There’s no denying that Michigan Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in all of sports. The Big House has served as the backdrop to some of college football’s most memorable moments, most recently when Michigan clashed with Notre Dame back in 2011 for the first night game in Michigan Stadium history. Though Michigan Stadium can be electric at times during the day, there's no question that the Big House takes on a very different feel under the lights - a reality that isn’t lost on the players.
Former Michigan safety Jordan Kovaks recalled his experience. “A noon game, the stands are empty until the game starts. Let's be real,” said Kovaks. “When we went out there just for warm-up [for the night game], all 110,000 people were in the stands, and that was unreal.”
Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt experienced the first night game at Michigan Stadium during a recruiting visit. “The moment when they really had me was after the Irish scored to retake the lead 31–28 with 30 seconds left, and Denard took the Wolverines 80 yards in three plays, the last a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with 0.02 seconds left.” Butt recalled.
“Standing down on the field, I looked around at the 110,000-plus fans in the stands going absolutely crazy, and I could feel the energy pulsing through me. It was so loud that it literally shook my bones.”
“I thought, O.K., Michigan. You have my attention.”
Michigan has only hosted a handful of night games since 2011, but there’s no denying that the Wolverines play some of their best football when the lights come on. Outside of the 2020 contest with Wisconsin in an empty stadium, Michigan is undefeated in night games at the Big House - including big wins over programs like Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.
This raises the question, is it finally time for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to meet under the lights?
Michigan’s struggles against Ohio State have been well noted. The Wolverines have lost 15 of the last 16 contests against the Buckeyes, including the last eight straight. To make matters worse for Michigan, the gap between the two programs appears to be growing - not shrinking - under the leadership of Jim Harbaugh. The last two contests against Ohio State ended with the Wolverines surrendering an historic 118 points in back-to-back games. which is the most points surrendered in any two game stretch in rivalry history.
The idea of a night game between Michigan and Ohio State isn’t new, but the two sides seem to have very little interest in making it happen. Back in 2014, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith was asked about his thoughts on a night game with Michigan. "I have not been asked to play it at night," Smith said. "But if I was, it would be very difficult to think I would agree to do that, primarily because of the time of year."
In addition to the challenges that the late November weather can provide, there is also the very real hatred that exists between the two fanbases. The fact that Ohio State has dominated the rivalry for the better part of two decades has done very little to cool down the disdain felt by each side. Some have suggested that allowing these two groups to party all day and meet together in a stadium at night is a recipe for disaster.
Challenges aside, this is a game that deserves a primetime slot on national television - and it might just be the very thing that helps revive this once great rivalry. Michigan has literally attempted everything under the sun to try and beat the Buckeyes. At this point, it might be a good idea to attempt it under the lights.