This past Saturday I grew up. I didn’t do this in the physical or even really the figurative sense of the word, but I officially let go of something that defined my childhood. This transformation occurred at – of all places – Ryan Field.
I grew up a die-hard Michigan fan. You could walk into my room and see Wolverine memorabilia hanging on the walls: a photo of Desmond Howard’s iconic fourth down catch against Notre Dame in 1991, the famous shot of Desmond striking the Heisman pose in 1991 and a signed picture of Braylon Edwards’ leaping grab over a Michigan State defender in 2004 were just a few relics adorning my gold walls. My curtains were even blue and yellow. Yes, I was a bit obsessed.
Then I decided to attend Northwestern. Suddenly, I was faced with a dilemma: would I be loyal to the team of my childhood or my alma mater, both of whom were members of the Big Ten? Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ve probably dealt with something similar upon your arrival to college. At its core, the debate is how much you should hang on to the past and to what degree you should develop a new identity.
My predicament may sound trivial, but it was of upmost importance to my family, which bleeds maize and blue. With several Wolverine alumni among my relatives, I knew that a possible decision to support Northwestern over its Big Ten rival could get me kicked out of the family (or worse). I’m not kidding when I say we’re serious, either: when I informed my family of my decision to support the Wildcats over the Wolverines, they hurled all sorts of synonyms for the word “traitor” at me, relentlessly attempting to convince me to come back to the maize and blue.
Although treason was probably the worst accusation I have dealt with so far, football season brings a host of subtle jabs at my Northwestern fanhood. Though my grandparents, for example, both profess to root for Northwestern, they always preface every “Go ‘Cats” with something along the lines of “but Go Blue more,” occasionally in ALL-CAPS from my grandma. Even through texts, I can imagine her giving the obligatory nod of Northwestern approval coupled with a loud, rousing rendition of Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors” and a “Go Blue!” to cap it all off.
Needless to say, my family is not jumping ship from Michigan to Northwestern with me.
When I adopted Northwestern as my new favorite team, I was not truthfully expecting impeachment from my family, but I was still hesitant as I removed the Michigan rug and replaced it with a similar Northwestern one. As I took down some of the Michigan memorabilia, I felt like I was finally letting go of my childhood years. I was removing from my personal space a dominant theme of my pre-college years.
On Oct. 8, I finally received my wish – or perhaps my worst nightmare. Finally, the school I so passionately supported throughout my first 17-plus years of my life, the team that served as my Bar Mitzvah celebration theme in eighth grade and the same team that donned my homemade Valentine’s Day cards in fifth grade, would meet my adopted college team. It was the coming together of the two phases in my life.
Game day finally came. I have to admit, I was nervous. Though I was sporting a purple sweater vest and tie (“The Morty”) – my usual Northwestern game attire – I still felt conflicted. I saw Michigan fans walking around and felt like Fredo from The Godfather. Luckily, I did not find myself alone in a boat in Lake Michigan with a Wolverine fan later that night.
Had I betrayed my former brethren? Perhaps my kin would agree, but as I walked into the stadium and sat among my fellow purple-clad students, I felt the last ounces of maize and blue blood dripping out of me and being replaced by a deep purple. Looking across Ryan Field to the Michigan side of the stadium, I could no longer identify with the Wolverines. If I had doubts before the game or any unconscious urges to join in cheers of “Let’s Go Blue,” those feelings disappeared when the Wildcats stormed out of the tunnel onto the field. It was that same tingly, wonderful emotion I used to experience when I watched the Wolverines take the field at Michigan Stadium and touch the famous “M Club Supports You” banner: a mix of chills, anticipation and awe at the great tradition I was witnessing.
It was a weird feeling knowing that, had I attended this same match up a couple years ago, I would have been sitting on the other side of the stadium. However, I had no qualms about my decision, even as the Wolverines took control. I may have been a die-hard Michigan fan when I was five years old, during my senior year of high school and, even now, still cheer for the Wolverines every other Saturday, but I am now part of something more significant than my own roots. For that reason, I was behind the ‘Cats all the way as they took on Michigan.
Changing allegiances from the most successful college football program of all time to one of the most tortured programs in history is like dumping the love of your life, who also happens to be a supermodel, for another girl (this time definitely not a supermodel) that teases you relentlessly every Saturday but never really comes through. For me, it doesn’t matter how sexy Michigan’s program, history and uniforms are. I’ve officially made the conversion from Wolverine to Wildcat.
Even though I was raised in a sea of maize and blue, purple feels right.