March Madness, hot chocolate, playing with my dogs and ESPN Sportscenter.
For those of you who have yet to meet me, these are just a few things that contribute to a good day in my book. But a new entry wormed its way into my top-10 list of best days ever last Saturday when my beloved Nebraska Huskers defeated the Wisconsin Badgers amongst the Sea of Red in Lincoln, Neb.’s Memorial Stadium. It falls in line just behind the birth of my younger sister, Annie, and the day she was named an All-American in volleyball.
My first admission to the reading area of the Forest Lake Times is that I haven’t always been a football fan. In fact, I even disliked it for the stomach-churning injuries I’d witness while playing drums for Albert Lea’s pep band during our high school games.
When I went to college at the University of Nebraska there was no choice but to be sucked into the Husker football program, as it is the closest thing to a professional sports team the state has. What I didn’t realize until this fall until I’d come home to Minnesota is how attached I’d become to my Nebraska pigskin boys.
I’ll rewind a bit, and shed some light on my personal background with college sports. Growing up in both Albert Lea and St. Paul, I was a Minnesota Gopher fan through and through. My first love was basketball, where my family equated March Madness with the likes of Thanksgiving. We spent many years in “The Barn” sitting courtside next to Fox Sports Net’s Marnie Gellner at the Gopher basketball games. I vividly remember watching players like Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries (yes, the one-and-only Kim Kardashian ex), Kevin Burleson and Michael Bauer control the court an arm’s length from my seat.
My first college-player crush was Michigan State’s big man, Aloysius Anagonye, who also played for one of the more memorable coaches to watch on sideline, Tom Izzo. Put Izzo beside Purdue’s Gene Keady and Texas Tech’s Bobby Knight, it was more than worth the price of admission just to keep your eyes on the opposing bench.
Rambling aside, I hope you’re beginning to understand my point: I grew up in a basketball world, and that world was the Big Ten Conference.
When I first moved to Lincoln, it took some adjustment to become immersed in football, the Big 12 Conference and the rivalries that come with it. I learned to fear Kansas basketball while pitying its football team. While traveling to club volleyball nationals in Dallas, Texas three years ago, numerous vulgar hand gestures were aimed our way throughout Oklahoma. As for the Longhorns? Well, I think only Texas likes Texas.
Two years ago, I felt dismay at the news of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for my “hometown” conference in the north. Now I’d really be torn between cheering for the Huskers and the Gophers during wrestling and volleyball season, not to mention football! I was also concerned with how the Big Ten would welcome Nebraska into its territory, and my biggest fear of all: the battle of the Big Reds, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Last year on Oct. 1, my darkest fears were confirmed when Nebraska traveled to Madison for the very first Big 10 matchup against the Badgers. Aside from wanting to cry after the 48-17 loss (mostly from the bragging rights now granted to my few Madison friends), nearly every person I’d known who had traveled to the game reported an awful experience. Between head injuries from Badgers hurling objects at them, to bartenders spitting in Husker fans’ drinks, my personal rivalry with Wisconsin only deepened. At 10:43 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 (this day is forever marked on my calendar), Nebraska’s quarterback Taylor Martinez took the final knee to return the true Big Red title to its rightful place. Cornhuskers greeted Badger fans into Lincoln with the kindness and respect that should be bestowed upon all sports fans, rivals or not. And you can be assured that I was jumping up and down in my booth at the Chatterbox Pub in St. Paul, wearing my bright-red Husker gear and singing “There is no place like Nebraska,” to the rest of the bar.
P.S. To give you a final answer of when I became a football fan, I think it’s safe to say it was the day I moved to Lincoln.