Feel free to take me to task for boasting about Ohio State football this year. My prediction was that the Buckeyes would pick up nine or ten wins and that last season’s scandal and the loss of coach Jim Tressel wouldn’t have an effect. At 3-2, right now ten wins appear a long shot.
Maybe it’s just a matter of adjusting to a new coach and losing players to the NFL. Still, Ohio State’s game so far seems about as misdirected as a Tony Romo pass. But at least fans have the option of cheering on their conference.
“I'm cheering for the Big Ten,” was something I heard the last few seasons from fans of the Michigan Wolverines, whose mediocre play probably made Blue fans want to crawl under a red rock. But today, Michigan stands at #12 in the AP Poll and OSU is struggling to stay at .500 facing #14 Nebraska this weekend. And across Lake Michigan, Badgers fans won’t shut up about Bucky and Wisconsin going to #4.
Last time (and perhaps the only time) Ohio State fans I know set aside their trash talk to cheer “Big Ten!” was the week straddling the 2011 New Year. Fans of Purdue, Indiana and Iowa visibly did the same, cheering for their in-season rivals. Plus, the ESPN Radio guys in Chicago talked all week about "Big Ten Love", perhaps because of our city’s connection with Illinois and Northwestern.
Unfortunately for this temporary Big Ten harmony, it was a bad first week of January, with Wisconsin and Northwestern losing their bowl games narrowly; while Michigan and Michigan State got trounced by SEC teams by more than 5 touchdowns a piece.
I think the growth of the Big Ten beyond ten teams may have something to do with it, but I also think that courteous and neighborly Midwesternism makes the college football fans west of the Allegheny Mountains root for the conference as a whole.
So, it must be a Midwestern thing, this cordial approach to spectating, or sports philandering as I call it.
For example, I know plenty of St Louis Cardinals fans here who follow the Cubs and state they hope the Cubs do well during baseball’s regular season. This makes no sense since the Cards and Cubs compete in the same division. Brewers fans do this too, so this friendly sentiment could be --for all I know-- some sort of Great Lakes mind trick.
"My team stinks. I'm cheering for the conference".
And last winter I remember Bears fans cheering vocally for the Vikings. This NFC North tryst, however, was solely the pleasure-seeking type of philandering; since a loss for the Eagles in Week 16 meant a playoff bye and a week of rest for the Bears.
Just the same, Bears fans I know usually enjoy the trip up to chilly Lambeau. On the way back from a game against the Packers, they’ll usually hit the Brat Stop to pick up some Wisconsin cheese curds on the way. Yet, I’d be hard-pressed to think that Eagles fans in Dallas would stay an extra half-day to shop at the original Neiman Marcus.
My original home base of Philly is a big sports town, where Big Five basketball is king. Made up of Penn, Temple, Villanova, LaSalle and St. Joseph’s University, it’s an unofficial cohort of teams spread throughout several conferences.
When Big 5 teams play each other the there’s no love lost for sure. During the “Holy War” basketball matchup, fans of Villanova and St. Joe’s don’t take communion together. Just the same, don’t expect Penn State fans to cheer for Pitt in any sport. Unless Pitt is playing the Washington Redskins, there’s little chance anyone along the Schuylkill River is cheering “Go Panthers”.
“People in the Midwest are just nicer,” I’m told. As a Philadelphian, I’m not sure what “be nice to people” means, but I don’t think that totally explains it.
One thought recently came to mind at the graveyard where my late father-in-law is buried. I remember Doug as a great guy who loved life, barbeque, golf, and college football. Another thing he loved was Ohio State Buckeyes football. And he didn’t hate Michigan either.
During that short visit, I saw gravestones displaying the Ohio State Buckeye, and others bearing emblems of Michigan State, Miami U, the Cincinnati Reds, and more. There were a few with Bengals stripes, the Steelers logo and Chief Wahoo, not to mention the local Centerville High School Elks crest.
Maybe it’s this: That fans in the Midwest love sports and feel secure enough in their fandom not only to take it to the grave, but also to share a little affection while living. And if that’s the case, it’s not philandering but free love.
Andy Frye tweets throughout the day on Twitter at @MySportsComplex and plans someday to follow sports from the grave. Keep on playin’ playa’.
Words and pics © 2011.