Countdown to the 2014 NHL Winter Classic: 5 Days

After World War II,  plans were drawn up to increase the size of Michigan Stadium in 1949. While the most ambitious of the plans called for the addition of a top deck entirely around the stadium, increasing capacity from 85,000 to 125,300, a more modest plan was adopted to install permanent steel stands around the stadium concourse, where Yost’s temporary bleachers stood.  The thirteen rows of additional seats increased stadium seating to 97,239.  In its first game in the enlarged stadium, Michigan drew a then-record capacity crowd to the contest against Michigan State. In the first season of official NCAA attendance records, the final tally showed Michigan leading the nation in average home attendance with 93,894. Seven years would pass before the capacity of Michigan Stadium was raised again with the building of the Michigan Sports Communications Center (press box). Built at a cost of $700,000, the new structure provided a host of resources, including a press area, a photo deck, darkrooms and various other amenities. Dedicated on September 22, 1956, the press box and the additional seating constructed along with it raised the capacity of Michigan Stadium to 101,001.   The 3,762 new seats came from a variety of sources:

  • 542 seats in the new Communications Center
  • 1,274 seats beneath the press box
  • 156 seats by rearrangement of box seats, chairs were replaced with benches and an extra row was obtained
  • 1,790 seats by realignment of seats in the corners of the bowl.  (Fritz Crisler’s staff had discovered that many corner seats exceeded the standard 18 inches in width. So the widths were made uniform and a couple of seats were gained in each row.)

According to a newspaper article quoting a Michigan Athletic Department staff member, “Fritz wanted to end up with a figure of 100,001, but he came up with a thousand seats too many.  But he still got that 001 at the end.” This began a tradition of ending all official Michigan Stadium capacity numbers with the digit 1.  The final seat was later said to be reserved in honor of Crisler. On October 6, 1956 Michigan Stadium hosted over 100,000 people for the first time.  The capacity crowd saw the Michigan State Spartans defeat the Wolverines 9-0.

During this period, major changes and renovations to the stadium continued.  In 1965, the wooden benches were covered in blue fiberglass to prevent weathering and discoloration of the seats. It was then that the yellow “Block M” was created on the east bleachers of the stadium; a design done by former UM player Dan Dworsky. In August 1968, at a cost of $75,000, the original scoreboards at the north and south end of the stadium were replaced by new scoreboards, which added the number of time outs left for each team as well as the spot the ball was on these scoreboards, measuring 41 feet by 16 feet, would remain in use through the 1997 season.

Based on evidence that artificial turf could withstand any type of weather and required less maintenance than grass, University Regents approved installation of artificial turf at The Big House. In July 1969, 88,285 feet of Tartan Turf was installed at a cost of $250,000. In its first game on the new surface, Michigan defeated Vanderbilt, 42-14. However, the Wolverines would drop their next home contest, 40-17, to the Missouri Tigers on October 4, 1969. After this defeat, Michigan would not lose at home again until November. 22, 1975 – a span of 41 games. However, the artificial turf would be replaced in 1991 with a much more natural prescription athletic turf (PAT) surface. The Wolverines’ home record on artificial turf from 1969-1990 was an impressive 120-17-3.

In the summer of 1973, renovation plans called for the removal of many of the rails in the stadium and replacement of the box seats in the first three rows with bleacher seats. This change allowed for 600 more seats in the stadium, and capacity was increased 101,701. Starting with Michigan’s shutout of the Purdue Boilermakers on November 8, 1975, the Wolverines have played before a crowd of more than 100,000 fans – a streak of 251 consecutive games…and counting.

In May of 1991, 87,000 square feet of PAT was installed as part of a  comprehensive renovation of Michigan Stadium. While the playing surface was torn up, the field was lowered by three and a half feet to facilitate sight-lines in the lower rows. This allowed for the addition of two rows to the lower seating area of the stadium, raising capacity to 102,501.  The bill for these improvements came to $2.25 Million.

In November 1997, the Board of Regents approved the Athletic Department plan to increase seating by over 5,000. In conjunction with the expansion, major improvements to the stadium’s infrastructure were planned.  Those changes included installation of new restroom facilities, doubling seating for the disabled, and increasing the width of the exterior concourse walkway from forty to sixty feet to improve crowd movement.

