Seriously, it ended all Michigan trips, at least for me.
As usual, I have no idea who came up with the idea. All I know for certain is that on a cold late November Friday night in 1979, I was on my way to Ann Arbor for The Game with nine of my friends. In addition to me it was Andy; Tom; Joe; Lefty; Scott; Jay, a bartender (I’ll explain later); Joe’s college buddy; and two other guys whose names I can’t recall.
Oh, and that Saturday was Andy’s 21st birthday, which would only add to the insanity that was to come.
Our transportation? An old school bus owned by my uncle, heated by a wood stove and outfitted with bunk beds and, on that weekend, a fully stocked bar and a couple kegs.
Oh, in case you’re curious, the wood stove pipe stuck out the side of the bus. We were quite a sight rambling up I-71 with smoke billowing out behind us.
I might mention that at some point we thought it would be a good idea to have a bartender make the trip with us. Our solution? Stop at the old Big Wheel Saloon in Chillicothe, send a couple of guys inside, and convince the bartender on duty to hop on board.
Amazingly, he did. Just left his job, sensing something special was afoot.
We were off, and somehow we managed to avoid getting pulled over on the way. I mean, that wood smoke had to be troublesome for anyone following us north on the freeway.
Our first misadventure happened when my old friend Scott, God rest his soul, decided he wanted to pick up an old friend along the way. Scott had lived in Michigan so we drove the bus into some suburbs somewhere in the middle of the night, looking for his buddy’s house. After cruising the neighborhood for a while, we came upon the house we were looking for. Scott and my cousin Joe hopped off the bus and walked right in. After all, Scott knew the family and knew where his friend’s room was, so why not? Hey, it was a simpler time.
As we watched from the bus, we saw a light come on upstairs. Perfect, he must be home. The next thing we knew, though, the front door flew open and out came Scott and Joe, running like bats out of hell. They jumped on the bus, screaming, “Wrong house! WRONG HOUSE! Get the hell out of here!”
Trust me, if you’ve never been on an old school bus careening through the Ann Arbor suburbs at 3 in the morning fleeing the authorities, well, you haven’t lived.
Oh, and so you know, turns out it was the right house, but the people had moved. Scott’s old buddy’s room was now inhabited by somebody else, who’d just had the living bejesus scared out of them.
After escaping that little misunderstanding, we somehow arrived outside The Big House unscathed. It was in the pre-dawn hours so most of us decided to get some shut-eye before the real fun commenced.
Note that I said “most of us.”
After falling asleep for less than an hour, we were awakened by a pounding on the backdoor of our Party on Wheels.
‘Twas the cops. Seems there had been a break-in at the stadium and the suspects had been seen climbing over the fence and running back in our direction.
Hey, it couldn’t have been us, and one of us told the cops that. Heck, we were minding our own business, resting up for the big game. The policeman’s response was priceless: Cop, pointing to my cousin’s hands: “Then why are that guy’s hands all cut up and bleeding?”
I glanced over, and sure enough, his hands were all cut to up and bleeding. Guess a couple of the Ohio boys had decided a visit to a closed-tight Michigan Stadium was in order.
And, it seems one of them had got hung-up in the barbed wire during his hasty exit.
God knows how, but we sweet-talked the Po-Po out of some jail time and gathered ourselves before realizing it was daylight again. Oh well, might as well begin our pre-game festivities.
We somehow ended up in an Ann Arbor bar where we were shooting some pool and mocking the multitude of Wolverine fans. We soon returned to our table only to find that some meatheads had stolen it. One of my friends politely pointed out that they were at our table, and mentioned that the drinks on the table were, in fact, ours. One of the Michigan Men promptly grabbed one of the beers, took a look, and smugly stated, “I don’t see your name on it.”
Uh … oh.
You had to know our group, but trust me when I say this was not a good idea, even if we were outnumbered roughly 393 to 10. Trouble was afoot. The next thing I knew one of our guys (Andy) had grabbed a Michigan lettermen’s jacket that had been draped over the back of one of the chairs and began walking away.
Michigan Man: “Hey! Where do you think you’re going with my jacket?”
