It's Border Battle Week here in Minnesota as the Gophers host the Wisconsin Badgers in the most-played rivalry in all of college football. The game itself has been an annual tradition since the 1890's, but some newer traditions have started since the 1990's; Wisconsin usually wins while Wisconsin fans remind us that not only is their team better, but THEY'RE better. That's right, no fan base I've run into- with the possible exception of Packer fans who, it just so happens, play the Vikings this week and it also just so happens are usually the same people as Wisconsin fans- loves to to gloat more than Badger fans about not just their team, but THEMSELVES.
Yes, it's great to be a Badger fan. Just ask them, they'll tell you. They have a GREAT program, a GREAT stadium, GREAT atmosphere. Why? Because they have GREAT FANS! Minnesota? Not so much. Not even comparable, actually. No, Minnesota does not have a great program, their stadium is "high school" with ONLY 50,000 seats and, of course, no atmosphere as they haven't/don't/can't sell out. 50,000 seats? Puh-leeze, Badger fans are pretty sure their student section at Camp Randall is bigger than that. Minnesota fans are "fair weather" because they don't support their teams through thick and thin like Wisconsin fans do. I can never quite tell if the argument is that "If Minnesota fans were better then their team would be better" or vice versa, but either way the answer from Wisconsin fans always seems to be "yes."
Which, as a Gopher fan, is really, really interesting. You see, the Badgers have had a lot of success since Barry Alvarez took over, as in the 23 seasons between 1990 and 2013 they've won six conference titles and three of the six Rose Bowls they've participated in, played in 18 bowl games, and have an 194-100-4 (.651 winning percentage) overall record including 107-80-3 (.563) record in the Big Ten. That even includes Alvarez's first three seasons when he had five wins COMBINED from 1990-1992. Obviously, that's REALLY good, especially for a B1G school that is not Ohio State or Michigan. Seriously, what that program has become is really impressive. The Badgers have been one of the B1G's premiere programs the past 23 or so years, and yet, despite what most Sconnie fans will tell, the program, and the game of college football, actually DID exist before 1990. No really, it did. And while the Badgers certainly weren't as good then as they are now it wasn't like they were terrible- well at least prior to 1962. Of their 14 Big Ten Titles, eight were BA (Before Alvarez) in 1896, 1897, 1901, 1906, 1912, 1952, 1959, and 1962.
Actually, when you think about it, Wisconsin's history looks somewhat similar to Minnesota's right up until 1990- well minus the fact Minnesota's won seven national championships while Wisconsin still, to this very day, has won zero. Still, both programs did some winning until the mid-1960's though, again, Minnesota did a lot more of it with the seven national championships and 18 conference titles while Wisconsin won their aforementioned eight B1G championships and zero national championships.
Still, up until the mid 1960's both Minnesota and Wisconsin had really good football programs. Then things fell apart, or faded away or just got worse for both schools. For Wisconsin it went pretty quickly as they went winless in 1967 and 1968, and struggled throughout the 1970's before a coach named...no, not Barry Alvarez, but Dave McClain guided them to three straight seven win seasons from 1981-84, and his tenure included their only three bowl games between 1962 and 1993. McClain died during spring practice in 1986 which understandably rocked the program, and the Badgers went 9-36 from 86-89 before Alvarez was hired.
For Minnesota, their last Big Ten title was 1967, last Rose Bowl was 1962 and between then and 1990, well, it went about the same as it did for Wisconsin. Murray Warmath retired in 1971, Cal Stoll followed with seven years of .500 football, then the Gophers didn't have another coach with a .500 career record until Glen Mason- in 1997. Wisconsin's drought ended after almost 30 years when Alvarez came along and turned them into one of the best programs in the Big Ten. He not only returned them to glory, but he and the, um, word that rhymes with "swoosh canoe" he hired as his successor actually surpassed anything the school had previously accomplished. And new coach Gary Anderson- who, for the record, thus far seems to be the complete opposite of the guy he took over for- has picked up right where they left off with an 8-2 start, 5-1 B1G record and a #19 ranking. It's a really, really good time to be a Wisconsin fan.
