On Saturday afternoon, I covered a game in one of the true temples in America sports: Memorial Stadium, home to the University of Nebraska football team. There were 90,614 souls there, the 330th consecutive sellout in the ever-expanding venue. Some 6,000 seats were added prior to this season, part of a $63.5-million upgrade.
Meanwhile, Fury spent that same day – I’m assuming – glued to a web feed, a ham radio or a Morse code translator in order to follow his beloved St. John’s Johnnies in their rivalry contest against the dreaded St. Thomas Tommies. Juco transfer or not, Fury is a Johnny for life. His knowledge and passion is completely legit.
Lincoln and Collegeville are examples of why college football is so successful: Some love it for the sheer magnitude and excellence and others buy in because it’s theirs. Both lines of reasoning seem plenty sound and can be traced back to feeling a genuine sense of loyalty to a school, be it a major NCAA Division I power or a quaint Division III outfit.
So where did I go wrong?
I attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., a private D-III school in a three-school metro area. I graduated in four years – with honors, somehow – and landed a full-time job well before graduation. I met a bunch of great people, including my wife – we got married on the picturesque campus. I still think highly of several of professors.
Yet I don’t feel any real connection to it. I haven’t been to an alumni event. I don’t follow the sports scores. I don’t buy my kids Cobbers gear or try to pique their interest in the place. I’ll occasionally flip through the quarterly magazine that shows up in the mail – it was cool to find out that Bill Gates spoke there in May. And I haven’t made any donations.
As much as I’d like to claim otherwise, I’ve come to the realization that the financial component might be a part of the disconnect. It took me about 10 years to pay off my student loans even though: A) my parents had saved some money in advance, B) I earned the top academic scholarship given by the school and C) I worked all the way through school. To be clear, I’m not complaining – I knew what I was getting into, having chosen to pursue a non-lucrative field coming out of an expensive institution.
My wife – a teacher – is still repaying her loans, having put them on hold to attend and finish grad school.
Maybe I’ll feel differently when we’re all square, but that seems unlikely. If I felt strongly about supporting my school, I’d find a way to do so now just as I have with certain charities or my daily cup of coffee.
To be clear, I don’t fault Concordia – not in the least. Nor am I bitter; I genuinely enjoyed the experience and don’t have any regrets about going there, a decision I didn’t make until the last month of high school. (Prior to that, I was heading to the business school at the University of Minnesota and a very different life path.) No, this is a me problem – if it’s a problem at all.
I don’t feel like I’m missing anything on those crisp Saturday afternoons by not being emotionally connected to my alma matter. (I suppose you could say that I do not want what I have not got.) Instead, I find myself looking around and wondering why others do feel such a sense of connection. Are they genuinely stoked on their experience with that school? Are they mostly invested because of the sports scene? Maybe they’re just going along with what’s expected of them?
Clearly, millions of people feel there is something to be gained from being true to their school. That’s evident every fall Saturday.