VIRG FOSS: We're loyal and we like it that wayIt is difficult to pinpoint, why there is a such a deep loyalty among UND fans over the Fighting Sioux name. We’re tough up here. We live through blizzards, floods, and the bone-chilling temps of recent days. None of that kills us. Losing the Fighting Sioux name just might, though. You can take our first-born, our favorite family pets, we’ll tell you. Just don’t take away the Fighting Sioux name.
By: Virg Foss, Grand Forks Herald
Sometimes there are questions without answers.
It’s not what Allison Davis O’Keefe wanted to hear earlier this week. But after a 90-minute interview with her that left my brain tied in knots, the best answer I could give her was that I had no one answer.
She’s a respected photojournalist from New York City. She has worked for CBS, photographed two presidential elections, several congressional campaigns, the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus and the horrors of 9-11.
Her latest project? It’s a long-term effort to find out why Fighting Sioux hockey is woven so deeply into the fabric of our city, state and area. And how it got that way.
And just as difficult to pinpoint, why there is a such a deep loyalty among UND fans over the Fighting Sioux name.
We’re tough up here. We live through blizzards, floods, and the bone-chilling temps of recent days. None of that kills us.
Losing the Fighting Sioux name just might, though. You can take our first-born, our favorite family pets, we’ll tell you. Just don’t take away the Fighting Sioux name.
I told Allison O’Keefe that Sioux hockey came along at the right time. For a state and a nation rebounding from World War II and in search of heroes and an identity, we got both soon after the war here in North Dakota.
Along came a group of young men from our area. Guys with skill and a vision such as Cal Marvin, John Noah, Ginny Christian and the McKinnon boys.
Some returned as war veterans, to begin the battle of establishing a hockey team at UND. Two seasons later, they stunned mighty Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1948 to mark UND’s entrance into big-time hockey.
It was such a historic moment that the school president sent the band down to the train station to greet the team they returned to Grand Forks.
Upward and onward since then, seven national championships to follow. The only college with more? Yup, Michigan, with nine.
Hockey, I told Allison O’Keefe, is what we have up here that ranks among the nation’s best most every year. Sioux hockey to North Dakota is like what Yankee baseball is to New York, a perennial contender.
There is not another sport in North Dakota that competes with the big boys on a regular basis. Sioux hockey can slug it out with college heavyweights such as Boston College, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and yes, Michigan, on a yearly basis. That will not happen in another college sport in North Dakota — at any school, ever.
A friend recently said to me that Fighting Sioux hockey is like God in North Dakota — and God is second.
It’s harder to put into words why so many fans have such intense passion over the Fighting Sioux name. And why even if the name goes away, the passion for it never will.
It’s a unique name in sports. Just in the WCHA alone, we have the Huskies at Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State. We have the Mavericks at Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota State. Only one team, one group of fans and one state — UND, us and North Dakota — have the Fighting Sioux.
The name makes us unique, sets us apart. And we’re losing that. How the fans, the team, the school move on once the name is gone is the great unknown. Or can it be saved at the last moment?
If you have thoughts as to why Sioux hockey is so big, or why you love the Fighting Sioux name, email them to me. I’ll print some in future columns.
Foss is a Hall of Fame journalist who reported on sports for 36 years for the Herald until his retirement. He writes a weekly column from October through April. Contact him at email@example.com or at (701) 772-9272.