In Minnesota, their drought ended when Glen Mason came along after 30 years...and turned them into a fringe bowl team. Which is to say, the drought never ended. In the 46 years since 1967 the Minnesota football program has been trying to return to glory, and it's still trying to get there. Mason turned the team into at least a perennial bowl team, but after 10 seasons wasn't able to move beyond that. What followed in 2007 was the worst head coaching hire in...it would be hyperbole to say "ever" but it's hard to imagine one going worse. Not only was Tim Brewster not qualified for a head coaching job as a career position coach with ZERO head coaching or even coordinator experience, but he was selected over Charlie Strong. Yes, the same Charlie Strong who was, at the time, the defensive coordinator for the national champion Florida Gators, and who has gone on to be a really good head coach at Louisville.
Brewster was an absolute embarrassment at Minnesota and left the program in as bad of shape as it's ever been. Jerry Kill took over, and he and his staff have done a fantastic job of rebuilding as in just their third season already seem to have the program back on the right track. As Gopher fans, we would love for Kill to do for Minnesota what Alvarez did for Wisconsin, but we're not there yet.
So to recap, after decades of futility Wisconsin found the right coach that led them back to glory. After decades of futility Minnesota hopes it has found the right coach but is still a long ways from recapturing their former glory. Badger fans would have you believe they're better than Gopher fans because they support their team much better than we do. By that rationale, Badger fans would support a bad team from Wisconsin through thick and thin, and would never, EVER act like the "fair weather" fans they accuse Minnesotans of being.
If only there was a team in Wisconsin who weren't very good so we could see how well the great sports fans of Wisconsin supports them. Oh wait, there is- the Bucks. The Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA were great once, but have not been good for quite awhile. Their only NBA title was 1971, their only two conference titles were 1974 and 1971, and while they've won 13 division titles, 12 of them came before 1987 with their last one in 2001. Since then they've bounced between a borderline playoff team and terrible, which would seem to compare well with the Gophers were once great yet lately have been bouncing between a borderline bowl team and terrible.
So if the fans of Wisconsin are really that great, then they'd be selling out Bucks games with a great atmosphere, right? Well, you may then be SHOCKED to learn that since 2009 the Bucks have been 23rd or worse in attendance every season, and thus far this year rank 27th of 30 teams with an average of 14,921 fans, which is just 79.7% of the Bradley Center's capacity.
Wait, that can't be right? I thought Wisconsin fans were the BEST?!? I thought they weren't fair weather?!? I thought they were better than this?
Well surely this has to be an anomaly of some kind, right? If only there were a second team in the state of Wisconsin that weren't very good so we could see how well the great sports fans of Wisconsin supports them. Oh wait, there is- the Brewers. The Milwaukee Brewers of MLB have actually had less success as a franchise than the Bucks, but they've been better recently. The Brew Crew have never won the World Series, have been to the Fall Classic only once back in 1982 (when they still played in the American League), and have been to the playoffs only two other times in 2008 (Wild Card) and 2011 (division champs). Yet the good citizens of Milwaukee had supported their team quite well as they put a pretty likeable team on the field, in a unique ballpark, with good entertainment value like sausage races and Bernie Brewer sliding into
a keg of beer well I guess nothing anymore, and tailgating in the parking lot. TAILGATING IN THE PARKING LOT! At a baseball game! Full disclosure, I not only don't hate the Brewers, I actually kind of like them for all of the reasons just mentioned, PLUS my favorite logo for any team ever. I'm not even kidding. I've been to a few Brewers games, and regardless of how good or bad the teams playing are, it's pretty much impossible to not have a good time at a Brewers game.
