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VIRG FOSS: Sticking by teams, no matter what

I talked to my sister Carol two days ago. She told me she was excited to watch the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship basketball game that night involving the Minnesota Gophers.

“Why?” I asked her. “Who cares about the NIT?”

Well, she does. She’s a big fan of University of Minnesota athletics, and it matters not that it’s the sub-level NIT tournament her team was in, not the Big Dance, the NCAA.

“It’s called loyalty,” she said.

And that I do understand. Regardless the lettering of the tournament, regardless the level, we stick by our teams, thick and thin.

It’s what true fans do, and I guess I’m no different in that from my sister, who is a couple of years my senior.

But I am obviously the wiser of the two. Unlike my big sis, I’m no Gopher fan, though I once was, sort of.

I’ve written before that in 1953, our family moved to Grand Forks from Minnesota so my father could build a home mission church and congregation here, called Calvary Lutheran.

That winter, my dad, an avid sports fan, took his junior high-age son to his first Sioux-Gopher hockey game in the old Barn on the UND campus.

Having just moved here from Minnesota, I didn’t know better. Sitting next to my father, I began cheering for the Gophers. I knew nothing about UND hockey at the time.

My cheering was stopped mid-yell by my father’s harsh stare, then his words. “I’m trying to build a church membership here, and it won’t help me if you sit next to me and cheer for the Gophers,” he told me. “If you want to cheer for them, go down to the other end of the arena and sit by yourself.”

I shut my mouth. I don’t know if you’d call that a sermon from my father, but the lesson was learned. Like him, I became a fan of the Fighting Sioux, first for practical reasons, then because we fell in love with the teams, the nickname, the school.

And so it was that my loyalty became cemented with UND sports. My sister’s late husband, Jim, was a loyal Gopher fan, and they attended plenty of Gopher football and basketball games throughout their marriage.

So my sister remains a Gopher fan and I’ll go to my grave attached to UND sports.

That’s a capsule of how many of us get to be fans of our teams, I suspect.

Sometimes it’s a matter of loyalty to teams in the state in which we were born, or where we grew up. Many of us are loyal to the college from which we graduated.

I do indeed follow NCAA Division III St. Olaf College quite closely some 50-plus years after graduation. I’ll take in a game or two at the college every year; we maintain a family scholarship there for student-athletes and I even drop emails to the coaches.

Sister Carol and I talked briefly about loyalty and a look ahead to next Thursday, when her Gophers meet UND in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals. She’s not passionate about Gopher hockey, just football and basketball, so she MAY side with me in backing UND in this one.

My mother, Maebel, always offered this neutral Swedish-based wise advice when matters like this arose in the family.

“May the best team win,” she always said, bless her soul.

OK, mom, I’ll go along with that next week — as long as the best team is UND!

Virg Foss reported on sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement. He writes a column exclusively for the Herald from October through April. Contact him at or (701) 772-9272.