Rivalry week is extra uncomfortable for me. As a lifelong Michigan fan and a Michigan State graduate, sometimes I feel like I don't belong on either side of the rivalry.
When I decided to attend Michigan State, remaining a Michigan fan was a no-brainer. The first football games I remember were Michigan contests. The Rose Bowls in the early 90s, the home games against Minnesota and Purdue that my family sat through no matter the score or weather. And of course, the Virginia game - hence the username.
Being a fan of your school's biggest rival has major challenges that most sports fans never consider and that's why I'm writing this diary.
In undergrad, I was open about my fanhood. There were other Michigan fans on campus, in my dorm and on the floor, but I was the only one who would go tailgate with my friends during rivalry week in a Charles Woodson jersey. Only a few people tried to fight me each game day.
It's not like being at Michigan was any better. In college, the first thing anyone asked is what your major was. When I said "journalism" everyone knew I wasn't a Michigan student. The next question of course was, "why aren't you a Michigan student?" The conversation always turned into some diatribe about how much better U-M was than MSU, as if I didn't know the University of Michigan pedigree. These academic conversations bothered me immensely because I didnt have the grades to go to U-M. As a huge Michigan supporter, this was crushing. But what can I say, I didn't have the foresight as a 13-year-old to understand how important my algebra and global studies courses were.
As I began to make something of myself, the conversations stopped bothering me. I'm proud of what I have accomplished and my MSU degree. I love the campus and my friends and family - just not the sports.
Some MSU fans can understand but some can't. Irrational fans, arguers, drunks and people who went to LCC love to lecture me on how I should be a Spartan fan. Meanwhile, my fiance's family - a long line of Spartan fans and athlete's don't mean to mind one bit. I even dated a girl in college whose grandpa coached football for MSU and her family was more understanding about the unique situation than 99 percent of the fans I knew.
Still there are situations where it is certainly not safe to admit to being a Michigan fan. My industry is dominated by Spartan graduates and I don't want to damage any relationships by pissing off the wrong crazy Spartan fan. Similarly, I wonder what other die-hard Michigan fans really think when I tell them I am a Wolverines fan. Do they even believe me?
As a former sports journalist, my work gave me a unique perspective on rivalries and sports in general. I covered MSU athletics without any bias, roomed with Spartan athletes and even had John L. Smith hit me with a rolled up newspaper in a joking fashion. He was truly one of the nicest people I ever had the pleasure interviewing.
Lloyd Carr on the other hand, not so much. I met him while job shadowing a U-M beat writer during OSU week. She told him I was a season ticket holder but an MSU student. He refused to shake my hand. I took this as the most direspectful thing anyone has done. He was kind of joking about the entire incident, but not entirely. He never shook my hand, which is like, 'what the hell dude, I buy tickets and support your team'! Seriously, I drove from East Lansing with another MSU student and U-M fan for every home game for the two years that I had access to a car.
Nine months later I sat in the stands during the Horror. I got so many text messages after the blocked field goal that my Blackberry crashed. I don't know if that is an indication of how poor the Blackberry devices were or how bad it is when all of your friends are Spartans.
Now that I'm older, the trash talk has slowed a bit. People are more mature, but there are still things that frustrate me. The Wal-Mart Wolverine cracks from the MSU fans and the MSU academia jokes from the Wolverines fans make me want to punch Taco Pants in the neck.
And we haven't even talked about the games yet. I can't tailgate at U-M because no one in my social circle does so. I can't tailgate at MSU because I will miss the U-M games. Sometimes schedule quirks allow for both, but generally I miss out. And since my fiance is an MSU fans, it usually turns into some awkward game day happenings. A few years ago I was forced to watch the U-M/UMass game a the East Lansing Bdubs. There are worse things that can happen in life, but most involve lizards eating your legs.
Even simple things like social media aren't fun when you root for your school's rival. Win or lose on gameday, my feeds will be filled with images of Mork Dantonio and whatever QB is playing this week. It is maddening. But I guess I signed up for this when I decided to remain a Wolverine.
Were there times when I considered changing my allegiance? Not really. The closest I came was after the Rodriguez debacle. I was team RichRod, and after his firing briefly considered making life easier and giving up football or casually cheering for MSU with my family and firends. Emphasis on briefly. I put up with the Horror, the basketball sanctions, Brian Ellerbee and Mike DeBord. That and the mere thought of giving up Michigan for MSU turned my stomach.
So here's to Michigan hopefully making my Saturday/Weekend/Week/Month better by getting a win on Saturday. If not I'm going to hear about from every direction.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to return to ignoring my Facebook feed which is full of YouTube videos about how I'm not allowed to root for Michigan and that I'm a Wal-Mart Wolverine. Fuck that. Go Blue.