Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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Gophers hope to learn how quiet 110,000 can be

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football, Gopher road games Updated: September 30, 2011 - 9:54 AM

 

Michigan Stadium

Michigan Stadium

     It's big, no doubt about it. Says so right in its name: the Big House. And yeah, 110,000 football fans crammed into those endless acres of bleachers is an impressive sight.

     But Michael Amaefula has a question for all those thousands of Michigan ticket-holders: Where's your giant TV?
     "Oh my gosh, that was amazing. You have to try not to look up at it," the Gophers' freshman defensive end said of the most memorable stadium he's ever played in: The new Cowboys Stadium in his hometown of Arlington, Texas. "I can't imagine a bigger" stadium.
     He won't have to imagine it after Saturday, though, and he can't wait. Amaefula and his teammates are looking forward to the challenge of beating Michigan, and just the experience of playing on such familiar turf.
     "Any fan of college football would love it. When you get the chance to play there, you're more excited than ever," said sophomore cornerback Brock Vereen. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
     Actually, now that Michigan and Minnesota are both members of the Big Ten's Legends Division, there won't be any more breaks in the series like there were the past two seasons, so Vereen should get another trip to Ann Arbor in 2013.      But his point is a good one -- the atmosphere in the Wolverines' 85-year-old home will be unique.
     "It's my first time. Growing up as a Big Ten fan, it's going to be an awesome experience," said senior center Ryan Wynn, who plans to walk around the stadium a few hours before kickoff, just to soak the flavor of a stadium he said he's seen on TV "millions of times" over the year. "Hopefully, we can shock them."
     The official capacity of Michigan Stadium, since its most recent expansion last year, is 109,901, and the Wolverines haven't played at home before fewer than 100,000 fans since 1975. Michigan has led the nation in attendance 35 times in 36 years, and two weeks ago set a new attendance record of 114,804 for its victory over Notre Dame, the stadium's first night game.
     "The stands just keep on going forever, it seems like," said Kim Royston, who played there in 2006 while with Wisconsin. "It's not as loud as Wisconsin or Penn State, but it's definitely bigger. I'm definitely excited to play there."
     Still, Royston said, there's a danger there, too. Many teams are intimidated, or at least distracted, by their surroundings.
     "It's a great atmosphere to play in, and you definitely look forward to these opportunities," he said. "But we're not there to be in awe of the stadium, we're there to win a game."
     Running back Donnell Kirkwood has already given that some thought. "It's probably going to get to me during warmups and maybe kickoff, but after that, everything will get tuned out by the game," Kirkwood said. "It always does."
     Amaefula knows that from experience, too. He recalls playing in front of 80,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium -- for a high-school playoff game. "That's Texas football," he said with a smile.
     He expects Saturday's game, in an icon of college football, to be an even better experience.
     "A college atmosphere is different. High school fans love their schools, but a lot of them are parents, just trying to watch the game," he said. "In college, the stands are alive."
     Especially when the home team wins -- which is one part of the experience the Gophers would like to pass up.
     Wynn, for instance, enjoys the familiarity of home games, but said road games in this conference are meaningful because of all the history -- not to mention the hostile crowds.
     "I almost love playing away games. The energy, you kind of feed off it when you're the enemy," Wynn said. "There's nothing better than silence in [an opponent's] stadium. I hope I can hear crickets chirping by the time the game's over."

 

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