A cornucopia of apparel with anti-Wisconsin sentiments on them can be readily found online. The market for these T-shirts varies, but one has to imagine a lot of orders come from Minnesota ZIP codes. ¶ Packers-Vikings is the best rivalry in this state. Badgers-Gophers, in all sports but in particular football and men’s basketball, is close behind at No. 2. The thought of Minnesota fans and Wisconsin fans banding together en masse for any sporting cause (aside from an intense disliking of the Bears) is often laughable.
But sometimes there exists a set of circumstances so powerful that it turns the impossible into plausible. This year’s men’s basketball Final Four appears to be the catalyst for this momentous occasion.
Before the Final Four started, nearly 50 percent of voters in a startribune.com poll said they were rooting for Wisconsin. On Sunday afternoon, more than 70 percent of poll voters said they thought Wisconsin would win the national title. While some of the voters are surely Wisconsin fans, the guess here is that a lot of them aren’t.
The ingredients are simple: 1) A Badgers team that was clearly the class of the Big Ten all season and appears to have some genuinely likable and unselfish players. 2) A semifinal opponent, Kentucky, chasing a perfect season and providing the perfect David/Goliath story. 3) Now that Wisconsin slew that giant, a title game vs. Duke, college basketball’s version of the Yankees.
The third bullet point is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle and has the potential to turn Monday night into a lovefest that transcends borders. In the NFL, college football or college basketball, it’s hard to imagine a championship game opponent for a Wisconsin team that would inspire a larger contingent of Minnesotans to temporarily root for their border rival than Duke.
The Patriots are as close as it gets, but I venture to guess that if Green Bay had closed out Seattle and faced New England in the Super Bowl this past season, the vast majority of Vikings fans still would have rooted for Bill Belichick and co.
And sure, old habits die hard. There will still be Minnesota fans rooting hard against Wisconsin on Monday night, even if they find Duke to be only a slightly more palatable alternative. If they can’t have nice things, they don’t want Badgers fans to have nice things, either.
I have found myself in this mind-set and, admittedly, relished the Packers’ crushing defeat in the NFC title game (largely because the misery of wide left, 41-donut and 12 men in the huddle loves company).
But on Monday … Wisconsin vs. Duke? Yes, the Badgers are facing the best and perhaps most likable Duke team to come around in a long time — one with a local star in Tyus Jones. But if everything is looked at objectively, there’s no reason to root against the Badgers.
Even if you are one to hold grudges and believe staunchly in rivalries, you can take a rare pass on Monday. Don’t feel bad — a lot of other people are.