Swarms of fans packed into the scenic backyard at the corner of South University and Washtenaw Avenue on Saturday morning to witness the 82nd and perhaps most tensely anticipated edition of the Mud Bowl. The host squad, The Flying Eagles, soared to a hard-fought victory in the annual mud-soaked touch football match, as serene conditions and joyous fans provided a perfectly festive atmosphere.
So festive, that it was easy to forget how close this year’s event came to not even taking place.
Facing sanctions from the University and a suspension from their national chapter, former members of the now-rogue fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, traditional hosts of the annual Homecoming day event, regrouped to form the independent student group The Flying Eagles. And in a move heavily criticized by the University’s Office of Greek Life, the Interfraternity Council, and SAE’s own national chapter, they went ahead with plans to host this year’s Mud Bowl, a charity event that raises money for CS Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
My mom went to the Mud Bowl when she went here in the 90’s. It’s been going on since before World War II. It will survive this war on Greek Life.
– Josh Redlinger, LSA Junior
The Office of Greek Life threatened sanctions against students in Greek Life for participating, and Greek Life members were warned by their presidents not to be seen in Greek letters if in attendance. One prominent Greek Life president spoke to us in the days leading up to the event to share his thoughts on the situation.
“I understand why they still want to have it because the event obviously has raised a lot of money for a good cause. But collectively, as IFC fraternities, there is a rule in place that we do not participate in or co-sponsor events with chapters not recognized by the university or their own national organization,” he explained, before conceding, “It’s a shame since it’s an awesome event.”
It was a sentiment echoed by all in attendance on Saturday.
“I had a great time, the best time,” said Ben, a member of The Flying Eagle’s opposing team, after the final whistle blew.
“This has definitely made a positive impact on both CS Mott and everybody here,” said one female Greek Life attendee. “It’s for a good cause, and everybody has fun. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Even the few Northwestern fans in attendance were impressed by the event, with one Northwestern senior calling it “insane.”
“We have a similar event at Northwestern where we play in a snowy environment instead of a muddy environment and I’d say the turnout here is 20 times larger than over there.” Being informed that the proceeds from the event go to the Children’s Hospital only served to further his excitement. “I am all about philanthropy. That is great.”
Since its inception in 1933, the Mud Bowl has become a staple tradition that has only grown in prominence. It has been covered by everyone from local media to ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Bleacher Report even filmed a mini-documentary on the 2013 edition of the game. This year, Adidas helped support the event and donated equipment.
The controversy surrounding this year’s event prompted a change from the traditional tournament-style format to a simple one-game finale, against a group of students with no formal Greek affiliation, as fraternities were barred from forming teams to compete.
But despite of, or perhaps because of, the controversy in the build up to the game, the 2015 Mud Bowl was a hit.
“We’re so proud of them for pulling this off despite all the controversy,” beamed Theresa and Tom, parents of a current Flying Eagles member and participant.
The Mud Bowl charity has raised over $100,000 in the past five years alone for CS Mott Children’s Hospital. According to a member of Flying Eagles, this year’s event was able to raise over $10,000 for CS Mott, with funds coming from group sponsors, online donations, and t-shirt sales. Employees within the donations department at CS Mott declined to comment.
“Obviously this would not even be possible if it weren’t for the philanthropic aspect of it,” said a mud-covered Flying Eagles Junior Robert Smith after the game. “We’re glad that we were able to make it happen.”
As LSA Junior Josh Redlinger, member of the opposing team, stressed, “It’s part of tradition.”
“My mom went to the Mud Bowl when she went here in the 90’s. It’s been going on since before World War II. It will survive this war on Greek Life.“
This story was co-written and reported by Tony Saucedo and Hunter Swogger.