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Column: Being a Michigan fan at MSU goes beyond the gridiron

October 16, 2018

Editor's note: This column was first published by The State News Oct. 16, 2016.

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The Michigan State-University of Michigan rivalry is arguably one of the biggest rivalries in sports, academics and anything else within the state.

There’s very little love lost between the fans and students of the two universities, causing a lot of bad blood.

I just happen to be stuck in the middle of it, and the split isn’t because I go to MSU.

It isn’t because half of my mom’s side of the family attended or is a fan of MSU, while the other half is all in for U-M.

It’s not because most of dad’s side bleeds maize and blue, and it's hardly because some of my cousins attend U-M and some attend MSU.

It’s mostly because of me.

I spent the majority of my life in Dexter, Mich. — just down the road from Ann Arbor — where if you root for MSU, most of the time you get a terribly dirty look.

There’s a decent amount of MSU fans and alumni inhabiting the city, but for the most part, it’s maize-and-blue country.

But that’s not why I still stay loyal to the block M, to the leaders and the best and the victors valiant.

Growing up in the U-M friendly city isn’t why I stay loyal to the school that’s most hated on campus in East Lansing.

Rather, it’s because my roots of being a U-M fan are literally sewn into me.

At the age of six days, I had heart surgery and more specifically, the transposition of the great arteries.

In brief terms, when I was born my face was blue and doctors had to switch my arteries around to make sure I could breathe oxygen through my arteries correctly.

The people who performed this surgery were the doctors at C.S. Mott’s Children's Hospital, which is part of U-M’s Health System.

What remains of the surgery is a huge scar that goes straight down my chest. It forms a zipper, or in better terms, it's as if they sewed my chest back together — which they did.

As a result of the surgery, I can’t play any contact sports, including football and hockey, which results in having to force my friends and peers to play touch football instead of tackle, when everybody wanted to dig each other into the dirt.

Currently, that doesn’t matter, but back then it was heartbreaking that the procedure prevented me from fitting in with my peers in elementary school.

It hurt that I couldn’t be like my friends and play Dexter youth football, and instead had to sit in the stands while my little brother played freely without any limitations.

Every annual appointment I had with my pediatric cardiologist Dr. Dennis Crowley when I was younger, I had hope he would give the green light that I could play contact sports.

But after years of asking and asking, I eventually came to the realization that playing major contact sports would never happen.

At that same time, I realized trying to fit in doesn’t matter either.

I realized having several scars on my chest and not being able to play contact sports makes me more unique than the average person, and I should embrace that uniqueness.

This is where the roots of my U-M fandom grew.

However, it should go without saying I’m still an MSU fan, just like the people who attend this university. I mean, I spent four years of my life in East Lansing, and bought my first legal drink here. 

But being a U-M and MSU fan has slightly tarnished the rivalry for me. The hatred I once had for MSU doesn’t exist anymore. The type of joy I felt when Michigan football finally beat MSU in 2012 after losing four straight is unfamiliar to me as well. 

Having now been on both sides of the rivalry, I can see why both sides hate each other.

For U-M fans, it’s the fact MSU fans boast they’re so superior in football, yet other than the last eight years and the time span of 1950-69, U-M football has been dominant in this series.

For MSU fans, it’s the arrogance that comes from U-M students and the people of Ann Arbor, and how they feel disrespected by members of U-M. The little brother comment from former U-M running back Mike Hart doesn't help, either.

And those damn Walmart Wolverines, even they occasionally piss me off.

In the end, I end up repping the colors of whatever team wins. I can’t hate one side, as when the famous 27-23 happened, I was excited on the inside while my friend was in total surrender cobra.

Then three weeks later in that same basement, I stormed in and threw a tantrum after watching what I thought was horrendous officiating in MSU’s lone regular-season loss last season against Nebraska, while wearing my U-M shirt.

Yes, it makes me a terrible fan.

It makes for some conflicting arguments, usually ending up with friends yelling at me, “You can’t talk, you root for both sides. You’re not a real fan. You’re a traitor.”

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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