In a sports culture dominated by equal parts cliché and bravado, a handful of Air Force players offered a refreshing alternative.
Asked how they thought they’d handle the eyes of more than 100,000 people watching them play at Michigan on Saturday, they simply told the truth.
“That’s to be determined,” quarterback Arion Worthman said. “I’ve never played in a crowd this large.”
Added tailback Tim McVey, “To play football in front of that many people will be crazy.”
Sure, Falcons players could have brushed aside the question and pretended this was any other game. But it’s not. Michigan Stadium is called The Big House for a reason. It has a seating capacity of 107,601, but has hosted crowds as large as 115,109. Air Force played in front of 128,900 people on the road last year – and that was over five games.
When Air Force played at Michigan in 2012 – a 31-25 Wolverines victory – a crowd of 112,522 showed up in Ann Arbor. It was not only the largest crowd to ever witness a Falcons game, but it was 73,595 more people than watched them play live anywhere else during that 12-game regular season.
With that many people comes two potential issues. The first, of course, is noise.
Worthman said he’s talked with friends who played for Colorado at Michigan last year, and they explained that it is so loud you can’t hear the words coming out of your own mouth.
“So it will be interesting to see how loud it actually is and how that affects the game,” Worthman said. “But hopefully we can make some plays early and kind of silence the crowd a little bit.”
Troy Calhoun said he’ll do what he can to prepare the team for the noise by pumping noise into practice.
The other variable is the nerves that come with being scrutinized by so many people.
Placekicker Luke Strebel, whose position could put him in the spotlight unlike any other on the field, said he expects to feel adrenaline similar to what he experiences in a rivalry game.
“You might feel it standing on the sideline, but once you get on the field you start narrowing in,” he said. “It’s like that blackout effect where you start zoning in and in and in on what you’re trying to do. I think it’s that way kind of across the board with position groups where you’re locked in. You have that moment to look around and kind of get the adrenaline going, but you kind of get that when it’s Air Force or Army at home and the stands are filled. It’ll just be different because we’ve never been in that stadium before.”
That’s how Strebel predicts it will go. But, in all honesty, they don’t know.
“That’s kind of the big what if,” left tackle Jake Barnhorst said. “How do we respond to that environment? It’s going to be crazy.”