Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
No, I didn't pick him because of his first name, or even his initials. I certainly didn't pick him specifically because he's a Miami fan, because why would I do that?
But Matt Sledge, based on his comment, made it evident he has been a RedHawks fan for so long, it dated back to when they were an offensive Native American mascot. Sure enough, there's a Howard Cosell anecdote in there. And of COURSE he had to bring up the 2003 MAC Championship Game. I regret picking him immediately, but there's no going back now!
Here was our email exchange:
Let's start with your early fandom with MU sports. You said your parents were season ticket holders to hockey and football games. What were some of your first memories with those 80s teams?
Let's start off with hockey. Dad & I started going to games at the old Goggin in the early '80's, way before it was the campus sensation it is now. One of the earliest games I can recall was an absolute drubbing of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Miami won 14-3, or somesuch. Shortly after that I started playing hockey myself for a few years. I was pretty much a staple at Goggin whenever Miami was at home, and through the years the crowds (and students) started to come and be the raucous spectacle that opposing teams hated. While the hockey teams themselves weren't that great until the 1990s, the atmosphere was electric.
As for football - my first game was the first at Yager Stadium back in 1983. The night before the first game there was a pep rally in front of Millett Hall with local dignitaries, coaches, players, etcetera... and Howard Freaking Cosell. How they managed to land him I have no clue, but I was front row and center for the rally. Dude was wearing a hideous sport-coat, and even waved at 10 year old me. So, I guess you could call that a highlight, The lowlight was the next day during pregame festivities when Howard couldn't remember which Miami he was at (Hello, University Of Miami!), and the debut of a second Miami "mascot" - Tom-O-Hawk - which, I kid you not, made it's debut coming out of a human-sized egg. It was heretofore then known as SFB — Stupid F*cking Bird — by the students. As a kid, I was in awe with the new stadium, but had no clue that the end-zone and student stands were from old Miami Field.
Either way, it was a banner day. Like hockey, I was at Yager whenever there was a home football game - rain or shine. Sometimes the teams sucked (the three years after the 1986 championship comes to mind) and sometimes they were pretty good - but nothing for me beat being at a football game during this time.
While we didn't have tickets to basketball we did go to the majority of the games, especially when Ron Harper was terrorizing opposing teams. I remember in 1988 when Indiana made a rare visit to Millett. Sitting in the nosebleeds you could still see Bobby (excuse me, Coach) Knight's horrendous plaid red jacket. He didn't chuck a chair across the floor though. And for further basketball fun, I was one of the managers during my freshman year at Miami, which was the 1991-1992 campaign. It was Joby Wright's second year of hell - and was the year that Miami lost to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA's in Cincinnati. As it turns out I was in North Carolina for spring break during that game, and wouldn't have been with the team anyways... as that's another story for another time.
Excellent! So moving onward, as you left Miami, you became an adult, and grown-up responsibilities which probably kept you from going to all the Redskins-cum-RedHawks games you desired. Were there ever any moments that tested your fandom as you tried to balance life/work/family and watching MU games?
I lived in Oxford until 2004, so following Miami & the MAC wasn't that hard, as long as you looked in the right places. We had the games on the radio in Oxford - on the late, great 97X (BAM! The Future Of Rock And Roll), WOXY-FM.
Sidenote: I was gainfully employed by 97X from 1994-2004. I was also one of a select few that engineered the games back in the studio - so while I wasn't physically at the game, I was with the game. This ended in 1997 (if I recall correctly), when Miami took control of its own radio rights, moved to another flagship station and built its own radio network.
After that it did get interesting. I did find myself working sometimes while the games were on a different station, and sometimes brought a radio along in the studio to keep up with the games. I remember that Miami was playing Kentucky in the 2001 Sweet Sixteen, and dragged in a tiny black-and-white television complete with bunny ears to watch the game in the studio because we didn't have cable TV. I was fortunate enough in 2003 to be able to see all of the Miami football home games (which was Roethlisberger's final season), including the night win against Bowling Green (sorry, dude!) and the epic beatdown of Marshall. Let it be known that BG's fans outnumbered Marshall's - no joke.
In 2004 after 97X was sold I moved to Cincinnati, and was still able to follow via the radio, the internet, and getting back to Oxford for select games.
So to really answer the question: Besides the ones listed above, there haven't been any moments that have tested my fandom because I made it an effort to know what was going on, and when it was going on, and sought out the information where I could. All part of being a crazed fan, I guess.
Staying embedded in the region definitely makes it easy, and reaffirms the commitment. So I'll leave it open to you. Is there anything else about being a Miami fan that we didn't cover yet?
The Internet has helped me to follow Miami and the MAC previously - Hustle Belt certainly helps (cheap plug!), and I am also one of the guys that helps out over at miamihawktalk.com, which has been in existence since the late 1990s. It's still going strong, albeit a bit slow on the news side as we all have lives now... imagine that.
The site helps keep me updated with what is going in with Miami, and not just on the sports side. There are a ton of passionate Miami fans around the country - even if it's not represented in the stands.
Miami and the MAC are at a weird crossroads right now in college sports. There's rumors right now with Miami being involved in conference re-alignment, and I usually laugh those off - because to me, Miami *is* the MAC. You can have your Notre Dames and Alabamas of the world - that's fine. I just really like the "small" college athletics.
Miami also sits in an area where there's a ton of colleges. Further away you have Kentucky and Ohio State that get massive attention here, and locally it's Cincinnati, Xavier, Northern Kentucky University (entering Division I this year), Wright State, Dayton, and other schools all battling for a piece of the media pie. Since Miami is in the MAC it often gets ignored - so maybe if there's a new conference for Miami there might be more attention - but the wins need to follow in the new conference for that to happen.