This dude takes it to a whole new level
For Medill junior Michael Payant, gameday begins long before kickoff. And no, that’s not because he’s out tailgating early.
It’s because Payant is actually getting ready for the game. He typically starts preparing for the game about four hours before the game begins. He isn’t an athlete with special warm up rituals, but Payant’s preparations for the game are almost as sacred. It takes roughly an hour, because he paints his face and dresses up. His gameday transformation is typically so significant that afterwards, he's barely recognizable.
You can find Payant in the front row of every home football and basketball game clad in purple from head to toe. A simple purple morph suit doesn’t cut it for Payant; he’s usually decked out in a purple afro wig, purple face paint and some loud purple ensemble.
Payant’s dedication to the game has earned him the title of one of Northwestern’s resident superfans. He is currently in the running for the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame competition. The ESPN Fan Hall of Fame recognizes the three most die-hard fans in the nation. He also entered the competition last year, but did not make it to the final rounds. According to Payant, he applied last year after “I got into the whole fan persona. There are a lot of people with really compelling stories and I wanted to share mine.”
He thinks his chances of advancing the competition are better this year because he has a better story than he did last year.
“This year I talk a lot more about my family background and how that helped me become the fan I am today," he said. "It’s a more comprehensive picture of who I am as a fan and shows what drives me as a fan.”
One of the most crucial elements of Payant’s superfan wardrobe is his purple afro wig. Payant bought the wig back when he was beginning to experiment with his superfan persona at the beginning of his sophomore year. He took a four-mile walk to Skokie simply so he could purchase his wig at the Party City in Skokie. Since then, the purple afro wig has made an appearance at nearly every game. Payants says that “[The wig] is a very essential symbol of my superfan persona.”
For the past two home games (against Michigan and Nebraska), Payant adopted a very purple Joker ensemble. He donned a purple suit, purple pants and his lucky purple wig. To complete the Joker transformation, Payant also had his face completely painted by freshman Gavin Williams. Williams is a cognitive science major with a penchant for doing theatric makeup after having to do his own makeup for several of his high school shows.
On the day of the Northwestern-Michigan game, Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 blasted in the background as Payant sat painstakingly still so that Williams could properly paint his face. The paint that Williams applies on Payant isn’t simply purple and white face paint. The joker face is complete with three-dimensional, textured pieces of fake blood.
Although the gates to the stadium open an hour and a half before the game, Payant is there long before. Usually, he ends up waiting close to an hour before the stadium officially opens to fans so that he can ensure a front row seat in the student section. He typically is one of the first people on the gameday shuttles that go to Ryan Field.
Once in the stadium, the waiting game truly begins and the anticipation is tangible. Payant, and others who arrive at the game early on, count down every ten minutes to keep track of how much time is left until kickoff. Whether it be 80 minutes before the start of the game or ten minutes before the game, the countdowns are equally enthusiastic.
Payant's veins are a deep purple, as his mother, Susan Cohodes, also attended Northwestern. Cohodes, a 1983 graduate from Medill, imparted her love of the Wildcats to her son at a very young age.
“Not in a million years [did I expect this enthusiasm] because he’s pretty shy," she said. "This has come as quite a surprise.”
According to Cohodes, the first indication that Payant would “color outside of the lines” was when he returned home freshman year with a Mohawk. Payant agrees that dressing up for games like this is slightly uncharacteristic of him.
“I’m antisocial by nature,” he said.
But once the purple paint comes on, the shyness is stripped away. At the games, he is always front and center, yelling his lungs out. Payant’s outfits and loud face paint always earns him a good amount of time on the jumbo-tron or on TV.
Payant began truly embracing his purple pride at the beginning of his sophomore year. For the first home game during the 2014-2015 school year, Payant painted up with a group of other Resident Assistants and Community Assistants. That was when he realized the superfan could be for him.
“A lot of people initially gave me weird looks [when I began going all out for games.] My friends were like, ‘What are you doing?’ because they know I’m pretty straight-edge…a pretty normal guy,” Payant said.
But overall, the reactions have been generally positive.
“For each game I go to dressed up, I probably get four to five people that want to take pictures with me,” he said.
For Payant, the end of this football season is particularly bittersweet because this is his last football season as an undergraduate. He plans on graduating this spring.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing this,” Payant said. “There are so many leaders and organizations here that it’s easy to feel like a small fish in a big point. Being a superfan and embracing that persona has definitely helped me find my niche and a place to truly claim as my own.”
He's made the first row of the student section a second home.
“[The games have been] a place of sanctuary and relief for me where I don’t have to worry about other stressors. Such a formative part of my college experience has been at Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan.”