Alex Massie


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Matt Zeitlin, a Cal golden Bear soon, I understand, to become a Northwestern Wildcat, is kind enough to say some nice things about my piece on college football.  Nonetheless Mr Zeitlin also says this:

There’s only [one] glaring problem with Massie’s piece - the love for Michigan. I mean, I guess as a Scotsman, he has free ground to pick a team, and one could do worse with Michigan, but one of the most annoying things about college football is how sycophantic the media is toward old, established, mostly Midwestern teams. Michigan isn’t the best example, Notre Dame is.

This is true. In 1996 I was a student at Trinity College, Dublin when Notre Dame played Navy at Croke Park. I supported Navy that day (though I didn't go to the game) and nothing I have learnt about Notre Dame since has persuaded me that I backed the wrong horse back then. As one of my Michigan-minded friends would put it, "I respect Ohio State; I hate Notre Dame". Me too.

I've never actually seen a Michigan-Notre Dame game in person, alas. I was supposed to go to the 2005 edition but work commitments (or something) prevented it, ensuring that my only contribution to the festivities was to suggest that the Red Hand of Ulster should be flown at my pals' tailgate. Ah, sporting sectarianism, how sweet it can be! Alas, few of the visiting "Irish" got the joke.

It's often said that the definition of intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing opinions simultaneously. Perhaps so. But the Notre Dame fanbase specialises in clinging to a brace of emotions, namely paranoia and entitlement. This is a caustic and unhealthy mix prejudicial to sound mental health. Also, their "Touchdown Jesus" schtick has always seemed blasphemous to this lapsed presbyterian...

Not that Michigan is perfect. Indeed not. the Wolverines have flattered only to deceive too often. One national championship in 60 years tells its own story. (And that shared thanks to Phil Fuckin' Fulmer's aberrant voting). Ditto the repeated Rose Bowl let-downs. But what can I say? As Johnny puts it, "Some people are prone to self-loathing, nostalgia, and hopeless, mythic romanticism." That's the Michigan way. An under-performing powerhouse. That's possibly also why, when it comes to Scottish football, I'm a Hearts fan. (And, in England, a Spurs supporter). When my friend Mike recruited me to the Wolverine cause, I had no idea that it would prove such a good fit.

When you're a Michigan fan, even in the good times, you kind of always suspect that fate is lurking around the corner, armed with the lead piping. Even worse, you often kind of think the resultant clunking is sort of deserved.

The other thing about college football, of course, is that it is parceled out in four or five year doses. My time in America more or less coincided with Chad Henne, Jake Long and, most especially, Mike Hart's time at Michigan. And we parcel our live out - or at least I do mine - in four to five year packages: high school, university, first job etc etc. In that sense, perhaps we also parcel out our lives in tune with the college football cycle. There's a natural rhythm to these things and I wonder if there's anything to this. Perhaps not; perhaps this is balderdash. I don't know.

What I do know is that Saturday's loss to Utah was neither unexpected nor the end of the world. Growing pains are inevitable when you lose your top two quarterbacks, your best pair of receivers, your running back and most of the offensive line and you're trying to implement an entirely new philosopical concept as to how football should be played.... Patience will be required. Growing pains. Just, please god, beat Notre Dame in a fortnight's time...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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