Midweek MACtion! Road to CFB Visits WMU Game Day
In front of a smattering of 2,000 or so sleepy fans, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are dominated by Mid-American Conference college football. While the atmosphere in the stadium is about as excited as to craft time at the local nursing home, millions tune in weekly to watch this action unfold. Endearingly, we call it “MACtion.”
What’s the enthrallment with the low-level college football turned cult favorite?
The whacky nature of failed fake field goals, unforced fumbles, 100-point shootouts, and the overall unexpected nature of these matchups captivates America.
As a graduate of a school regularly involved with MACtion, it holds a special place in my heart. So, I got my annual MACtion fix in Kalamazoo– an aptly-MAC name that houses Western Michigan University.
The Heartbeat of College Football
Relax Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC fans– this isn’t an assault on big-time college football. In fact, I paired this game with a sold-out game at Iowa.
But while the pageantry and blockbuster nature of the Alabama at LSU and Michigan at Ohio States are the garnish on the college football dish, MACtion is the sauce base that the dish couldn’t exist without.
The stands aren’t packed. The crowd isn’t loud. In all honesty, there’s not much to cheer about when 2-7 Northern Illinois visits 3-6 Western Michigan on a Wednesday night. Typically, these kickoffs– most of which happen in the Rust Belt– see temperatures under 40º.
It’s grit. It’s passion. Nobody loves their football teams more than the 951 folks that keep their butts in the stands until the final whistle of a 56-7 blowout.
The Big 12 might be the Homecoming Queen, but MACtion is the one you settle down with.
Up until this point, this has been a long overdue love letter to the MAC. So, moving onto the game.
Waldo Stadium: Wonderfully Quirky
Kalamazoo, Michigan, is a charming town about as far inland from Lake Michigan as it is from the Indiana border. Most MAC towns are bolstered by a central downtown strip with local bars and a few chain eateries (yes, I know there’s exceptions).
Western Michigan has one of the bigger campuses in the MAC, although it’s middle-of-the-road in student population. If you’re in town for a game day, check out Latitude 42º Brewing for a great local pour and terrific fries.
About a 10-minute drive later to WMU’s Lawson Arena (home of a pretty good hockey program), you can park for free. Shuttles run to Waldo Stadium all night long. I chose to walk the 1.5-mile trek.
If you’re looking for a tailgate, you’ll have to bring it yourself. There was no tailgating to speak of this Wednesday night.
Their field house, built in 2001, butts up against the northeast end zone of Waldo Stadium, a nice touch to a quirky stadium. The field turf inside features alternating brown and beige (maybe?) field turf inside a starch-white airplane hangar. It’s as wonderfully weird as MAC can be.
The Zoo clearly flipped its orientation around 1973 with the construction of home stands that expanded the capacity to 25,000 seats. How can you tell? There’s no home concourse or tunnels leading to the stands. It was slapped on the side of a hill, making a trek from field-level to the press box a real workout.
The stadium was again expanded in 1989 to its current capacity of 30,200– an intentional number to match rival-Eastern Michigan’s stadium capacity. Interestingly, lights weren’t installed at Waldo Stadium until 1993.
Concessions also don’t feature the gouging stadium pricing that others do. Want a bag of potato chips? $2. Gatorade? $4. You won’t break the bank here.
Northern Illinois 24, Western Michigan 21
If you’ve ever seen a Western Michigan football game on TV, you’ve probably wondered how it’s always foggy in Kalamazoo. This is, in fact, not fog and rather grill smoke from a concessions grill that’s haphazardly slapped right on the concourse.
It casts a spooky haze over the playing field at all times.
The defending-champion NIU Huskies have had a rough year. They followed up that title with a last-place standing in the MAC West on the shoulders of a 2-7 record coming into this game. Star QB Rocky Lombardi was injured for the season and– as is commonplace with the MAC– last year’s champions dropped off the competitive cliff.
Western Michigan came into this one with a 3-6 record and, despite being in second-to-last place in the MAC West, was the only team mathematically keeping 7-3 Toledo from clinching the division… somehow. Don’t ask me the math on that, but it was true.
The game panned out to be as whacky as MACtion is known to be. Ghastly interceptions returned by defensive linemen for touchdowns, and those touchdowns being called back because his teammate ran over to the sidelines and gave the other players the finger.
But ultimately it came down to Justin Lynch– younger brother of NIU legend and 2013 Heisman finalist Jordan– punching in a touchdown with under a minute left. Justin looked so akin to Jordan, number and all, that you could have told me that was the Heisman finalist himself playing out his 17th and final year of eligibility.
The visiting Huskies forced 30 yards of sacks on the final desperation drive, including a 13-yard sack on 4th & 27, to end the game.
Western Michigan Game Day Grades
Stadium: D. There’s quirky spots in this stadium, which I appreciate, but it’s overall tough to traverse and holds water like a literal swimming pool. Unfortunately, WMU’s colors just don’t work on a turf field– one that really needs replacing. The combination of the faded end zone colors, the smoke haze from the grill, and an old turf that shines in the stadium lights… there are better.
Tradition: C-. What saves this grade is the team entrance. A live horse mascot, named Triumph, is ridden by a member of the WMU equestrian team out. Anyone that has a live mascot gets a major boost. We need more of these in college football.
Atmosphere: F. Well, it’s MACtion. I knew what I was getting myself into. The WMU band is pretty good, one of the better units in the conference, but the stadium was a cemetery for the most part.
Tailgating: F. There is no tailgating on Wednesdays.
Fans: D. I always applaud the fans that come out to MACtion games, few though they are. And the fans in Kalamazoo are nice enough, that’s not the issue. The issue I have is with the student section, or lack thereof. Halftime cleared about half the crowd and– despite a very good and very close game– only about a quarter of us stayed to watch the end.