The  architectural firm of Venturi, Scott-Brown and Associates, which was also working on campus-wide design and planning issues, was selected to design the stadium expansion.  As part of the renovation,  the Athletic Department completed The Plaza of Champions and the brick and iron fence around the stadium. Six rows of seats were added around the top of the stadium, except for the east side and the area occupied by the press box.  The new seating area was surrounded by a yellow parapet bearing familiar Michigan icons, including the winged helmet, university seal, and words from Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors.”  The parapet consisted of 1,732 linear feet of trim made of 18-gauge painted steel panels.

The total cost of the new seating and upgrading of other facilities came to $6 million.  The net cost of the parapet was $500,000.   All of the funding came from the Athletic Department.

Just as Michigan was a pioneer when electric scoreboards were first installed in 1930, the renovated stadium included new, state-of-the-art scoreboards and advanced sound and video systems.   The scoreboards at the north and south ends of the stadium measure 40′ by 78′ each and weigh about 50,000 pounds a piece. They are each set on four columns and footings, weighing together about another 100,000 pounds. The scoreboards contain color video screens of approximately 24 by 32 feet. The scoreboards would operate until the 2010 season.

On September 12, 1998, the Wolverines inaugurated the Big House before 111,012 fans in a game against Syracuse University.

However, in the early 2000s, the PAT surface became problematic, as the field’s below-surface location near the water table made it difficult for grass to permanently take root. In 2003, the PAT surface was replaced by FieldTurf.

On June 21, 2007, the Board of Regents approved a $226 million renovation and expansion project for Michigan Stadium. Improvements included:

  • Wider seats and aisles with handrails to make it easier for fans to move in the aisles.
  • New elevated concourses with additional restrooms and concessions along both sidelines.
  • More seating for individuals with mobility problems along the sidelines.
  • Two new buildings on the north end of the stadium that will house additional restrooms, concessions and public safety services.
  • A new building on the south end of the stadium that will offer additional concessions and restrooms.
  • A new press box.
  • Refurbished restroom facilities.
  • 650+ new chairback seats on the west side.
  • 47 suites in the west side structure (36 suites located on the first level and 11 suites on the second level).
  • 1,900+ outdoor club seats and stadium lounge on the first level of the east side structure. (now known as the Jack Roth Stadium Club)
  • 250+ indoor club seats and 850+ covered outdoor club seats and stadium lounge on the second level of the east side structure.
  • 36 suites on the third level of the east side structure.
  • Four towers, one at the end of each sideline structure, which will have elevators and wide stairways to bring patrons to the new concourses and premium seating areas.
  • A total capacity of more than 108,000.

Due to renovations in 2008, Michigan’s commencement ceremony, which is usually held inside The Big House, was moved to The Diag for that year. The recent renovations/expansions were completed prior to the start of the 2010 season, bringing the capacity up to 109,901. 113,901 attended the rededicated Michigan Stadium and saw the Wolverines beat the Connecticut Huskies, 30-10. A few days after the rededication, the Board of Regents approved a plan to add a permanent lighting system to the stadium at a cost of $1.8 million. The lights were first used at the only other hockey game held Michigan Stadium: the Big Chill at The Big House. The first night game at The Big House saw a then-record 114,804 people witness a classic between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, in which a last-minute touchdown saw the Wolverines beat the Irish, 35-31. That game also saw the unveiling of the new end zone scoreboards. Designed by TS Solutions, the new high-definition video screens measures 47 feet by 85 feet and is 40% larger than the previous scoreboard. The most recent meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame set an NCAA record crowd of at The Big House with the Wolverines dispatching the Irish under the lights, 41-30.

In its 87 years of operation, Michigan Stadium has seen a lot of players grace its ground. From Gerald Ford, Tom Harmon, and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, to Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson and Tom Brady, they all have made the run through the tunnel, touched the “M Go Blue” banner as the marching band “The Victors”, and made their mark on the program. And on the first day of 2014, when the world will bear witness to the biggest game, not just in the NHL, but the biggest game in the history of hockey.



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