Confessions of a ‘Wal-Mart Wolverine’/The Red Line

Do you remember the first time you realized your future wasn’t going to go exactly as you imagined it? I do.

It was at the Holiday Inn in Marquette where I, a 15-year-old with good grades and a more-than-casual interest in the Michigan Wolverines, attended a presentation for high schoolers interested in attending the University of Michigan.

My parents and I went not to determine if we were interested, but how we were going to go about turning this Gwinn kid into a Michigan man.

Then they told me they didn’t have a journalism major.

There’s the moment.

I didn’t cry all the way home or anything like that. If I recall, the feeling was more like ‘Now what?’ I’m still a Michigan fan, but I’m writing the rest of this column about the Wolverines’ Final Four run with a Central Michigan T-shirt on and a sense of confusion that has existed since that day in Marquette and was especially acute this week.

Central Michigan is my alma mater and I still have enough maroon-and-gold gear to clothe me for a solid week if I so chose. I?still have my student section T-shirt from CMU’s NCAA Tournament year (2003) and follow Chippewa and NBA veteran Chris Kaman on Twitter.

I own two pieces of Michigan apparel – a pair of basketball shorts and a fall jacket I haven’t worn since football season. Out of superstition, I never wear the CMU and Michigan stuff at the same time. Don’t want to be a walking mixed metaphor.

Michigan’s Trey Burke was the consensus most valuable player of the 2012-13 season and the Wolverines made the national championship game and captured the imagination of fans everywhere on a NCAA Tournament run. Central Michigan’s basketball team justifiably fired the coach and the best player, his son, after last year. They went 11-20 this season with a 10-game losing streak, finished 10th of 12 teams in a nondescript mid-major conference and went out meekly in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The teams met at the Crisler Center in December. Michigan was up 17 at halftime and cruised home with a 88-73 victory.

But there’s a lot about Michigan athletics I just can’t quit. I just spelled former Wolverine running back Tim Biakabutuka correctly on the first try without looking it up. No CMU game ever made me half as mad as Michigan-Appalachian State did in 2007 (and not just because the game was on the fledgling Big Ten Network and not available on local cable).

I liked the Fab Five, so much so that if you make a Chris Webber joke to me, I will kindly remind you that the NCAA says Michigan did not play in that 1993 national championship game, so you must be lying.

In 2000, I was the only kid in Gwinn High School who didn’t really care that the national champion Michigan State Spartans had a coach from Iron Mountain because they were the national champion Michigan State Spartans.

In college, I was faithful. Went to every CMU football home game, even the ones that conflicted with Michigan games (for which local attendance significantly declined). Now, I’ve returned to a sort of sports bigamy. It’s hard to find any CMU game on TV and the ones that are often aren’t much to see (well, except for the time CMU beat Iowa this year).

In a way, the Michigan Tech community is lucky. Even though CMU is Division I and Michigan Tech Division II, I’d argue that Tech has a stronger identity in its community because it is not in the big blue (and green) shadow. Consider it a plus.

I am well aware of the term “Wal-Mart Wolverine” (that is, one who proclaims and displays himself an expert on Michigan but did not attend) and cringe at the perception.

I have been inside Michigan Stadium once, for a 45-7 win over CMU in 2007 that is notable only for being the first weather delay in the history of Michigan Stadium.

I have been inside Yost Ice Arena once, when I was invited to a charity skate on a night I was in town for something else.

Maybe that makes me less of a Michigan fan. Then again, Ann Arbor’s a heck of a drive.

I’d like to think I’m just as panicky that Mitch McGary will go pro as my friends who have actually been inside the Crisler Center or just as thrilled that Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller have already declared.

But if you think less of me for it, that’s OK.

In the end, my 4 1/2 years at Central Michigan University remain a wonderful, unforgettable time in my life I wouldn’t have traded for anything (including 4 1/2 years at the University of Michigan).

As Robert Frost said, I took the road less traveled by.

That road’s probably not going to the Final Four any time soon, but sometimes the road to happiness isn’t the color you thought it would be.

Brandon Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @redveale.