Meet the Maize Rage of Michigan

Members of the Maize Rage prepare for the game. Andrew Hetherington for ESPN the Magazine

This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's One Day One Game Issue. Subscribe today. See the entire Maize Rage gallery here.

The Maize Rage began in the 2000-01 season as a few die-hards trying to raise spirits during a bleak 10-18 campaign. Now 2,500 students strong, Michigan's fan army -- a contender for last season's Naismith Student Section of the Year Award -- has helped spur the Wolverines to utter dominance on their home court. We wanted to see what all the fuss is about by following the fan group during the Ohio State at Michigan game on Feb. 5.

It began with a lone cowbell -- a steel clank reverberating through a sullen arena. Twelve years ago, one rowdy Maize-and-Blue-cape-wearing Superfan attempted to insert basketball spirit where there was none. Jeff Holzhausen, a 2002 graduate and that original Superfan, was the beginning of the Maize Rage. But it’s taken years for the Rage to catch on. Fanaticism of a sports team usually forms over decades of sustained success. But the majority of the Rage weren’t even born when the Fab Five took Michigan to the NCAA championship game two seasons in a row. They don’t know much about Rumeal Robinson, but they do remember that 15-17 season in 2009-10 very well. Needless to say, the upperclassmen didn’t come to Michigan for the basketball. “We’ve been a football school for umpteen ages,” said Superfan No. 12 Jarrett McFeters (one fan is elected Superfan each year by Rage members. McFeters is the 12th, natch). “It’s going to take a few more consistently good basketball years so people aren’t just here for the fair weather.” But for many UM students, this is like found money, an unexpected gift bestowed upon them after suffering through a decade of OSU football dominance. “About 11 years ago the Maize Rage started with 8 or 9 people,” said Maize Rage VP Sasha Shaffer. “Last year we got up to around 1,500 and this year we are up to 2,500 people.” The cowbell is alone no more.

An hour and a half before tip-off, there are 2,000 students lined up the steps to Crisler Center. The first in line arrived at 10:41 p.m. the day before. It’s a “tradition,” championed just last season by McFeters, to wait out the night before the Ohio State home game in sub-zero wind chills. It’s no Krzyzewskiville. There aren’t any space heaters or portable stoves, just a handful of die-hards dressed in layers. As the crew struggles to put up their tents, the uphill battle they face among their peers is evident. First, a couple of curious giggling girls stop just to catch a glimpse of the sideshow. Then, finally, two ill-prepared freshmen run up the stairs to scream out “you guys are nuts!” before looking it over and deciding in that instant to run back to their dorm for some clothes and join them. This is how great college traditions are born ... two ill-prepared freshmen at a time.

A half hour before tip-off, the Rage Page is distributed. It’s a game-day scouting report written by core members of the Rage with intel on both the home and opposing teams. Among the plethora of info on the page: Dickie V is in the house, and damaging tidbits on the opposition such as Amir Williams dared to spurn John Beilein’s recruiting efforts and a list of organized chants. That last bit is a hint that this program has some room to grow -- some cheers are met with confusion. ‘Which cheers get three claps and which get four?’ ‘What exactly do you do when Ohio State shoots a free throw?’ But don’t let that obfuscate the truth: this section is loud! Even so, when Tim Hardaway Jr. hits five consecutive 3s, the Maize Rage are so lost in the moment that they forget to do the “H-Bomb."

By the end of the fourth quarter the other side of the arena is returning the student section's “Go” with an emphatic “Blue” and the upper deck is on their feet popping like mad. The crowd is so raucous by the end of regulation, it’s impossible to distinguish sound -- all your ears can hear is one long wave tone that ricochets in the 6 inches from ear to ear.

When Tim Hardaway Jr. blocks Aaron Craft’s shot, utter euphoria breaks out. Unanimous agreement exists among the Maize Rage that this was the best game they’ve ever witnessed. “We never had that raucous of an environment,” Shaffer said. “We never had the upper deck do ‘Go, Blue’ with us.” The greatest number of students at a game this season was 1,824 versus Purdue; tonight there were 2,309 in the boisterous arena. The feeling exists amongst the students that they’ve lived the game with the players, and why shouldn’t it? They’ve put in the effort, as well, and they, too, are totally drained.