November 21, 1985 First Night Game at Michigan Stadium

Tarp Crew November 1985 | bigbluefootballhistory.com
Michigan Army and Navy ROTC cadets pull the tarp back onto the field after playing the first “night game” in Michigan Stadium History in 1985. Photo courtesy of Barry Gallagher.

Today’s blog goes back to November 21, 1985 – the day of the first night game at Michigan Stadium. Contrary to popular belief, the first night game at Michigan Stadium did not take place on September 10, 2011. No, it took place twenty-six years earlier. How do I know this fact, you ask? Well, I was there. Please let me explain.

I was assigned as an Army ROTC Instructor at The University of Michigan in June 1985. Our cadets were very active on campus. They participated in a number of fund raising events during the year to raise money for charity and to help defray the cost of special events like the Military Ball. One of the things the cadets liked to do was clean Crisler Arena after Michigan Basketball games. The cadets always did a great job and the folks in the Michigan Athletic Department would sometimes call us for special projects. Yes, it was usually on very short notice.

One of those “short notice” calls came around 4:30 pm on Thursday, November 21, 1985. The CBS television people decided that the 1985 Michigan-Ohio State game would be pushed back from the traditional 1:00 pm start to 3:30 pm. This meant that the game would start in the daylight, but end in darkness. Officially, this game was not called a night game because it started earlier than 5:00 pm.

Bo was not happy about the start time, but there was nothing he could do. In Schembechler’s world  “toe meets leather” at 1:00 pm. In Bo’s mind, that was the best time for the players, coaches and the fans. Unfortunately, nobody asked Bo about the best time for a college football game. His job was to have his team ready to play when the television folks said so. End discussion!

The people from Musco Lighting corporation arrived in time to set the lights up on the Thursday before the game. The CBS technicians were on the scene to take the “readings,” but they identified a problem. The tarp was on the field and there were only 3-4 technicians. So, the athletic department needed some extra bodies, and fast, to get the tarp off the field.

Army Ten Miler Champions | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Half of the game-winning Army touch football team is shown above. Cadets Dennis Harrington, Whit Carter and Andy Wiltse are pictured with the author Major Barry Gallagher. We traveled to Washington, DC the next year to win the ROTC Division Championship at the Army Ten Miler.

Fortunately, we rounded up about fifteen cadets who arrived in short order. In 1985, the tarps at Michigan Stadium were laid out in four large quadrants. We removed the tarp in the first quadrant so that the technicians could get their readings and note the settings. The only thing more boring than sitting in an empty football stadium for thirty minutes with nothing to do is maybe watching paint dry. The cadets were making money, but they were bored to the max! Surprisingly, nobody brought their  “homework” with them. Somebody said it would be cool to play football in Michigan Stadium, but nobody had a ball. As luck would have it, I only lived about 5 minutes from the stadium. I drove home and found our best football and some soccer cones. We could actually have some fun while the technicians did their “lighting” thing.

The cadets pulled the tarp off of another section of the field, we placed the cones and bingo – we were ready for some football. As luck would have it, we had seven Army ROTC cadets (I played to make eight) and eight Navy/Marine cadets. So, guess what? The first night game at Michigan Stadium was a two-hand touch version of Army vs Navy football. The kickoff was definitely after 5:00 pm, so it was an “official” night game. I can’t remember the exact score, but I know Army won the game.

We continued to work and play for the next 75 minutes. Finally, the lead man on the CBS crew told us they were done. After we covered the last spot on field, the crew manager pulled out a BIG wad of money. He paid $40.00 to every cadet who showed up that night. It was definitely a fun evening because the cadets earned some beer/pizza money and nobody got hurt. Of course, the best part was being part of Michigan Stadium History!

So, the next time you hear someone talk about the first “night game” in Michigan Stadium history, please tell them that it was not the Michigan vs Notre Dame football game in 2011. That game was the first televised night game in Michigan Stadium history. However, our Army-Navy matchup was the first night football game in Michigan Stadium History.  Now, you know the rest of the story behind the first night game in Michigan Stadium history. Please check out Thursday’s blog to see how the “first game to end in darkness” turned out at Michigan Stadium. Go Blue and Go Army!

http://bentley.umich.edu/athdept/football/fbteam/1985fbt.htm

 

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 138-year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". His second book titled, "The Legend of Bo Schembechler-How an Unknown Buckeye Became the Winningest Coach in Michigan Football History" was released on September 12, 2017. You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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