Bright Lights, Big House

Michigan Stadium – Photo courtesy of Barton Malow Company

There will be a lot smiles in the Big House tonight (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) for the first-ever primetime game at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium. But none may be brighter than the beam Michigan season ticket holder Paul Nesbitt will be sporting from Section 15, Row 49, Seat 7, when he looks skyward and sees the 266 1,000-watt (or more) light fixtures atop Michigan Stadium.

“Yeah, there will be probably be a few times during the game when I’ll look up and grin and realize I was part of history,” said Nesbitt, 43, who served as LaBelle Electrical Contractors project manager for last year’s light installation at the stadium. “It’s going to be a pretty cool feeling. My 15-year-old son, Lucas, is even more excited than me I think.”

UPDATE: Paul Nesbitt checked in with Front Row on Sunday morning and wanted to share his brief thoughts on the game – they would have been longer but he was still in the clouds!: “Top 5 games I have ever seen at U of M,” he said. “The lights were the bright spot – until the second half!”

The 39th all-time meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame – college football’s all-time winningest programs – will not lack for on-field storylines, but it’s the banks of lights above the field that have transformed the “Under the Lights” contest into the weekend’s biggest – and brightest – game. For the ESPN production team, the trick is in not letting the lighting overshadow the game.

“We will showcase the ‘lights story’ as we come on the air leading up to the kickoff (7:59 p.m. to 8:12 p.m.),” said ESPN’s Saturday Night football coordinating producer, Bill Bonnell. “(Play-by-play man) Brent Musburger will put this moment into historical perspective but once the game begins we’ll be there to cover the game.”

The lights, with a price tag of $1.8 million, were installed last year and used for late-running afternoon games and last December’s historical “Big Chill at the Big House” hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State. But tonight will be the first kickoff under the lights and Michigan’s marketing department has gone all in. Both teams will wear throwback uniforms and Desmond Howard, the Former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner (1991) and current ESPN College Football Game Day analyst, will be honored to commemorate his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

“This game is not only significant from a historical standpoint but it’s hugely important in terms of these two football programs getting back on track,” Bonnell said. “They both struggle for a re-birth of excellence and to re-gain their stature and dominance. The fact that this happens to be the first primetime game under the lights at the Big House is just a bonus.”

It’s a bonus that Paul Nesbitt – and 110,000 of his closest friends – has reason to glow about.

Let There Be Hi-Lights:
  • According to Nesbitt, the lights are manually retractable
  • The lights are made up of a combination of 1,000 watt and 1,500 watt fixtures
  • A special antireflective glass increases the amount of light transmitted on the field, according to Guardian Industries, which spent 3 ½ years developing both the glass and its unique coating
  • The installation of the lights was completed in 8 weeks during the Fall of 2010
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