Wolverines, Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish: A Lifetime of Football Memories

As a kid, I grew up a Michigan fan.  My father is from Ypsilanti, MI, which is just about 10 miles east of Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is located.  When I was a teenager, my dad along with my older cousin Jim took me, my brother Wes, and my younger cousin Brad to Michigan Stadium one afternoon and we walked onto the field, the five of us, by ourselves.  There was no one else in the stadium, except for a few university staff members.  It was such an exhilarating feeling to be on the same field that I had seen countless times over the course of my young life, watching all the great Michigan players of the day; like Jamie Morris, my favorite running back of all time, and Jim Harbaugh, my favorite quarterback.  I remember running on that field from one end zone to the other, and nearly passing out afterwards, not realizing just how gigantic it really was.  That was one of the most memorable days of my life as a kid.  So Saturday when Michigan edged rival Notre Dame in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium 35-31, on a 16 yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left on the clock, I couldn’t help but reminisce.  Sportscaster Brent Musburger called Saturday’s game “an instant classic,” and it was, in every since of the word.  The only thing missing was Keith Jackson.

However, my fellow sports fans, you’ve only heard part of the story.  You see my mother was born in Columbus, OH, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Poor mom.  She lived in a home with three wolverines.  She cooked for her little wolverines, fed them, bathed them, cleaned up after them, read to them, nurtured them, and then every year in November they turned on her, and devoured her.  At least some Novembers they devoured her, when Michigan beat Ohio State.  Those late fall Saturday afternoons when the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, she had the last laugh, turning into her version of Brutus Buckeye (The official mascot of OSU), and rubbing her victory into our faces.  It takes a strong woman to stand up to the constant harassment and torture we boys inflicted on  her because of her allegiance to the Scarlet and Gray; her only allies being her sister Theresa and nephew P.J. who were also Buckeye fans.  But they lived in Virginia.  As far as us men were concerned, the homestead was Maize and Blue territory.  Trespassers beware!

I vowed to stay a Michigan fan, despite my mother giving birth to me in that hospital 34 years ago in Columbus, and I was successful in doing so until I attended Eastern Michigan University; my father’s alma mater.  When the other college kids found out I was from Ohio, they engaged in a smear campaign to defame my reputation, calling me every foul name they could think of, and hurling insults and jokes at me unrepentantly.  I was an outcast.  So I decided to fight back.  For the first time ever in my life, at the age of 22, I purchased my very first piece of Ohio State apparel; a scarlet baseball cap with a gray O on the front.  From then on, I would be proud of my Buckeye heritage.  I even rooted for the Bucks on occasion that season, despite feeling a slight sting of guilt, never having before gone against my beloved Wolverines.  What anguish!  What torment!  The remorse was overpowering and I soon found myself in a confused state, much like leaving a lover for another woman, only to wonder in the midnight hours of my solitude if I  had made the right decision?

And then there was that other team in the Midwest that I had not yet sorted out my feelings about.  Of course, as a youth I hated Notre Dame.  How can you blame me after Raghib “The Rocket” Ismail broke my heart in 1989 with those two kick off returns for touchdowns?  How could he do that to me?  Didn’t he know I was only 12 years old and psychologically unable to process such bitter disappointment?  I didn’t heal from that heartbreak until two years later when Desmond Howard struck his foreshadowing Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone after returning a kick for a touchdown against Ohio State.  Two long years later!  Nevertheless, something deep down inside me always admired those Fighting Irish guys from Indiana.  Maybe it was their fight song, which, along with OSU and U of M’s, certainly rank at the top of the list in all of collegiate sports.  Maybe it was the cartoon like Leprechaun mascot?  Maybe it was the Irish roots on my mother’s side beckoning me to root for the Blue and Gold?  Whatever it was, it’s still inside me, daring me to give in to the taboo.

So this season, I’m going to commit the unthinkable; root for Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame at the same time.  After all, I’m an American.  And what is America I ask you?  America is a melting pot.  So why shouldn’t my interest in football reflect the diversity of this great nation.  I’m going to sing “Hang on Sloopy” from the depths of my guts when the Buckeyes take the field.  I’m going to Hail the Victors when the Wolverines prevail.  And I’m going to do my best to “win one for the Gipper” while sitting on my couch in front of the television, and cheer for the Fighting Irish.  I’m just a little worried that things could get rather expensive when I visit the Sports Fan-Attic store in the mall…and that I might get beat up for saying this.

© 2011

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