I was born and raised on the Iron Range of Minnesota, where hockey is the undisputed king of sports. My home town claims to have the world's largest authentic hockey stick; it's the home of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, and hockey legends with names like Mayasich, Mariucci, and Pavelich. Hockey was in our blood. My father did some coaching when I was younger, and my uncle was a ref for many high school games. There were times when he wasn't on the ice, and was calling the game on the radio instead. I never played organized hockey, oddly enough, but every park had a rink, and the alley always made a good place to play. Just take a couple chunks of snow, or rocks, or empty coffee cans, or anything else you can get your hands on, and plop them at the approximate width of a goal to start up a game. Sticks were always easy to come by; every boy in town had a stick and skates by the time he was three. In addition to hockey, we played every sport under the sun, but I became aware of something else in 1987...Michigan football. While dealing with a bout of the chickenpox, I came across a Michigan football game on T.V.; it was my first exposure to Bo, the winged helmet, and The Victors. My blood instantly ran Maize and Blue.
To be honest, prior to 1987 I had no real concept of college football. After seeing the Wolverines, though, I soaked up every game I could find on T.V., Michigan or not, but was heartbroken when Michigan wasn't playing. Players like Jon Vaughn, Tripp Welbourne, Jarrod Bunch, Steve Everitt, and Leroy Hoard were the guys who were my first favorites. Jarrett Irons ultimately became (and still is) my favorite Wolverine--in fact, I still have the 1993 team schedule with his picture on it in my wallet; and that's in no way weird. Right? It was around this same time, though, that I also found Rickey Foggie, Darrell Thompson, Marquel Fleetwood, and the Golden Gophers. My home state had a football team, too! I could not believe that both of my teams were in the same conference, though. A thirteen year old me was trying to understand conferences, rules of the game, and everything else about organized football; it was much different than that game we played in the neighborhood's empty lots or in our back yards.
As the years went by, my Michigan fandom gained momentum, while my Minnesota fandom stagnated. After moving to Michigan in '96 my interest in Gophers football was renewed, since absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I still watched and hoped that the Gophers would do well, but they went through some pretty dark times during the Jim Wacker era; an era I'd much rather forget. Glen Mason had some
success mediocrity, but it was better than what we had gone through with Jim Wacker. At least Mason brought Minnesota to, and won, some bowl games. After Mason's very deserved firing after losing to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl (a game in which Minnesota was up 38-7 in the third quarter) Gophers fans were then subjected to the horrendous Tim Brewster. The Little Brown Jug became a bittersweet thing to me through all of this; it was great to see Michigan win, but it made me sad to see the Gophers lose...and lose...and lose...and lose big. Another good example of the plight of a Gophers fan can be found in this article.
I will never say that I want Michigan to lose, but if they had to, I would be okay if it were to the Gophers. At the very least, the game should be competitive. Unfortunately, that wasn't/isn't always the case. My first time attending a college game was on November 13, 1993; Michigan went into the Metrodome and blew out the Gophers 58-7. It was just a couple weeks past my 19th birthday, and was both the best and worst birthday present I could have received. Finally getting to see my beloved Wolverines in person was amazing. Watching Tim Schade struggle for Minnesota was disappointing. I was also at the game in Ann Arbor in 2005 when the Gophers were able to beat Michigan for the first time in my football-watching memory. In fact, the ball went sailing just beyond my fingertips. The Michigan loss was gut-wrenching, but I was proud of Minnesota's showing that day.
It can be difficult being a fan of any team at times, but being a fan of competing teams (regardless of the lopsided-ness of the rivalry) can trap a man in a Burgundian "glass case of emotion". I have a hard time watching the games without bellowing the same primordial scream as Burgundy. My wonderful and understanding wife does her best to explain things to my children without scaring them even further; they just know that daddy has problems sometimes.
Growing up where I did, the Michigan Wolverines felt like they were a million miles away. I had numerous Wolverines-related goals, most of which have been realized, including becoming a proud season ticket holder. This year's game against the Gophers will hold special significance since it will be my eight year old daughter's first time in Michigan Stadium. So, no matter the score, that day will be a great day spent with a great kid who does her best to remind me that it's just a game, and who ultimately reminds me of what is really important. Unlike many of you reading this, and some of those who also contribute to this site, I am not an alumnus. I am simply a fan; and although I am very proud to have been born Maroon and Gold, I will always bleed Maize and Blue.