How Michigan Stadium’s Seat #109,901 Resembles God

The University of Michigan’s football stadium — the Big House — has a seating capacity of 109,901, making it the largest such stadium in the country.

But what’s up with that extra 1? Wouldn’t 109,900 seats just make more sense?

Turns out the extra seat was installed during a 1956 renovation… or was it? It’s possible that seat doesn’t even exist. A 1964 article from Sports Illustrated has former coach Fritz Crisler only added to the legend of the “extra seat”:

Crisler is obviously proud that the University of Michigan has the largest college-owned stadium in the U.S. He would not concede that it is his personal monument, although that is what many people consider it to be. One question that all Crisler’s guests ask him is, “How did you arrive at a seating capacity of 101,001? Was it pure coincidence? Was there a reason for the additional seat?”

Crisler smiles at the question. “Let us put it this way. It makes a great conversation piece at cocktail parties.”

That extra seat had no significance of any kind? It was not any special seat in any special spot?

“It has its spot,” said Crisler. “And I am the only man who knows where that spot is.”

Michael Florek of The Michigan Daily wanted to get to the bottom of the legend: Did the extra seat really exist or was it just someone’s idea of a joke?

So he did the research.

He spoke to people who might have some insight into the answer. At one point, he even spoke to Crisler’s granddaughter:

“The seat is real. I would love to sit in it some time. None of us kids have ever been able to sit in it.”

So she didn’t know where it is?

“I can’t factually say it’s an actual seat. … Maybe U of M could be accountable for the actual fact, I don’t know. Maybe someone could find out.”

I was trying to find out. She was supposed to be the to tell me.

We were in a similar situation, believers with no proof.

A reader of this site — and a Michigan alum — suggests there’s a religious parallel here:

… people are so determined to believe that the extra seat exists that they are resorting to football transcendentalism to explain it. Maybe the seat doesn’t physically exist but it is real in the minds of the fans! Crisler’s seat is that warm glow in your heart when you watch a game with your friends, etc.

In short I think it’s a microcosm of religion. Some people want to believe in the myth so badly that they will embrace any explanation that supports its existence.

As you read the article, it becomes clear that the evidence against the seat’s existence grows stronger and stronger… yet, people continue to believe it’s there. They go with their gut despite the evidence.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Tom

    I take it nobody’s actually counted them, then?

  • Vltava

    It probably doesn’t mean anything, but 109,901 is a palindrome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

    Maybe this is a dumb question, but how would anyone know which of the 109,901 was the “extra” seat if they were installed at the same time? Surely there wasn’t just one seat installed in 1956? So either they squeezed an extra seat into a row (say 41 instead of 40) or there is a seat sticking out where it shouldn’t be. In the first case, all those seats have equal claim, in the second it should be bloody obvious.
    Perhaps the more pertinent point is “Why does anyone care?”

  • thebrokedown

    The whole time I was reading this, I thought that the punchline was going to be that the supposed extra seat was meant to be the place where god “sits.” I was all aye-rolly until I understood what point was actually being made.

  • littlejohn

    It seems to me that there is a certain symmetry to most stadia that would make an odd number of seats unlikely.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      I haven’t been to this stadium, but such huge structures need all sorts of infrastructure such as structural supports,  exit openings, fire equipment and first aid storage, electrical and plumbing  fixtures that break up the symmetry and eliminate space for seats. So even if overall the stadium looks radially symmetrical, it could easily have an odd, prime number of seats.

  • http://twitter.com/DangerousTalk Staks Rosch

    Am I the crazy one for first suggesting that someone should actually count them and second pointing out that no one really fucking cares how many seats are in the stadium. 

  • https://bornagainyesterday.com Justin McKean

    It’s interesting that not only do they accept any possible excuse for believing, but will redefine what the vocabulary of their belief set to adjust for new information.

  • Thefoghorn

    Very clever analogy. It just shows how people can become fanatical about something that doesn¡t even exist. God, of course, did exist but only as volcanic activity in the highly seismic area of the Red Sea Rift. Mt Sinai was, of course, not in Sinai but in Midian….Arabia….Saudi Arabia. The religion that spawned Islam and Christianity and has caused tens of millions of people to die only survived because the Hebrews moved away from their deity. If they still camped at the base of their fire topped, trembling and wrathful mountain god we would long ago have sussed it out, just as the Greek myths all lost their power.

    It’s all here….http://ohmyvolcano.blogspot.com

  • bigjohn756

    I watched that monstrosity go up. It’s just an enormous bleacher. There are no seats; just numbers to help people arrange themselves in proper order. When it was built they used 101,001 numbers. Later peoples’ asses got narrower and the capacity increased to 109,901 with no additional construction that I recall. The capacity is really just how many people are willing to jam themselves into the place. One seat more or less is pretty much imaginary as are, say, ±20 seats. 

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      It would seem that the mystery is solved. Thank you, bigjohn756. 
      …When you were younger and smaller, were you littlejohn776?

      • bigjohn756

        I have been bigjohn since the mid1940s when I was in grade school. Never was smaller than all but a few of my peers.  Of course, I have always been far more handsome and intelligent than they.
        Anyway, yes, it seemed to me at the time that all they did was to repaint the numbers and call it a bigger stadium. At the time their main competitor was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, so, they just had to be bigger than that place.
        BTW, the U of M stadium was quite attractive before the big expansion. When you drove by, all you could see was a grassy hill topped by a nice looking low, red brick wall. But, of course, it only seated about 70,000 at that time.


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