ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Postseason football games are all but a rite of passage for Michigan.
However, there are a handful of Wolverines who will be playing in their first bowl game when No. 6 Michigan (10-2) faces No. 11 Florida State (9-3) in the Orange Bowl on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
One such player is LB Mike McCray.
McCray redshirted his freshman year then played in 11 games in 2014, the only season since 2010 the Wolverines did not qualify for a bowl game. A shoulder injury cost McCray all of last season and he did not travel to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl.
Now, the redshirt junior is ready to fly south for the holiday season.
But for McCray, this week is not just about practicing in anticipation of his first bowl game — he’s also looking forward to the atmosphere of the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Michigan fans travel really well, so it might be about even, fan-wise,” McCray said. “But it’s going to be a great experience. I always wanted to go to a Florida State game, just to hear the chant that everybody does.”
Yes, McCray wants to hear the War Chant, the echoing melody that comes from Florida State fans during a football game. You might have also heard it during Atlanta Braves games, particularly the team’s heyday in the 1990s, and during Kansas City Chiefs games.
“Growing up, you see it on TV and it sounds like something great to be around,” McCray said. “I look forward to hearing it.
“There’s a lot of tradition, just like us. I’ll bet some of them wanted to touch the banner before, but this is going to be fun.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last faced the Seminoles 30 years ago, when Michigan defeated Florida State 20-18 on Sept 27, 1986. But in the past three weeks, Harbaugh has become a champion for Florida State’s mascots, Chief Osceola and his horse Renegade.
“I do appreciate it (the tradition),” Harbaugh said last week during the “Inside Michigan Football Coaches Radio Show” on Ann Arbor’s WTKA-AM. “A lot of schools and teams have great traditions and cool things that they do. I’ve seen Florida State’s on TV and appreciate it very much.”
During one of his media-availability session, Harbaugh asked if Chief Osceola and Renegade would take part in the Orange Bowl.
“I have not heard anything on it since,” Harbaugh said last week.
Harbaugh has clearly been focused on preparation for the Orange Bowl; on Dec. 7, Florida State associate athletics director Jason Dennard posted on Twitter that the mascots would make the trip to South Florida.
He will get his wish. They are coming! https://t.co/K0LuS9oZeI
— Jason Dennard (@dennardjl) December 7, 2016
Chief Osceola and Renegade will perform their pregame ritual prior to the Orange Bowl, planting the flaming spear. And Renegade will make its first appearance in a bowl game in three years — the horse’s last appearance was the 2013 national championship game.
“We already made the decision they were coming. We’ve been working on it for a while,” Dennard told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this month. “Osceola and Renegade are synonymous with Florida State. We try to make it work any chance we get. It’s a packaged deal.”