Perhaps I took the wrong approach when I tried this last year.

Wisconsin is first and foremost a football state. While true, that doesn’t stop fans of other sports from giving 100% of their attention and their emotion. Case in point: College Basketball. Come today’s game between Marquette and Wisconsin, both teams, currently ranked in the Top-25, will attempt to beat the snot out of each other. One team will win and be exuberant; the other will lose and be bitter.

There hasn’t been a lot of overlapped success between these two schools throughout the previous 117 times they have played. Wisconsin won their only national title in the 1940s and Marquette’s came in the 1970s. Yet beyond the obvious need to be better than anyone else in the state, this game never meant much on a national level until the last 20 years. The reemergence of both schools’ basketball programs happened to come at the same time Wisconsin football took off nationally. Both teams made a Final Four run since then, and this will be the 4th time since 1990 that the two teams have matched up while both ranked in the AP Top-25. Wisconsin won the previous three of those.

For a good chunk of southeastern Wisconsinites who call themselves sports fans, it’s hard not to enjoy Marquette basketball. From the Dwayne Wade Final Four run to the current talents of Buzz Williams’ teams, Marquette is the local college team that gets all the attention. Yet at the same time, a lot of area residents that enjoy Marquette basketball also enjoy Wisconsin football, a sin in some parts of the country. It is part of a very unique “rivalry”, unlike most or even any in college athletics.

Of course, Marquette students and alumni will argue this topic, and I’m not here to question your loyalty. Marquette enjoys a very dedicated, passionate fan base, and they’ll try to grab as many seats as they can at the Kohl Center today. But when it comes to true, honest rivalries, there is a cross-over here that doesn’t occur anywhere else. Drive up and down the streets of any major college town in America, and there is one thing you certainly will not see: the school colors of a bitter rival.

Yet Milwaukee is different. Within the limits of the City of Milwaukee, home to Marquette University, you will find an incredible number of Wisconsin Badger football fans. That’s certainly not a slight to Marquette, but instead a representation of the football frenzy that exists in the area. Marquette closed its football program in 1960 and the Green Bay Packers ended their Milwaukee games in 1994. With the Packers remaining permanently in Green Bay and the Badgers winning their first Rose Bowl in the same year, Wisconsin Badger football was just a natural fit.

It’s something you don’t find anywhere else. If you talk to residents of other major college areas, they hold a general disgust for their rivals. Here in Milwaukee, I found a good number of people who admitted to having both Marquette and Wisconsin apparel hanging in their closet, often times within 15 shirts of each other. Later this afternoon, a number of fans will take off their Marquette gold, toss it in the laundry, and slip on some Badger red for the Big Ten Championship game. Is that sacrilegious? No. It’s part of the most unique “rivalry” in college sports.

I wonder what this would look like if Marquette still had football. They could hold a traditional non-conference game with Wisconsin the way schools like Kentucky and Louisville do. Marquette could’ve had some bowl success over the years, they’d compete for recruits with the Badgers, and Marquette would have a stranglehold on the fan base of southeastern Wisconsin. But that’s not the way it is. I’m one of the many area natives who roots for both Marquette and Wisconsin sports.

Soak it in fellow Wisconsinites: it’s a thing of beauty. Both basketball programs, as well as Wisconsin football, are primed for plenty of success in the years to come. Whatever your preference for today’s in-state basketball matchup, enjoy it. Ride the emotions of a win or loss, but appreciate the respect that exists between area fans. It’s different that any other in the country.


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  • BigSnakeMan

    “There hasn’t been a lot of overlapped success between these two schools throughout the previous 117 times they have played. Wisconsin won their only national title in the 1940s and Marquette’s came in the 1970s.”

    –The point of any rivalry is that relative success has little bearing over the competition between the schools. The fact that both teams have recently been successful may raise the profile of the game but the intensity has and will always be there nonetheless. From my monitoring of twitter, it doesn’t seem that the ‘unique’ nature of the rivalry with the separation between football and basketball loyalties has tempered it much either.