Hello. My Name is Bob Rarig, and I am a Michilvania Nittany Wolverine. This is my story.
Like a lot of boys, I developed my early sports allegiances based on whom my dad rooted for. Since my dad never cared about college sports, I was left to find my own allegiances. Since I grew up in south central Pennsylvania, one would think I would be a Penn State fan.
However, I never liked PSU because everyone else loved PSU, but no one could give me a reason why. In retrospect, all they would have had to say was "Joe Pa," and I probably would have caught on.
But they didn't, so I started rooting for Michigan.
1) Because their football helmets were (and are still) awesome.
2) Because PSU fans didn't like Michigan
3) Because Notre Dame fans (the only other college fans you could find where I'm from) seemed to loathe Michigan (and since even the geographical explanation wasn't an option for Notre Dame fans, I thought Notre Dame fans were much dumber than PSU fans).
Since I was 11 at the time, I didn't fully understand how apt a choice I had made. By the time I was 12, I realized that Notre Dame was one of Michigan's greatest rivals and that Michigan was actually really good at football and (then, at least) basketball.
I took a lot of crap in high school for being a Michigan fan, but the 1997 national championship made it all worth it. When I was a senior, the only college I wanted to go to was U of M, but my parents made me apply to other schools, including Penn State. I was accepted to PSU. I was wait-listed and eventually denied by U of M.
Devastated, I went to Penn State to save money while earning my bachelors degree. I never told a soul that I was a Michigan fan except for two of my girlfriends (who just happened to be U of M fans, too).
The first football game I went to was the 1999 PSU vs. Michigan game the week after Minnesota had ruined PSU's bid for a national championship. That was the last year PSU had Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington on defense.
*On a side note, I walked by LaVar Arrington on the sidewalk once during my freshman year, and I'll never forget that he was wearing a black leather jacket that must have taken three cows to make. Dude was huge!*
I distinctly remember my friends getting upset with me when I didn't go nuts when PSU picked off a pass in the end zone to deny Michigan the lead. In a rare moment of smoothness under pressure, I immediately responded, "The way we've played on offense so far, does it really matter?" And they bought it!
They actually stopped cheering for the their defense and started worrying about the offense! Michigan won that game (and hasn't lost to PSU since), and I was more careful in the stands from then on, although it got easier as I started to really love PSU over time.
Despite maintaining my allegiance to U of M, I never really got over getting rejected by the admissions department. I think that that was one of the biggest motivators I had while going into college, and it drove me to an unexpected level of success in the classroom, which gave me the opportunity to go to graduate school.
Having developed an allegiance to Penn State over four years (while not abandoning U of M—I still rooted for Michigan in the games against PSU), I applied to Michigan for grad school simply for the acceptance letter: the one thing missing from my substantial U of M paraphernalia collection.
I had really wanted to go to grad school in California, but once I visited both UC Irvine (where people seemed to be robots) and U of M on recruitment trips, I knew I belonged in Ann Arbor.
Just as my Michigan allegiance (or, more accurately, my PSU hatred) waned over four years in Happy Valley, I thought that I might start abandoning PSU the moment I stepped on campus in Ann Arbor.
Quite the contrary.
My time spent at Penn State remains the best years of my life, and there is an unavoidable bond one has with their alma mater that strengthens over time. I love Ann Arbor; it feels like home and Michigan Stadium is one of my favorite places in the world; but the life of a graduate student is much different than that of an undergrad.
Being a very nostalgic person, I have always loved reliving the best parts of my past, and that now includes cheering for the Nittany Lions. I invited my best PSU friends to Ann Arbor for the PSU vs. Michigan game last year. I wore a Penn State jersey to the game and sat in the student section of the Big House.
My friend Jake asked me, as we were setting up the tailgate, if I would be wearing a U of M jersey if Michigan had the better record. I said yes. Jake wasn't happy to hear the truth but begrudgingly gave me props for the honesty.
I never thought coming to Michigan would involve me going to a game in the big house wearing a Penn State jersey. I would not hesitate to wear the maize and blue into Beaver Stadium—the temporary big house. Some, or perhaps most, would call me a front-runner for cheering for the team with the better shot at a conference or national championship every year when these two teams meet head-to-head.
I can't argue with such an assessment, but I've reached the point where I have no other way of choosing whom to root for in such a scenario. I've been a Wolverine for 15 years and a Nittany Lion for nine.
I earned a degree from both schools. I love them both and won't apologize for it. But no matter whether you're a PSU or U of M fan, you can't argue the fact that I have twice the reason to hate Ohio State and Notre Dame, so it can't be all bad, right?
Coming soon: Redskins to Bengals? and The Team vs. Conference Quandary.