A victory by Wisconsin would thankfully put an end to the insufferable swagger that Mr. Khakipants has restored in Ann Arbor.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines leads his team onto the field before a game on September 10.PHOTO: DAVE REGINEK/GETTY IMAGES
There are a lot of reasons I want—no, I need—my Wisconsin Badgers to defeat the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines in football Saturday. The most obvious reason is that I graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, unequivocally regarded as the planet’s finest institution of higher learning and bratwurst (sorry, you Harvard/Stanford losers). A victory in Ann Arbor would make Wisconsin a perfect 5-0, and two weeks later, in Madison, when they crush Ohio State and its tetchy coach, Urban Meyer, the Badgers will have a clear track to a spot in college football’s daffy new playoff system.
But the main reason I need Wisconsin to beat Michigan is simple:
I can’t stand Michigan. I’m sorry.
I want to be clear: I mean the college, not the state. I love the state of Michigan. And Michigan State. Sparty, you guys are cool. And nice hat.
I mean the University of Michigan. Harbaughtown. The dreaded Wolverines.
You have to understand: my employer, The Wall Street Journal, reeks of Wolverine. Absolutely reeks. I’d say a solid three-quarters of the people I’ve worked with in the Journal sports department went to Michigan. At one point, my editor, my editor’s editor, and my editor’s editor’s editor were all Michigan people. One of the paper’s most senior editors is a Wolverine. I don’t even ask where the interns come from anymore.
And I’m telling you, it makes a lonely Badger feel invisible. The Journal Wolverines have secret handshakes and inside jokes and a monthly midnight meeting in the newsroom, where they talk about how awesome Ann Arbor was, how handsome Tom Brady is, and laugh as they read from a list of people they know who didn’t get into Michigan. On Fridays before big games, they show up to meetings wearing blue and yellow—oh, I’m sorry, maize—face paint. They hum the Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” in the elevator. They speak their own language: Schembechler.
I know you think my dislike of Michigan is irrational. Of course it’s irrational. What college sports hatred is ever rational?
OK, Duke. It’s rational to hate Duke.
Michigan people at the Journal became impossible last year when you-know-who came to town. Mr. Khakipants. You have probably heard Michigan is paying its former quarterback turned superstar coach, Jim Harbaugh, close to $600 million per season. I hear it is actually closer to $850 million, with a two-billion dollar bonus if he shuts out Ohio State. Harbaugh also gets nine private jets, three dozen chauffeured Chrysler 300s, two rocket ships, a Mars rover, a hot air balloon, a pogo stick and a pony of his choice. I even hear that Harbaugh’s khakis now cost as much as $11.
The Wisconsin Badgers will play Michigan in Ann Arbor this Saturday for the first time since 2010. PHOTO:ASSOCIATED PRESS
But these Wolverines at the Journal, they think it’s worth every penny. Harbaughmania—you may remember I wandered around Ann Arbor dressed as the guy almost two ago—has made Michigan football relevant again. The first part of the decade was easy around here—Michigan football stank up the Big House, barely won a thing, cycled through 27 head coaches, and were out of the national conversation by the first weekend of October. As the Badgers played meaningful games on TV, the Michigan people I knew went rock-climbing and antiquing on Saturdays. They were humbled. It was the best.
Mr. Khakipants has changed all this. Harbaugh already has Michigan in the Top 4, and even though it’s September, the Wolverines can’t help but daydream of a revenge victory against Ohio State, a Big Ten championship, a college playoff and a potential national championship. There’s a return of that old Michigan “We’ve Won More Games in College Football History Than Anybody” confidence. That annoying swagger.
Wisconsin folks, we recognize this swagger. When I was at Madison, in the early 15th century, Michigan was a juggernaut at pretty much everything. And while the Badgers theoretically have a regional rivalry with Minnesota, beating big old Michigan is really the thing. We haven’t done it a lot. Wisconsin has gone 14-49-1 versus Michigan in its football history, though they’ve won three of the last five in the past decade.
But you want to know the thing that really makes me nuts? Here’s what Michigan people think about Wisconsin: They don’t think about us at all.
The Wolverines have a zillion rivals; a Badger game is nothing to them compared to an Ohio State game, or playing Notre Dame or Sparty or just sitting around talking about how great the Fab Five were. Even if the Badgers have caught up in recent decades, Wisconsin people still look at Michigan as a Death Star. But Michigan people look at us like we’re someone they met in the grocery store once 10 years ago.
Oh, you. Hi.
Now don’t ask me if I’m jealous because I didn’t have the stuff to get into Michigan. Of course I didn’t have the stuff to get into Michigan. I’m certain that today I couldn’t get into Wisconsin, buddy. I’m still convinced my acceptance was an accident.
But I was lucky to get in, and I’ll be Wisconsin until the end. And my Badger friends are my friends for life, because Badgers are the best. Badgers will help you move on a Sunday. Badgers will watch your dog—for a year. Badgers will let you sleep on their sofa, no questions asked. The sofa might be outside on the front porch, and have been there since the Carter administration, but they’ll let you sleep on it.
And a Badger always gets the first round. And the last round. And then one more round after the last round.
Michigan? Look, I know it’s a really good school, and hard to get into, and they’re really smart, but Michigan people think they’re kind of…fancy. They almost think they’re as fancy as Northwestern people. I said almost.
So I’m begging the Badgers to get the job done on Saturday, in the Big House, before a 100,000 people and Mr. Khakipants himself. I want Wisconsin to ruin a Wolverine dream season, whomp Ohio State and run all the way to the National College Football Playoff Dance Party Jamboree or whatever they call that thing. But honestly I’ll just take the win over Michigan. I really want to rub it in at work.