In the weeks leading up to Michigan's season opener against Western Michigan, I made sure to keep an eye on what the forecast was calling for on Saturday. The way-too-early-to-be-accurate forecast about 10 days before the game was predicting sunny skies and no rain, but it was, well, way too early to be accurate.
As the game drew closer, the forecast began to call for extremely warm temperatures and rain. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I expected to open the shades and find clouds all over the sky, but there wasn't a single one in sight. The chance of rain suddenly dropped to 30 percent, and it couldn't have been nicer out for the walk to the Big House and the first half of the game. Although it was uncomfortably hot, it certainly looked like a perfect day for football.
As halftime started to wind down and the clouds moved in, the Michigan Stadium announcer shared a message with fans that severe weather was coming. The prediction was that the storm would arrive in approximately 20 minutes, but barely a minute into the half it started raining. Before I even felt a drop of rain, parts of the student section started cheering, and I realized why as soon as I went from being warmer than ever before to feeling pretty cool once the rain drenched Michigan Stadium.
Due to lightning in the area, the game was put into a weather delay shortly after the rain started. This was only the second weather delay in Michigan Stadium history, and this time around I didn't have the fortune of being in the press box. That was more than okay, though. The rain felt quite nice after being so hot earlier, and it stopped pretty quickly. In fact, by the time the teams made it off the field, the sun came back out.
Because the rules state that play can't resume until a half-hour after the last lightning strike, the wait was on for the game to continue despite the weather already clearing up. During the weather delay, almost all of the student section stayed put, and it was quite lively in that part of the stadium. Students embraced the rain and entertained themselves by doing the wave and chanting, "We want football."
Football is what they got not too long after the delay began since the skies cleared up pretty quickly. Play resumed and Michigan took over the game thanks to some turnovers, including a fumbled snap by Western Michigan's Alex Carder. Unlike his first fumble of the third quarter -- which was caused by a huge hit from Jordan Kovacs -- Carder lost the ball because the rain was picking up. Unlike the first wave of showers, the rain was blowing sideways this time around. It went from a sprinkle to an all-out downpour in a matter of seconds, and it went from a refreshing shower to being soaked from head to toe.
Despite the ridiculous conditions, Denard Robinson completed his best pass of the day by finding Junior Hemingway for 37 yards on the first play of the next drive. Michigan continued moving the ball with a couple of runs by Fitzgerald Toussaint with bolts of lightning visible behind the luxury suites on the east side of the stadium. I was very confused over why the game was still being played, especially when you consider the first weather delay happened with a rainbow visible behind the east side of the stadium. Now there appeared to be an actual reason to stop the game, and finally the two teams once again exited the field after a two-yard run by Robinson to the Western Michigan 24-yard line.
The weather definitely seemed more severe this time around, as evidenced by a good portion of the student section heading for the exits. I decided to stay put, as did others around me. I was already soaked anyway, so I figured I might as well wait out the second delay in my seat. Like the first delay, I expected things to clear up enough for the game to resume, although thanks to the radar being shown on the new videoboards, it was obvious more bad weather was on the way.
After a few minutes of standing pat in the student section, ushers started making their way down to inform fans that they had to leave the bowl. This initially resulted in a "We're not leaving!" chant in the student section, but once the lightning started getting more severe, the rebellion ended. The decision to evacuate the stadium was announced, and a number of fans -- myself included -- headed for the covered concourse to hang out until the delay was over.
The problem we quickly found out is the delay wasn't going to end anytime soon. Big bolts of lightning could be seen from the concourse, and based on the radar it didn't look like this severe weather was going to let up anytime soon. Even so, after talking the situation over with my brother, we decided to stay put and wait out the delay. At the time the assumption was the game would resume at some point, and the thought of it actually being called early was quickly brushed off. I envisioned the game resuming hours later under the lights with a Florida Marlins-like crowd left, but I was looking forward to being one of the few to stick around until the end of the game.
As we found out maybe 20 or 30 minutes later, the end of the game had already happened. I overheard a few ushers by the exit to my section telling people the game was over because of the weather, but I didn't really believe them. A few minutes after we were forced to leave the bowl, police walked through the concourse and informed fans that it wasn't a shelter. Basically, they wanted us to leave since no game was being played, but very few people listened to them considering how bad the conditions outside were. Eventually the police gave up, and part of me thought this was just the ushers' attempt to get people to leave.
After checking Twitter on my phone -- which somehow survived the rain storm and finally decided to find a working network signal -- I had the news of the game being called confirmed by Michigan beat writers and bloggers. I let my brother know, and for a minute we continued sitting in the concourse. I wasn't sure if we should just leave or not, because it still hadn't sunk in that Michigan's 2011 season opener was done with more than a quarter left to go. Despite being drenched from the rain and hearing claps of thunder and seeing flashes of lightning, I just couldn't believe a football game was being called because of the weather.
Once we finally exited the stadium and made the 15-minute walk back to our apartment, the weather seemed to be calming down again. Part of me was upset that the game went unfinished, but then the storm picked up again. We momentarily lost power (it came back on just in time to watch Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera bury the White Sox), and it quickly became evident why Michigan and Western Michigan decided to call it a day. The storm was getting worse, and even when it died down there was still heat lightning that went on all night. It wouldn't have been possible to continue the game that night, and looking back, I'm glad the decision was made to call it sooner rather than later.
To say the least, I would have never guessed that Brady Hoke's first game as head coach, my brother's first game as a student and my first game of my senior year would end before the third quarter was even finished. I especially didn't think this would happen after walking to the stadium and commenting on how there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. I figured Saturday would be memorable in one way or another, but not for the weather sending everybody home early.