I'm from Michigan.
I don't think I've ever said that in the some-odd weeks, months (years? Jesus.) I've been writing here. There was never a need to, and anyway I didn't want to invite the territorial vitriol that might accompany such an admission among you lot. The state of Michigan, and the sports teams contained within, inspire strong feelings from other places throughout Big Ten country. I get that, and I'd rather just talk about Wisconsin with you guys.
Today, I need to tell you that I'm a Michigander, however, so that you understand that I'm an outsider to this Minnesota-Wisconsin feud. I ought to be biased, I suppose, but I was indoctrinated post natum and I never saw the rivalry reach fever pitch, in large part because it hasn't been particularly competitive since I've been an invested observer. I have met a lot of Wisconsinites and Minnesotans over the years, however, fans on both sides, so I feel qualified to let you in on a dirty secret:
You guys are the same people.
There's a running thread of humble gregariousness, over-politeness and affinity for booze, for starters. The correlation isn't 1:1, individuals are individuals, but it's stronger than anywhere else I have been in this country, and pertains to people from Minnesota and Wisconsin equally. You guys deal with the same devious weather patterns, your states are sparsely populated in the hinterlands and you guys like to do the same stuff as a result. I love you for it. You have saved me from my brooding self innumerable times.
And yet you snipe. Our blog buddies fired the first shots, then Rosin fired back with an olive branch and a message of love that you embraced for about 10 comments in a 50-comment thread. Then the pot shots began. Normal stuff. Something about Rose Bowls and something about national championships. Another thing about your campus, and something about our campus. Rarely anything personal, because the same tropes apply to both sides. You're both shouting "Kill Bart!," only one side added a comma.
But aren't we all family? Both teams have staked identities on sound defense and new-age power football. They have the two most endearing head coaches in the league. Gary Andersen smiles, dances, grows mullets and can execute a picture-perfect belly flop, not to mention leave a program with more grace than most can recall. Exaltations to Jerry Kill in national media this week also emphasized the clean-shaven love and passion he has for the game and his players. That love is reciprocated:
"That love that we have for him is we want him to know that everything is going to be fine," Vereen said. "When he was sick, I guess we'll say, I think us having success was so important because we didn't want him to feel rushed, like he was hurting us, like he had to come back as fast as he could. So it's been great to be able to have success. That way, he knows we're going to be OK and he can come back whenever he's fully ready."
On-field success has followed, Andersen easily handling the torch and leading what may be the most complete Wisconsin team in some time (the offense is out-pacing 2011's vaunted iteration, and this season's defense is certainly more stout), Kill leading the Gophers out of the Tim Brewster era to their first BCS top-25 ranking since 2008. Both coaches have had success at every stop, and both are leading programs that figure to be strong for the foreseeable future (Minnesota suffers key, but manageable losses on defense next year and returns EVERY-DAMN-BODY on offense).
This year's game is going to be fun. Next year's too, and probably the game after that. Competitive rivalries are a beautiful thing, especially against guys you like.
Minnesota fans call this "Hate Week"? Fine, if they must. I'd be spiteful too if Wisconsin was on the other side of recent history. But it wouldn't be personal, because that would be downright hypocritical.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
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