Saturday, March 15, 2008

All Hail Our Yellow Shirts! An Ice Hockey Extravaganza

I'm visiting Michigan for a term this winter, and we were out eating lunch in Ann Arbor one day and we saw a poster for the women's ice hockey team. At least, I thought it was for the women's ice hockey team, but I was wrong, it was the local high school girl's hockey team.

But it was a cute poster, and we thought to ourselves, hey, we could go see the UMich women's ice hockey team play a game.

Except, of course, we couldn't, because Michigan has no women's ice hockey team. Weird, but whatever. Anyway, we decided to check out the men's team. The regular season is always sold out -- there's a waiting list -- but last night there was a play-off game so we could get tickets pretty easily.

Here's how the ice looked before the game. Pretty cool.

I came right from work so I was wearing wedge-heeled shoes and a skirt and I was carrying my laptop in a large vinyl shoulder-bag. These were all style errors, big time, as everyone was wearing their Michigan gear and sneakers.

That's OK; I'm used to looking like a weirdo. As the game started, though, I got less and less relaxed about looking like a weirdo.

They have these things they do, the Blue fans. Their fight song is All Hail the Victor, so every five minutes when something happens or when nothing is happening the pep band plays the song, and when the song gets to the "Hail!" part, everyone stops clapping to punch their fist into the air.

Then, they like to all stand together -- especially the students -- and point at and taunt particular members of the other team. After a goal they point at and taunt the goalie, chanting, in unison, "It's all your fault, it's all your fault, it's all your fault, it's all your fault." Other times they chant, "You just suck, you just suck, you just suck, you just suck."

Here are the student fans in their yellow shirts. They're resting in the photo during a break in the action, but during play they all stand the whole time.

Writing it out it sounds kind of funny and cute, but it wasn't done in a funny or cute mood. It was angry, and intended to make the other team feel like scum. Like, for real.

This despite the fact that the other team -- the University of Nebraska, Omaha -- was clearly not as good, and was losing dramatically. The final score was 10 - 1, and the more goals UMich scored, the more angry and excited they got: One goal?? "You just suck! You just suck!"

Ugh, taunting a team losing by this kind of margin? I couldn't get into that. I also couldn't raise my fist in the air. Am I the only one who has dark associations with raising arms, and saying "Hail!" in very large uniform groups?

So I just clapped.

It felt menacing just in the sense that you got the feeling that this group of people was so keyed up, and so comfortable in their uniformity and their numbers, that if things were just a little different, they'd be entirely capable of setting a car on fire or something.

The fan I identified with most was the toddler in his dad's lap next to me. All he wanted out of the game was to watch the Zamboni. Hockey, scoring, skating, who cares? Zamboni! Zamboni! Zamboni! Zamboni! His dad kept explaining, "OK, a few more minutes, see, the clock goes down, then the players go off, and then it'll come!"

What a nice, non-aggressive, simple pleasure. In his honor, a final Zamboni picture.

So now I'm all curious about women's ice hockey. It's almost impossible for me to imagine the atmosphere at a women's game being like this. But maybe I'm just being naive. I don't know. If I find out I'll keep you posted.

No comments: