It’s the holiday season, and one of the most famous holiday movies of all-time is It’s a Wonderful Life. In this movie, down on his luck George Bailey gets to see what his life would have been like if he was never born. It ends with him realizing how important he was to so many people. This post is exactly like that, except it’s about my college football fandom.
The earliest memories I have of college football were of some vague Notre Dame teams of the early 1990s (think Rick Mirer) and Wisconsin making the Rose Bowl in 1994 for the first time in 30 years. After that it was 1995 Northwestern Wildcats going to the Rose Bowl out of nowhere. After that, my college fandom slowly started to grow. I was aware of Charles Woodson during his Heisman wining season, and I definitely remember watching Michael Vick in the BCS National Championship after the 2000 season. It was around then that I really enjoyed Nebraska QB Eric Crouch and the triple option attach of Nebraska.
Growing up in the midwest, there were of course Big Ten schools on my radar when it was time for college1. In the end, I chose an off-the-radar, tiny, Division III school with not much athletic prowess. As my love for college football grew and grew, I knew I needed to hone in on one team to root for. Being from the Chicago area, Northwestern was the obvious option geographically. My dad2 was also from a small school and had rooting interest in the Wildcats as well as Illinois for geographical reasons. I remember watching a lot of Illini basketball when I was younger, but not as much football.
Nebrasksa was coming off some rough seasons and had just hired Bill Callahan who was going to install a new system that wasn’t the triple option, so my interest there had slipped. If I had wanted to go straight bandwagon the Miami Hurricanes, Oklahoma Sooners or USC Trojans made a lot of sense. I knew that isn’t what I wanted though. Instead I looked at the programs who I knew the most about, who was on TV a lot, and, of course, as a young person, things like uniforms into account. And somehow in that summer of 2004 I became a fan of the Michigan Wolverines. I watched Chad Henne start his first game as a true freshman. I watched this tiny, no name running back named Mike Hart take the Big Ten by storm. I watched Braylon make ridiculous play after ridiculous play. I saw how close they came against Ohio St. in 2006. I was at the Notre Dame/Cincinnati game when texts from a co-worker alerted me that Appalachian St. was hanging around. I watched Lloyd Carr go down in smoke. I high-fived the aforementioned co-worker when Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez and remarked how Michigan would win a National Championship inside of 5 years. I felt like weeping when they “only” hired Brady Hoke. And now, after my 10th season as a hardcore Michigan fan, I wonder if I joined just in time for the death rattle.
It’s interesting to ponder though, how might my college football have been different if I had gone to a school with a football team, any football team. My Michigan fandom began literally in the middle of my college tenure. If I had ended up at [insert Big Ten/MAC school here], would my college football experience have been completely different? (I am obviously aware that rooting for a different team would have led to a different experience, but that’s now what I am getting at). I want to believe that I would have been at every one of my schools’s games, and when I wasn’t, watching every one of their games on TV. Would I have cared as much about the rest of the college football world if I had a team picked for me already?
People who know me would probably say yes, and the might be right. But what if I ended up at a school with a better (or only) a basketball program? Schools like Marquette, DePaul or even Illinois, who’s basketball team was much better in the early 2000s than their football team. Would I be a bigger fan of basketball now?
It’s fun to play the “what if” game, and in this case, there is no regrets about where I went to school, so it’s really just fun. If I had ended up at the University of Wisconsin I could be coming off a heck of a good run the last 5 or so years. If had ended up at Illinois I would probably change the subject from Ron Zook to Deron WIlliams and Dee Brown. One thing is for certain, I most likely wouldn’t be a Michigan fan.