“Michigan,” I whisper.
“HOW CAN YOU BE FOR MICHIGAN? DON’T YOU KNOW ABOUT MICHIGAN? THEY CHOKE! THEY BLOW IT! THEY EAT SOUP ON PLATES BECAUSE THEY’RE AFRAID OF BOWLS! MICHIGAN? WHAT ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF HIPPIE FREAK? YOU—“
“Michigan State?” I whisper.
“But I– dirt bag?
“HOW CAN YOU BE FOR MICHIGAN STATE? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO MICHIGAN STATE?
THEY MAJOR IN BEER! THEY STUDY EARTH SCIENCE! WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CALL IT MOO U.? DUH-UHHH! MOOOO! WHAT ARE YOU, SOME DUMB JOCK? MOOO!”
“OK . . . Michigan,” I swallow.
” . . . Michigan State!”
“Um, I, um, ah . . . ”
‘It’s coming back to me’
I knew this would happen. It happens every year. Who are you for in the big football game? Ours or theirs? Friend or foe? Comrade or traitor?
Kill me. I cannot decide. I attended neither school. I am left out in the cold. If I put on a blue shirt, I am taking sides. If I put on green socks, I am taking sides. Not that I have many green socks. Oh, probably one. I have one of every color . . .
“QUIT STALLING! WHO ARE YOU FOR?”
I wish I had a retort.
I wish I had an alma mater of my own.
I wish . . .
Wait a minute.
I went to college. The big place, with all the buildings. Yes. It’s coming back to me. I went to college. I have an alma mater.
My alma mater is in New York City. My alma mater is Columbia University. At least that’s the last school I went to. And they keep sending me bills. Yes. I have an alma mater.
I will call my alma mater. Right now.
“Columbia sports information,” says the voice on the other end of the phone. “This is Bill.”
(Now, I must confess; I wasn’t much into football while in school. For one thing, in order to get to Columbia’s stadium, you had to take the subway to 215th Street, which was one stop away from the Bronx. I don’t know many people who would do that for a football game. I don’t know many who would do it for $100. But that was then.)
“Hey, hello, Bill,” I say. “Boola-boola. Yeah. Sports information. Good to hear from you. OK. Fellow alumnus. Go Lions, huh? Yeah. So how’s our football team doing, huh?”
“Who is this?” he says.
‘We lost to a toothpaste?’
I tell him. There is a pause.
“You should know then that we’ve lost 24 straight games. We have the second longest losing streak in the country behind Morgan State, which leads us by a few.”
“Really?” I say.
“The national record for consecutive Division 1 losses is 34 by Northwestern,” Bill says. “We are still 10 shy of that.”
“Oh,” I say.
“We play Princeton this weekend. By the way, they tore the old stadium down. We have a new one, in the same spot, called Lawrence A. Wien Stadium. Mr. Wien is an alumnus in real estate. He donated $3 million. Please spell his name right.”
Yep. That’s my school.
Anyhow, this is what I learn from Bill. I learn that while Michigan and Michigan State were trouncing opponents, Columbia was losing to Dartmouth, 41-9. And to Penn, 42-7. And to Colgate, 55-11. Colgate? We lost to a toothpaste?
Our last victory was Oct. 15, 1983. We haven’t won yet in Mr. Wien’s new stadium. And it isn’t so new anymore.
“SO WHO ARE YOU FOR, JERK?”
Who am I for? I will tell you who I am for. I am for Princeton. I am for Morgan State. I am for Colgate and Crest and anybody else my alma mater has to lose to, until they break Northwestern’s record and give us something to be proud of.
After all, a record is a record.
And for all of you who enter Saturday’s big game without a favorite, I suggest you find your own alma mater. Or use mine. We won’t mind. Hop on the subway. Don’t be intimidated. Stand tall. Head up. Chin high.
Tomorrow morning I am not wearing green or white. Or maize or blue. I don’t think I own anything maize, anyhow. Not even a sock.
No. I am wearing my own school’s colors. My alma mater’s colors. Columbia’s colors. I am wearing them proud. I am wearing them true. I am . . .
I am calling Bill.
I forgot what our colors are.