Thursday, January 09, 2003

Nature vs. Nurture vs. Nurture/ Badgers, Gophers, or Sioux?

What determines what college hockey team a man roots for? There are some who claim that it is innate. You were literally born to be a fan of a particular team. Other believe that environment and conditioning are the determining factors. Where you grew up or where you went to school lead you to support one team over another.

I have to confess, much to my chagrin, that I was born in the state of Wisconsin. Less than a year later I had moved to Minnesota and have spent the last thirty three years of my life trying to erase the scarlet W which I bear as a mark of shame. I am happy to report that despite my being born a Badger and despite my father's family connection there I am in no way shape or form a Badger fan. In fact I despise the Badgers and their obnoxious red clad fans.

My move to Minnesota and in particular to the Western suburbs of Minneapolis brought with it my being raised to be a fan of Minnesota sports teams including the Vikings, Twins, North Stars, and also following the University of Minnesota since it was the nearest school with major sports programs. I can recall watching Gopher hockey games in the then unfinished basement of our house on a black and white television while I attempted to shoot tennis balls into a box in an effort to emulate the guys in the maroon and gold sweaters. I didn't get a chance to attend many games at the old Mariucci Arena but I followed the Gopher pucksters on the radio and in the rare occasions when their games were broadcast on TV. In other words I grew up a Gopher hockey fan.

When the time came for me to attend college I used two criteria to make my decision on schools; it had to have an offensive nickname and a good hockey program. I was actually leaning towards Bemidji State until someone explained that my interpretation of the school's nickname was not accurate. With no where else to turn I picked the University of North Dakota and Grand Forks. Which probably should be the motto of the town since I can't imagine anyone choosing to live there as their first option. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that as a student at UND I was able to attend all home hockey games at the then Engelstad, later changed to Winter, Arena for free (today the Sioux play in a state of the art facility once again bearing Engelstad's name). Technically it wasn't free since the admission was included as part of the fees that the school charged but since you had no choice but to pay the fees and since you didn't have to shell out precious drinking money at the gate it seemed a God send to a destitute student like myself.

And I did have some great times at the games. Probably some greater times at the parties afterwards. The atmosphere in the building was amazing as nearly half the seats were reserved for students, who, when the Sioux were in the hunt, would show up drunk and behave obnoxiously. Over two thousand drunk college students can be pretty damn obnoxious. And pretty damn loud. When the Gophers were in town the ice would be littered with dead gopher carcasses, most shot in the summer, bagged, and stored in freezers waiting for the big Gopher series. One night against Wisconsin I either had too way too much to drink and was hallucinating or I actually saw someone pull a dead badger out of their coat and hurl it to the ice. Where do you get a dead badger anyway? I was fearful of what could happen when the St. Cloud State Huskies came to town.

I also saw some great hockey and great hockey players. My first year at UND the Sioux won the national championship with a team led by Tony Hrkac and Ed Belfour among others. But it just wasn't the same. Maybe it was the fact that at that time most of the team was Canadian or maybe the Gopher logo that had been imprinted on me was just too large but I could not adopt the Sioux as my team. Sure when they played Wisconsin or CC I'd be cheering for the Sioux but when the Gophers came to town my true colors would show. Maroon and gold. Under my jacket of course as flagging colors like that at a Gopher/Sioux game in Grand Forks is a sure invitation to threats of all sorts involving dead gophers and certain parts of your anatomy that you'd normally like to remain free of obstructions.

Now if the Sioux are vying for a national championship and the Gophers are working on their golf swings I'm pulling for the green and white. But come Friday when the two squads meet for the first time in the WCHA regular season my sympathies will lie with the team I grew up with.

Born a Badger, raised a Gopher, matriculated a Sioux. Give this one to nurture I guess.

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