We are the monsters among you. The evil stepsisters wishing a bad end for Cinderella. The heartless goons hoping that the hopes and dreams of a beloved 98-year-old nun will be crushed.
We are Michigan fans.
The nation is confounded that we’ll be rooting Saturday for our team to put a premature end to one of the greatest sports stories ever — the improbable rise of the plucky, unselfish, underrated, disrespected and now generally sanctified Loyola Ramblers basketball team.
And Chicago, home of Loyola University, is appalled. How could anyone not be aboard this most inviting of all bandwagons? How could anyone be cheering in the NCAA semifinals for the arrogant bullies over the underdogs whose team chaplain is the charming and lucid Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt?
Well, let me tell you, it’s not easy. This March Madness it has not been easy to growl to one another, “The nun is done!” Not easy to tell people that you hope their fairy tale comes to a sad, disturbing conclusion, like a German children’s story.
Not easy to sneer at a team that once had a unique, jolly hobo as a mascot — Bo Rambler — but dumped him in 1990 for an ordinary, boring wolf. Not easy to openly roll our eyes at the implication that God has rooting interest in Loyola because it’s a Jesuit school with the nation’s most famous nun cheering them on. Not easy to trash talk the come-lately “fans” of a team that nearly all of them have ignored for the past 50 years.
They hate us for it. They taunt us on the street when, as I’ve been doing, we wear our maize and blue apparel with pride.
And it doesn’t feel great to taunt them back.
Respect. The Ramblers play the game right, they’ve defied the experts and they’re just the sort of team we’d be rooting for if they were playing, say, anyone else.
Asymmetry. The University of Michigan has roughly three times the undergraduate enrollment of Loyola, is a power-five conference team and always expects to toy like a kitten with Missouri Valley Conference teams such as Loyola.
Ideally, taunting should come from a place of mutual expectations, which is why we taunt Notre Dame fans and we taunt Ohio State fans (though this has not worked out for us so well in football in recent years), and why it feels unsportsmanlike to taunt Loyola fans.
Risk. Loyola is an 11 seed in the tournament. Michigan is a 3 seed. Las Vegas has Michigan at about a 5-point favorite and the stat-geek site MCubed.net reports that NCAA tournament 3 seeds beat 11 seeds roughly 70 percent of the time.
So despite the David vs. Goliath storyline here, there’s a decent chance that Loyola, playing with nothing to lose, beats a nervous, streaky Michigan team that, under pressure, has been shooting free throws with the consistency of anxious middle-schoolers.
If Michigan loses Saturday, there will not be enough crow in the forest to appropriately fill our plates. But if Michigan wins, we’ll simply have to be graceful in victory and congratulate Loyola on a great run.
Nevertheless, we persist.
The University of Michigan Alumni Association reports there are close to 26,000 of my fellow Michigan graduates living in the Chicago area. Those taking a monster census should at least double that number to include impressionable children and other family members roped into UM fandom as well as those who have a distant affection for the school or who actually prefer rooting for the overdog.
(Author Malcolm Gladwell, who is one of those people, explained his preference in an interview with Business Insider: “If the underdog loses, the underdog feels very little distress because he expected to lose. If the favorite loses, he feels a great deal of distress because every expectation was that he was supposed to win. … If your job as an empathic human being is to want to minimize human suffering, the suffering comes when the favorite loses.”)
In their hearts, Loyola fans would not want it otherwise.
They would not respect us if we abandoned a long-standing commitment to our team for a fleeting, shipboard romance with the metro-area darling. Our support, however momentarily sincere, would be shallow and therefore meaningless.
And our ardor, our swagger, our vain expectations and our presumptuous fight song (“Hail to the Victors”? The game hasn’t even started yet!) have the potential to add significant savor to a Loyola victory.
A victory that will not happen, by the way. Sister Jean says she gave up losing for Lent, but she won’t quite make it until Sunday.