Andy, holding up said jacket and twirling it around slowly: “I don’t see your name on it.”
After what seemed like a 23-second stare down and the complete silencing of a crowded bar, the cat in maize and blue grinned and said, “Here, take your seats. Let us buy you a beer.”
Crisis and bar fight averted.
I’d like to change direction for just a second to point out something I just recalled, and that is the fact that my friend Tom and I were, inexplicably, wearing cowboy hats. Don’t ask, as I have no answer.
But back to my story. Now that we’d survived the pre-game there was the matter of actually getting tickets to the game. Did I mention we’d come this far and gone through this much without actually having tickets? Because we did not. As luck would have it, everyone scored tickets well before the game except yours truly. Try as I might I couldn’t find one. Everyone else had gone inside The Big House and I was left standing outside the gate. Finally, minutes before game time and right before I was about to go to a bar and watch the game behind enemy lines, a guy standing in a small group of students gave me a holler, asking if I needed a ticket. Hell yeah. I ended up paying $70 for the ticket, which was pretty princely sum at the time. But hey, it was The Game.
As I entered the stadium, for some reason I glanced back at the group I’d bought the ticket from and they were laughing. As I walked on in I looked back again and noticed they just stopped and stared at me.
It wasn’t until later that I’d understand why.
The game was amazing. It was the game where Todd Bell picked up a punt blocked by Jim Laughlin late in the game and scored, giving the Buckeyes an 18-15 victory.
Our group had tickets that were spread all over the stadium, and cousin Lefty had scored a seat smack dab in the middle of the Michigan student section. I’ll never forget looking across the stadium after the blocked punt and seeing thousands of Wolverine fans standing still, stunned, looking like a photograph. And right in the middle, one man in scarlet and gray, leaping up and down, spinning and pointing at them, screaming deliriously with unbridled joy.
A special moment, burned in my mind forever.
And if you ever see an old video of that famous blocked punt, you might just see a red-haired maniac leap the wall at the end of the end zone and meet Todd Bell there. And his name was Andy Anderson.
Again, some moments can never be duplicated.
After the game we took the bus through campus, basically taunting Michigan fans while somehow avoiding death. Cousin Joe rode on the hood trash-talking everyone in sight, and I distinctly recall one of us reaching out the bus window and snatching the hat off an enemy’s head, laughing maniacally as the poor schmuck chased the bus, jumping up and down as his hat was held just out of reach. How our bus wasn’t turned over and burned I’ll never know.
But back to that ticket. It was only later, on the way home, when I was thinking about the guy I bought my ticket from and the group standing there. How they seemed so smug, laughing as I went to the gate, then just staring open-mouthed as I walked on in.
Only then did something make me look at my ticket stub. It read: Wisconsin vs. Michigan, November 3rd, 1979 — a full two weeks before the OSU-Michigan game. Seriously. I have a photo of the actual ticket.
They’d offered me a useless ticket for $70, and I’d foolishly taken the bait. Lucky for me, Mr. Ticket Taker wasn’t very observant.
Hence the laughs as I handed the man the ticket to get in, and the shocked stares when the ticket worked.
Joke’s on you, scamsters.
To top off a memorable trip, we gassed it back to the Ohio State campus in time for the famous riots that night, the one complete with cops on horseback, riot gear, tear gas and hundreds of arrests. Yeah, we were right in the middle of that action as well. Again, all 10 of us made it through unscathed.
Well, mostly. I guess it depends on how you define the word “unscathed.” It was a long weekend.
To recap, we survived a home invasion, a stadium break-in, a bar fight, a Buckeye victory, a suicidal drive through Michigan campus, a High Street riot, and a nine-hour round trip drive in a rolling bus/bar/powder keg.
And as for me, I got into the game on a bogus ticket.
Now, can you understand why I never made another trip to Ann Arbor for the game? I’m 51% sure we’re allowed back so it’s not that. It’s just that, like I said, some things can’t be duplicated.
PS – After we returned home and were cleaning out the bus, somebody opened a cabinet above the beds in back. It was full of an assortment of guns. Everything from deer rifles to shotguns. Thank God those cops didn’t conduct a search.
Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/.