Early College Football Memories
I was born in the Chicago suburbs in the mid ’80s. I remember going to White Sox games, watching the Chicago Bears and and eventually the NBA champion Bulls teams of the early ’90s. I don’t really remember watching college football, although I am sure I did with my dad at some point. I vaguely remember Raghib “Rocket” Ismail of the early 90′s Notre Dame teams, but the first real memory I have is Wisconsin making the Rose Bowl in 1993, 31 years after their previous one. I had no idea at the time what the Rose Bowl was, or why it was significant that the Badgers had made it.
I remember Northwestern making it to the Rose Bowl in 1996, although I had never heard of Northwestern prior to that season. My family had a big party for that game too. I remember watching Charles Woodson play at Michigan, but the first time I feel like I really watched any college football was around 1999, when Michael Vick took the Virginia Tech Hokies to the BCS National Championship in the Sugar Bowl, a game I remember watching.
Becoming a College Football Fan
My dad went to a college without a Division 1-A football program so he didn’t have any allegiances other than geographic ones1. I also went to a school without a Division 1-A program, so I didn’t have any preconceived allegiances. I started watching college football far more regularly during college, mostly due to the fact that during the day on Saturdays were usually spent just laying around. Michigan was on frequently in the midwest and I a remember watching them, but don’t recall being a “fan” immediately.
I loved the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the time. Mostly because I loved watching teams run the option, and at that time Nebraska was one of the best. I loved Eric Crouch, and he remains one of my all-time favorite players. I still have a bunch of video clips of his on my computer, including an amazing 94-yard touchdown scramble, a double reverse throwback to Crouch for a TD and a play where he drops his shoulder and flattens a Missouri linebacker. I remember Crouch winning the Heisman, Nebraska losing the Big 12 title game but still playing for, and losing, the National Championship.
I don’t remember exactly when I started following Michigan. I vividly remember parts of the 2004 season, Chad Henne getting the opening day start as a true freshman, Braylon’s monster game in triple overtime against Michigan St. and the way Vince Young made a 38-37 win in the Rose Bowl look like the score was 45-10. I remember bits about the 2003 season, including Chris Perry’s 51 carry game and finishing 4th in the Heisman voting, but not much else. So I am convinced that it was sometime between the start of the 2003 season and the middle of the 2004 season that I officially became a Michigan fan.
As far as what drew me to the Wolverines, it’s pretty much what you would expect. The fight song, the uniforms, the history, the midwest ties, the Big 10 and most importantly, the fact that they were on TV pretty much every week. I didn’t know a lot about pre-’90s Michigan, but I knew lots of names from ’90s (even though I never really remember watching): Howard, Grbac, Biakabatuka, Wheatley, Woodson, Streets, Brady, Henson, A-Train, Hutchinson, Terell, Walker, Askew.
I definitely remember studying the 2005 Michigan team, especially thanks to NCAA Football 06. By then I was knee-deep in college football, and especially Michigan. I remember watching Braylon play out his final season. I remember watching Texas and USC play for the National Championship in what is probably the greatest game I ever watched live. I got to enjoy the 2006 run that had National Championship written all over it, before losing as the #2 team in Columbus to the #1 Buckeyes.
I was at the Notre Dame/Georgia Tech game in 2007 when my friend informed me via TXT message of The Horror. I followed the coaching search that brought Rich Rodriguez in. I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe Michigan had lured him, and that they would win a National Championship within 5 years. I remember thinking that 3 years was too soon to give up on him. I remember thinking Brady Hoke was a joke of a selection. But I am not an alum, so maybe I don’t get the traditions.
Now Michigan is the only team I truly root for. I still wish well for Northwestern, except when they play Michigan, and even had Wildcat season tickets for a few years. During the recent lean years for the Wolverines I have not been against success for Northwestern or Illinois, but when2 Michigan returns to glory, that’s the only place my loyalty lies.
I get asked often if I went to Michigan, or if my dad did. People are always curious how I became a Michigan fan. The reality is that it was very similar to how elementary school kids end up being fans of certain teams, cool uniforms and wins. Sometimes I feel dirty because I grew up within 100 miles of two Big Ten programs, and Chicago is probably closer to Purdue, Michigan St., University of Wisconsin and University of Iowa. And yet I passed up those 8 programs for the winningest program in college history. A program with 11 national titles, 42 conference titles, 3 Heisman winners, a President of the United States, the biggest crowds in the country. A program that is part of arguably the greatest rivalry in sports with the most famous helmet and amazing fight song.
I can only hope my loyal and dedication through the lean years, as well as my proven track record as a sports fan helps people from calling be a bandwagoner.