A school of split loyalties

Wade Askew

A year ago when Ohio State came to Evanston to play Northwestern, Ryan Field seemed less of an on-campus stadium and more of an impartial host to a neutral-site game, much akin to Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium for the annual Georgia/Florida matchup or the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma.

I remember being both awestruck and horrified that NU fans only made up only half of the sellout crowd that November night – and half is a very generous estimate. But even more than the sheer number of Buckeye fans who flipped NU’s home-field advantage on its head, I was disgusted by the fact that a small pocket of NU students in the bottom corner of the student section were proudly wearing their Troy Smith, Anthony Gonzalez and Ted Ginn Jr. jerseys while proudly completing the infamous “O-H-I-O” cheer that travelled around our very own stadium.

Let’s face it: not too many kids grow up purple-bleeding Wildcats. Not only do we have a relatively tiny number of alumni around the country (undergraduate enrollment at NU: 7,826; fall 2006 at OSU: 45,417), but we also don’t tend to pick up the average college football fan who simply latches onto a team.

So we’re left with a fan base largely made up of people like myself.

I grew up a diehard fan of the University of Georgia but for some odd reason decided to pay a ridiculous sum of money to go to school 1,000 miles away from my beloved South, including its home-cookin’, unparalleled hospitality, wholesome values, warmth – both literal and figurative – and abundance of beautiful women to admire (Kirk Herbstreit ranked UGA No. 1 in the country for most attractive co-eds). I guess what I’m trying to say is I left paradise, and I’m not quite sure why.

Anyways, both my parents went to UGA, as did one of my aunts, and I spent fall Saturdays between the ages of six and 17 in Athens since my dad is a 29-year season-ticket holder. My mom was a UGA cheerleader in her day – a connection that once enabled me to walk on the Sanford Stadium grass on game day, pet UGA, the world’s greatest mascot, and shake the hand of legendary coach Vince Dooley, thus prompting the proclamation, “I will never wash this hand again.”

For the record, after a couple days of bathing with a shower cap attached to my right hand, I relented and washed my hand. I was about eight years old at the time.

One of my happiest Christmas memories involved receiving a complete Georgia uniform, plastic helmet included, and promptly suiting up to play football with my father in the front yard at the age of six.

By the time I was roughly seven I could correct fans around me in Sanford Stadium on starters’ numbers and positions, and not too long after that I could recite the depth chart four-deep.

Still can. Try me.

I once corrected a Georgia student who, after tossing me a football at the age of nine, said I would be the next Eric Zeier (UGA’s All-American quarterback in 1994) by replying I would be the next Hines Ward (maybe you’ve heard of him and his Super Bowl XL MVP award – he also happened to be UGA’s “Mr. Versatility” from 1995 to 1998).

I remember parading around my fourth-grade classroom with my teacher, Miss Mo, a graduate of UGA, singing the fight song after the Dawgs beat the loathsomely nerdy Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech, wondering if we would finish the song with the kosher lyrics (G-E-O-R-G-I-A) or those that everyone actually sings (and to hell with Georgia Tech!). We went with the former.

I also became familiar with the aroma of hard liquor – particularly bourbon – at a frighteningly young age. Go to any SEC tailgate and you’ll understand why.

So how was I supposed to shed that lifelong devotion to the Dawgs when I came to NU? How was I to fully embrace, out of all things, the color purple? Is it possible for me and many others like me to bleed two colors?

For those unrelenting Ohio State fans in the NU student section a year ago, the answer was clearly “No.”

But for me the task is admittedly easier. Georgia and NU have never played each other and chances are slim that they never will. Games rarely coincide with each other so I can typically rush home from Ryan Field after NU games, change out of my purple tie (always remember the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd: you can take a boy out of ol’ Dixieland, but you’ll never take ol’ Dixie from a boy), and tune in for Georgia football. Just last week I wrote about how the Dawgs’ dramatic overtime victory over Alabama “redeemed” me after watching the Cats get trounced live in Columbus.

So I say “Yes,” we can be what I’d like to call “double-fans.” And it’s a good thing, too, because if we couldn’t NU would have barely any fans at all.

Georgia is the team of my heritage, the team of my family, the team of my roots. It is undeniably a part of who I am.

But I have embraced NU as my very own school that I pour myself into through academics and various student groups, which has created an equally strong bond. It, too, has become a part of my identity.

If push came to shove, I can’t say with much confidence who I’d root for if the two schools met in a bowl game. But I can tell you this much – I wouldn’t enjoy that game.

I would probably just watch it in the same way most NU alumni seem to do at Ryan Field: seated, with neutral colors on and minimal cheering.