When the Miami University RedHawks and University of Toledo Rockets first faced each other in the Mid-American Conference championship of 2004, the attendance reached 22,138. Though the RedHawks held the lead for most of the game, the Rockets came back and won 35-27.
The 2023 MAC championship favored Toledo over Miami by eight points. The RedHawks had already lost to the Rockets earlier in the season, and some were expecting a similar story on Dec. 2. However, many RedHawk fans had higher hopes for the second go-around, and figured the long trip to Detroit would be worth it.
With a total attendance of 20,200, the 2023 MAC championship ranked as the third most-attended game for the RedHawks this season, behind the Confusion Bowl against the University of Miami Hurricanes (49,024) and the Battle for the Victory Bell against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (38,193). The RedHawks earned an average game attendance of 18,857, continuing the upward trend in football game attendance for the post-COVID era.
Miami provided buses for fans and students the morning of the game. Though they left at 6 a.m, the early wake-up proved to be worth it to watch the RedHawks win in an exciting fashion. Traffic obstacles, including the closure of I-75 at Luna Pier Road, wasn’t going to stop them.
The most eager of students arrived in Detroit the night before the game, including first-year biology pre-med major Aiden Bryant.
“My roommate and I were so eager to go,” Bryant said. “We actually bought tickets before we knew that the bus was going to be a thing.”
The atmosphere at Ford Field was exciting, with fans both young and old packing the stands. Miami alums Tom and Drake, father and son who graduated in 1982 and 2016 respectively, made the 20-minute drive from their home in Birmingham, Michigan, to the game. They attended the 2019 MAC championship game between Miami and Central Michigan University as well and watched the RedHawks intently this season.
As it turns out, several fans at the game were from neighboring cities in Michigan. Nick Ferrari, a 2022 Miami graduate, drove in from Bloomfield, about 30 minutes away. He currently works in mergers and acquisitions, but tries to support the RedHawks when he can.
“Anytime I can get to a Miami game, I will,” Ferrari said. “It’s always a good time. With the MAC championship at Ford Field, right in my backyard, I had to go and cheer on Miami.”
Most fans drove up on their own in the early hours of Dec. 2. David Neu, father of redshirt-first year defensive lineman Logan Neu, woke up early and drove up three and a half hours from Monroe, Ohio. The opportunity to watch his son play at Ford Field was something he had always dreamed of and made the trip worthwhile.
“We woke up at 5 a.m. and left at 6 a.m.,” Neu said. “My son’s part of the team, so I wanted to come up here and watch the game.”
Kyle Tafleski currently works at Miami as the ticket sales and operations assistant manager, but he graduated from the University of Toledo in 2020. At the game, his money was on the RedHawks.
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In his current position, Tafelski finds himself traveling to Miami games often. The four-hour drive was nothing.
“I would’ve driven 16 hours if I had to,” Tafelski said.
In his time here, Tafelski has never seen a fanbase quite like Miami’s. He was further impressed by the number of RedHawks that showed up at Ford Field.
“Our fanbase is worldwide,” Tafelski said. “We have alumni that are nationwide. They’re going to travel for the big games and they’re going to support us when they can.”
Bryant shared a similar sentiment. With the recent success of the program, he thinks the team will enjoy increased support during his next four years with the university.
“Now that we’ve had such a great football season, maybe there will be more enthusiasm for football here in the future,” Bryant said.