This weekend, I will have the opportunity to travel to Kalamazoo to tailgate and watch the Battle For The Victory Cannon between Western and Central Michigan.
It will be my third such opportunity to attend what is on the short list of top MAC rivalries with Akron/Kent State, Bowling Green/Toledo, NIU/Winning bowl games, and Miami/Ohio.
Regardless of where you rank the rivalry, it is undoubtedly the third biggest rivalry in the state of Michigan after Michigan/Ohio State, and Michigan/Michigan State. (No disrespect to Grand Valley vs Saginaw Valley or Ferris State).
As an Eastern Michigan student who is looking to procrastinate my homework, I got to thinking about the Central vs Western rivalry.
For which ever school hosts it, it becomes bigger than there homecoming. Alumni become involved and long lost classmates reunite to share hate of their rival school and perhaps a Whiteclaw or two. Moments like Shane Morris leading a comeback and PJ Fleck going for two spark memories and you can feel the hate from both sides across Twitter.
In this way it is similar to the states bigger rivalries.
Here at Eastern Michigan in the shadow of our beloved water tower, we don’t have that.
Yes, Eastern shares competing for the Michigan MAC trophy but if you ask those tailgating in Kalamazoo who won the Michigan MAC last year, they may not know but you can be sure they would know who won the Battle For The Victory Canon.
(For the record, CMU/WMU have won 5 Michign MAC football trophies apiece, whereas EMU has surprisingly won 4).
Eastern in this way is Michigan State, and I mean no offense to Michigan State but historically Western and Central have competed for MAC titles while EMU has struggled for bowl eligibility. Michigan State is historically safe in their bowl standing, but throughout history has not had as much to say about the Big Ten title races as the Buckeyes and Wolverines.
For purposes of this point, let’s think of CMU as Ohio State and WMU as Michigan (or vice versa, if you must).
Eastern even matches Michigan State in their green and white color scheme.
Fans of Western and Central only care about the result against Eastern on a down year for their programs.
Their fans do not pack buses and cars to travel to Ypsilanti for the rivalry games. Eagle fans, for the most part, do not travel in droves for these contests as well. Their games against the Broncos and Chippewas feel like those rivalry games for Michigan State against Penn State, in a doctrine pushed by the Big Ten in the early 2000’s.
You don’t feel the divide on social media. Now perhaps some of this is due to the fact that for so long EMU was a non-factor before the Chris Creighton era. Back when the home stands were even less full than they are now, and there was little Eagle (Huron) pride on the internet.
Michigan and Ohio State’s season are largely defined by what they do against each other, as is the same with WMU/CMU. Heck, if you ask a Michigan fan, MSU may be their third rival behind that of OSU and Notre Dame. Some Central fans, would claim Michigan State as their secondary rival.
It seems as if Eastern’s most hated rival depends on the year. Which team is having more success in a given year, Western or Central or perhaps, which one falls as a home game in the given year where we can tailgate prior to?
Maybe it depends on which of your friends attend which school. I know many of an EMU fan who feel as if beating Toledo and playing Toledo tough means more than how they preform against the in-state schools. If you look at the distances between the campuses, this makes sense and any fan who has attended a James Thompson era basketball game against UT would likely feel a special hatred towards the Rockets.
Eastern has been relegated to third wheel status in the state traditionally. Failure to admit that is likely just stubborn pride. Eastern, like Michigan State has been disrespected. Both programs have embraced and fed off of the feeling of being overlooked. Basketball has typically reigned supreme across the two campuses adorned by green and white. News agencies spend much of their time talking about everyone except for the Eagles or Spartans. Our admissions are not as prestigious, and our parties are less lit.
All that is not to say that the third wheel can-not become the life of the party. Michigan State, our little brothers in arms, are coming off of a decade plus run which has seen them often outplay Michigan, win a Big Ten title, play in the Rose Bowl and make the College Football Playoff under Mark Dantonio.
Well, Chris Creighton is more Mark Dantonio than he is Jim Harbaugh (rejoice), and who is to say that the tides aren’t changing for a start of new tradition, where perhaps EMU competes with the typical powers in the state? Yes, tradition often will win out over the long run but we can have some fun in the meantime.
This season, the likely truth of the matter is that Western at Eastern is more likely to have a say in the MAC title race than that of Central/Western. That isn’t likely to matter this weekend to the student bodies and alumni bases of Western and Central as they fill Waldo Stadium and their red solo cups across the street.
This is the game which means bragging rights and makes coaching legacies or perhaps ruins them. This is much in the same fashion as what happened to the legacy of John Cooper and what is happening to the legacy of Jim Harbaugh. A series of wins/losses against EMU won’t move the needle much for these two institutions and their fans views, which might be another reason why the time is becoming right for EMU and Coach Creighton to make their move as these games simply mean more to them in the same fashion that MSU’s games vs Michigan mean more to them than to the Wolverines.
It is as Mark Dantonio has said: Pride comes before the fall.
In the meantime, as an Eastern student, I will be in Kalamazoo this weekend longing for the fall weekend where someday Eastern has a true rivalry weekend.