Michigan Stadium: A Piece of History

“The Big House”

Former University of Michigan radio broadcaster Bob Ufer described this mammoth landmark as “the hole that Yost dug, Crisler paid for, Canham carpeted, and Bo Schembechler filled every cotton-pickin’ Saturday.” Michigan Stadium, commonly referred to as “The Big House,” is currently the third largest stadium in the United States of America, and largest American football stadium, either collegiate or professional, in the world. On football Saturdays, the Big House has an average capacity of approximately 110,000 people – just a few thousand less than the population of Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Michigan Stadium was the idea of visionary Fielding H. Yost, former University of Michigan football coach and then-current Athletic Director. Yost wanted the original stadium to seat anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 people, which seemed too excessive to the Board of Regents, which is a group of university officers that makes decisions to improve the overall quality of their respective universities. Although local Ann Arborites originally shunned his idea, Yost was determined to garner student support, and thus had a petitioned signed by Michigan scholars in favor of a larger football stadium. In April 1926, the Board of Regents approved the plan to build the stadium at a capacity of 72,000 people.

Michigan Stadium in 1927

The plan called for a bowl-shaped stadium that fit the terrain, and thus construction began by digging downwards; therefore, three quarters of the stadium now sits below ground level. Although the Regents approved the original plan for the stadium to have a capacity of 72,000 people and no higher, Yost was able to influence the Regents to change plans to eventually expand to over 100,000 people. In fact, Yost was granted an extra 10,000 temporary seats to be installed before for the inaugural game on October 1st, 1927 against Ohio Wesleyan – merely a year and a half after construction had begun. Three weeks later, Michigan defeated Ohio State 21-0 in front of a record attendance of 84,401.

As was aforementioned, Yost envisioned many ideas that seemed outlandish to most. He designed Michigan Stadium to run north-south, rather than the common east-west, to minimize sun and wind in the players’ eyes. Furthermore, Yost installed footings for an eventual second deck in an attempt to reach his dream of 150,000 attendance. Perhaps his most astounding vision, however, was to make eight large conduits in cement for electronic media. Of course, in the 1920’s, football games were not broadcasted as they are now. Yost clearly knew that there would be an advancement in technology in the future, and wanted Michigan Stadium to be ready. In fact, ESPN and ABC use these exact conduits for their broadcasts of Michigan games.



Michigan Stadium Scoreboard

The University of Michigan constantly strives to make Michigan Stadium the largest stadium in the United States, especially after other stadiums grow larger.

The first renovation took place in 1949, when Michigan Stadium replaced the temporary wooden bleachers with steel, increasing capacity to 97,239 fans. Just seven years later, in 1956, a press box and additional seats were added, making the capacity an enormous 101,001. The reason for the “extra seat” was to have a spot permanently reserved for then-athletic director Fritz Crisler. As Michigan Stadium’s capacity increases throughout the years, the official capacity always includes the “extra seat” to honor Fritz Crisler, although the location of his actual seat is unknown.

As his first order of business in 1968, newly appointed athletic director Don Canham had artificial turf installed into Michigan Stadium since it was easier to maintain than grass and could remain more aesthetically pleasing. Five years later, in 1973, Michigan Stadium grew even larger by increasing capacity to 101,701. The most recent renovation was completed before the 2010 season, when the capacity was set at 109,901 after new box suites had been installed on the east side of the stadium. At the beginning of the 2011 season, brand new high-definition scoreboards will be installed, standing 47 feet tall and 85 feet wide.



Slippery Rock’s visit to Michigan Stadium

As was previously explained, when Michigan Stadium added more seats in 1956, there was an “extra seat” reserved for Fritz Crisler, who was an integral figure in Michigan football history. Arriving from Princeton University, Crisler implemented the legendary “winged helmet” design, which is one of the most unique and notable designs on any helmet, either collegiate or professional.

Perhaps one of the most interesting traditions in college football is the game score announcements of Slippery Rock University, a small Division II institution located in Western Pennsylvania. The tradition started in 1959 when Michigan Stadium’s public address announcer Steve Filipiak announced the score to the crowd, which immediately erupted in thunderous cheers. As is the norm with most football stadiums, scores from other major Division I games are announced periodically during stoppages in play. Although the tradition wasn’t as prevalent in past years, new athletic director David Brandon made it prominent again, as he invited members of the Slippery Rock football team to attend Michigan Stadium on November 20th, 2010 when the Wisconsin Badgers took on the Wolverines.

Slippery Rock University is also the only team other than the Wolverines to be the home team in Michigan Stadium. They were home team at Michigan Stadium on two occasions – once against Shippensburg University (an in-state rival) in 1979, and the second time in 1981 against Detroit’s Wayne State University. Unfortunately, Slippery Rock lost both games.



The following is a list of current records held at Michigan Stadium, including national and global records.

– Third largest stadium in the United States of America.

– Largest American football stadium in the world.

– Set NCAA attendance record of 114,804 on September 10th, 2011 vs. Notre Dame (35-31 UM victory).

– Through the 2010 season, Michigan has currently played in front of at least 100,000 fans at every home game since November 8, 1975 vs. Purdue (over 230 consecutive games), a national record.

– Since 1974, University of Michigan and has led the nation in average attendance at home football games in every season except for 1997, which ironically, was when Michigan won it’s 11th national title.

– At the Big Chill at the Big House on December 11th, 2010, an outdoor hockey game in which the University of Michigan defeated Michigan State University 5-0, a world record was set for the largest crowd to watch a hockey game with 113,411 people in attendance. This surpassed the current college football record that Michigan set just four months earlier against Connecticut.

– Largest crowd in Division II history when Slippery Rock University played host to Shippensburg University in 1979 with an attendance of 61,143.

About: Brett Smith

Brett hails from the great state of Delaware, and is a recent University of Michigan graduate, earning a degree in Sport Management. While at UM, Brett served as the Vice President of Michigan's Club Baseball team. Go Blue!