Due to Big Ten policy, Wolverines fan says he will miss first game at Michigan Stadium since 1964
“The only reason I am not at the game,” he’d say, “is because I am 6 feet under somewhere.”
But Levinson is very much alive, ruing the sad reality wrought by a global pandemic and how life as we now know it is preventing him from occupying his reserved spot in Section 22, Row 76, just below the press box on the west side of Michigan Stadium.
On Saturday, against rival Michigan State of all teams, Levinson claims that for the first time since 1964, he will not walk through the Big House’s gates to take the seat that has been in his family’s name dating to the Eisenhower administration.
The fall tradition he had created and religiously abided by has been interrupted. Last weekend, for the first time since Jan. 1, 1976, he watched the Wolverines live on television instead of on-site and in living color. As Levinson explained with chagrin, a streak of 543 straight games with ripped, punched and scanned Michigan football tickets from stadiums all over the country ended because of a dang virus. It’s enough to make Levinson just a little “ticked,” as he put it.
Levinson, who is 69 and in good health, understands the Big Ten’s decision to bar fans from games this season as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19. He just doesn’t like it. After the conference reinstated football last month and prohibited the public from entering its venues, Levinson tried to find a way around the ruling. He contacted officials inside Michigan’s athletic department, emailing and calling multiple times to see whether he and his wife, Kathy, could gain admission.
“I have been trying to twist arms,” he said.
There had to be a way, he thought. Shoot, his grandfather once told him he made it to each of the four Michigan home games at Ferry Field during the 1918 Spanish flu. Levinson was similarly persistent, determined to never miss another moment at Michigan Stadium after his father denied him a ticket to see the Wolverines shut out Roger Staubach and Navy 56 years ago. From that point forward, through years spent in the student section while obtaining multiple Michigan degrees and later at his perch in Row 76, Levinson said he always showed up at the coliseum at 1201 S. Main in Ann Arbor whenever the Wolverines were set to take the field.
But this year, barring any special exemption granted by Michigan, he’ll stay home in Commerce Township. As Levinson begrudgingly has come to accept, the Big House will be hollow on the inside when the Wolverines play there four times this fall. Levinson has tried to picture what the bizarre scene will look like, visualizing Michigan’s players racing onto the turf and touching the “M” Club banner in silence.
“Who is going to cheer?” he asked.
It’s a crazy question considering Michigan’s records show the football team has attracted at least 100,000 people to each of the 293 home games that have been held since an Oct. 25, 1976 victory over Indiana. That attendance streak, which will end this Saturday when a small group of family supporters turn out, has become synonymous with the image of a program that has a devoted legion of followers. After all, the big crowds carried through the dark days of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, abetted at one time by a promotion tied to the sale of carbonated beverages. Every Saturday, no matter what, people would come out in droves to pack Michigan Stadium.
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The large attendance figures, Jeff Holzhausen said, are “a huge part of who we are and who we like to be.”
“It’s definitely a part of our identity,” he continued. “The Big House is our home away from home.”
It has been that way for Holzhausen since 1985. He hasn’t missed a game at Michigan Stadium since that year, advancing through adolescence, college years, marriage and now parenthood as a devotee of everything Maize and Blue. During that time, Holzhausen developed an alter ego known as SuperFan, showing up to his seat with a cape before trading that in for a water buffalo hat. Weekends in the fall were always blocked out for Michigan games. Weddings were missed. Funerals, too. Girlfriends came and went as Holzhausen indulged in his passion. In Section 20, Row 7, near the goal line on the west side, memories were made through Michigan football.
“It’s also a huge part of our social structure,” said Holzhausen.
At the corner of South Main and Hill St., Holzhausen would post up on game days before 7 a.m. to get the party started, welcoming hundreds to his tailgate.
Over the years, he took hundreds of photos from those gatherings.
But this year, he plans to stay home and watch Michigan’s home games in his man cave, as he likes to call it. Family and some close friends will be beside him and there are plans to connect with others through a virtual platform.
But it won’t be the same, he knows.
“It’s going to be like walking downstairs Christmas morning and seeing that Santa hadn’t come,” he said.
But like Levinson, Holzhausen gets why this is the way it has to be. The 46-year-old father of two has a pair of master’s degrees from Michigan, including one in public health. His dad, who has had Michigan season tickets since 1974, is also spooked by the virus to the point he’s not certain he will ever attend another Wolverines game.
“It’s a small price to pay to keep everyone safe or to make everyone feel safer,” Holzhausen said.
It still hurts, though.
Levinson, a self-described workaholic and president of the Whitmore Lake plastics company RheTech, Inc., made time for little else but Michigan football. When he interviewed at the company he now leads, he told the owner he would not work Saturdays in the fall. Each year, he and his wife would build their lives around the Wolverines’ schedule — joining U-M Club of Greater Detroit for road trips and rolling out to games in cars, buses and motor homes. Flights were also arranged.
"A lot of people that have traveled with us for all the years have known they have always gone," said Roger Simmons, a former president of the club.
Only once, for a visit to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium in 1978, did the couple not travel together. She had to attend a friend’s wedding, so Levinson went with his father to see the Wolverines beat the Hawkeyes, 34-0.
“I am going,” he remembers telling Kathy.
But that was the last time she didn’t accompany him. Ever since, they’ve been side by side at every Michigan game — witnessing Anthony Carter’s famed touchdown catch a year later, Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose in 1991, Colorado’s Hail Mary in 1994, Charles Woodson’s leaping one-hand interception against Michigan State in 1997 and that infamous loss to Appalachian State in 2007. Seeing Michigan play in person had become a rite of fall for Levinson and something he could count on in a chaotic world.
“It was always something I would plan on, people could plan on,” he said. “And that’s part of the problem with the pandemic; you can’t plan on anything right now.”
Still, Levinson isn’t ready to wave the white flag just yet. He wonders whether somehow, some way, he’ll have the opportunity to see the Wolverines play in person and keep some semblance of his fall routine alive. His personal home-game attendance streak can’t end like this, can it?
“Hoping beyond hope something might change,” he said. “But if not, I am going to have to sit here in front of the TV set.”
And live 2020 out like every other Michigan fan.