Since that 2011 division title things have not gone well for the Crew o' Brew, as Prince Fielder and his mammoth waistline and tape-measure home runs left for Detroit, hero/saint/deity/demi-god Ryan Braun left the team due to a PED suspension, and any semblance of good pitching pretty much left them completely. In 2013, with Braun suspended half the season because STEROIDS, they managed just 74 wins and were out of the pennant race before summer even started. But I'm sure, because Wisconsin fans tell us how great they are, that they continued to show up to support a terrible, terrible baseball team. Because that's what REAL fans do.
Again, hope you're sitting down for this, but the answer was nope. The Brewers averaged just 31,248 people per game or 74.6% of capacity at Miller Park. And as someone who attended a Brewers game in August vs the Nationals- when the team was giving every fan $10 to spend at the park as a way of saying "hey sorry Ryan Braun is a gigantic liar, steroid user and word that rhymes with 'swoosh canoe'"- and could count on one hand the number of people sitting in each section, well, those average attendance figures may be a little high.
Oh, and right there with Milwaukee in attendance? Your Minnesota Twins, who averaged less people (30,588) but a slightly higher percentage of capacity (77.4%) to watch a terrible, terrible baseball team play at another publicly funded ball park (totally off-topic from this conversation but couldn't help but notice that in the NBA, 79% of capacity for the Bucks is 27th in the league. The Twins and Brewers- 77.4% and 74.6%- ranked 12th and 13th respectively in Major League Baseball. That is not a typo. I'm not an NBA guy at all, but does that say something about baseball?).
So despite what Wisconsin fans would tell you, it would seem fans from Minnesota and Wisconsin are actually pretty similar- both love winners and support them (I would give example of this for Minnesota but other than the Lynx we haven't had many/any winners lately so just take my word for it), and both don't support struggling teams so well. You could even go so far as to say those of us who support Gopher football (or the Vikings, Wild, Twins, T-Wolves or just about any other team in this state) might actually be the BETTER fans since our blood, sweat and tears (especially the tears) have been rewarded with mediocrity, heartache, and heart break.
Seriously, could it get any harder than cheering for Gopher football year in and year out? Well maybe the Vikings. Bill Simmons, back in 2009 when he still wrote columns, listed the Vikings as the 2nd most tortured pro franchise in sports behind only the Chicago Cubs. And considering the Cubs have won a World Series and have a classic stadium in Wrigley, the Vikings should be #1- no Super Bowls with four losses in that game, four more losses in the NFC Championship game including two of the worst ever in 1998 and 2009 (the latter of which sparked Simmons' column), and one of the worst stadiums in the history of creation in the Metrodome. Whether that's better or worse than what the Gophers have been through I don't know, but I do know it's a helluva lot worse than anything a Badger or Packer fan has endured.
Because is there an easier team to cheer for than Wisconsin? Well other than the Packers. Before Aaron Rodgers injury they've had a future hall-of-fame quarterback starting for them since 1993, they have tons of tradition, Super Bowl victories and a unique stadium. Not only that, but the ultimate trump card is they're the only publicly-owned pro sports franchise in North America which means unlike Minnesota, they'll never have to worry about the team moving away or having to use taxpayer money to build some sleazy billionaire a brand new stadium.
Cheering for Wisconsin (or Green Bay) shouldn't be something to brag about because as a sports fan it can't get any easier than that. They've proven with the Bucks, Brewers and Badger Hockey they're just like the rest of us, but to live in Minnesota and cheer for a Gopher team that hasn't really won in over 40 years, and every time they get close find new and excruciating ways to lose?
Well, I can tell you who the "better fans" are, and they're not the ones who'll be wearing red on Saturday.
More from The Daily Gopher:
- The Daily Gopher Hangout Hate Week 2.0
- Big Ten Football: What's The B1G Deal? Well, Someone Has To Win Right?
- Minnesota Football: Gophers vs. Badgers - Favorite Border Battle Memories
- Minnesota Football: Gophers Bowl Projections Week 12
- Minnesota Football vs Wisconsin: Game Time, TV Schedule, Online Streaming and Other Info