eastern Michigan's football tickets compared to those at nearby Michigan.
"People don't want to get out - even when we were winning, people didn't come out," Frisbie said. "I think it's just the people of the community, they just don't rally behind the college."
Inside Rynearson's gates, Eastern Michigan's players ignore the size of the crowds, choosing to focus on each other. Since the season began, the Eagles have stuck together. They have played through the adversity of six straight losses and the loss of their offensive captain, Andy Schmitt, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
Twelve minutes before kickoff, Ron English's team forms a tight huddle inside of its locker room. Hoping to snap their season-long losing skid, they have spent the past week working on the small things that their coach preaches.
They hope their day has arrived.
As his teammates jump up and down and unison, senior quarterback Johnny Sears delivers the first motivational speech of the day.
"I'm tired of losing," he yells. "Let's go out there and take care of our (business). This is our house."
A minute later, English walks in and tells his players to take a knee. He briefly discusses the game plan and makes one final plea.
"Why don't you win for each other?" he asks.
Hours later, English's players return to the locker room. A 27-13 lead has disappeared and Ball State escapes with a 29-27 victory. The Eagles are 0-7 with a demanding road trip to Arkansas a week away.
As kickoff approaches at Michigan Stadium, Tony Pell is hard at work.
A grounds keeper for Michigan's athletic department for the past six years, Pell goes about his game day tasks. He's been at work since 7:30 a.m.
Pell can sense when a big game is at hand. There's a different excitement level around the athletic department and he finds himself more restless when he tries to sleep at night.
Like Anderson, Pell relishes Football Saturday in Ann Arbor. He has arrived before even the most dedicated of tailgaters. He and his crew set up staging and communications equipment, attach netting behind each goalpost along with pylons in the corner of both end zone.
But for Pell, Football Saturday is about more than work.
When the Michigan marching band charges out of the tunnel, the hairs on Pell's arms stand up. Saturday's cold rain does little to dampen his spirits.
The numbers of the scoreboard take care of that. Penn State 35, Michigan 10.
As the clock winds down, Penn State's faithful celebrates the Nittany Lions second straight win over Michigan. Four Penn State fanatics, dressed in their game day costumes, dance in the front row of the northwest corner of the end zone.
As Penn State's band plays, the four cheer. "Let's go ... P-S-U."
As the game ends, Pell begins his post-game clean-up, picking a pylon that he had put in place so many hours before. Just like that, all the eager anticipation Pell started the day with is gone. Now only work remains.
"It's just a letdown," Pell said. "I really thought when I came to work today that we were going to get a win. But when they play like they did ... it's just a letdown."
By 9 p.m., stadium lights illuminate an empty field. Remnants of the day's game remain in the stands, waiting for a clean up crew to clear away. Outside, all of the tailgaters have departed and the student beer pong tables have been put away.
For fans like Anderson, Saturday's loss comes with mixed feelings.
While he arrived in Ann Arbor hoping to witness an upset win, Anderson realizes how solid of a team Penn State has put together. The loss is disappointing, but after last year's 3-9 finish, Anderson figures better days are ahead.
"I'm just excited about how far we have come," said Anderson, who arrived back at his home at 10 p.m. Saturday night. "We're still 5-3, and I said at the beginning of the year, I thought we'd get to 7-5 and we're still on pace to do that."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org