This weekend, I will be in the press box at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., watching the Badgers take on Northwestern. Once the game and the interviews are over, I'll blast out of Illinois and back to Madison, praying to make it home in time to catch the end of a game halfway across the country.
That's because Saturday night is the Big Game—the annual rivalry matchup between Stanford and the team I grew up loving, Cal. Wisconsin may have secured Paul Bunyan's Axe by beating Minnesota earlier this year, but there's another rivalry game (and another axe) I'm concerned about.
Until I came to Wisconsin, there was no team I felt more connected to than Cal and no team I hated more than Stanford. As a Cal fan, the hardest thing about coming to Wisconsin was not the winter, but cheering for the cardinal and white, colors Stanford and Wisconsin share.
Last year, while people all around me watched in horror as the Badgers nearly lost to Cal Poly, I rejoiced in the student section upon hearing updates from the Big Game.
The reason I've taken this rivalry so seriously is the way I grew up with it. Since the mid-1990s my family has had season tickets to Cal football, meaning I was raised in the same atmosphere as a kid growing up in Madison, with my life revolving around the team each fall.
Ask anyone who grew up in a college town, even people who cheered for Minnesota, if they still feel a connection to that team. Even though we've all moved on to supporting the Badgers, there's still a piece of us that remains attached to the team we were raised on.
Through the years my dad and I spent going to Cal games, we were often treated to a grotesque spectacle of domination as the Golden Bears were more often than not pummeled by their opponents. But since the arrival of head coach Jeff Tedford, Cal has been reborn into one of the strongest teams in the Pac-10.
Think of Tedford like former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, who led a renaissance of Badger football after years of futility.
During the Dark Ages before Tedford, Cal fans were akin to Cubs fans—loyal, if a bit masochistic, in their love for the team. But in the Tedford era, Bears games became fun again, especially the Big Game. In his first season at Cal, Tedford led the Bears to victory in the Big Game, and has lost to Stanford only once since then.
So assuming I can make good time coming back from Evanston this Saturday, and assuming I don't run into any state troopers watching for speeders on I-94, I should make it home to catch at least a little part of the Big Game. It will be a little piece of home, and a reminder of the intense rivalry I'll always take with me.
Are you a Stanford fan or alumnus? Then you should probably stay out of Nico's way this week, but you can e-mail him at email@example.com.