A Boomer’s Retirement Identity: Look to University Football Traditions
|October 28, 2015||Posted by Marcia Mantell under Boomers in Action|
The Big 10 college conference has a storied past and, from the sound of things, an exciting future. It is the oldest Division 1 athletic conference in the country and will reach its 120th anniversary in 2016. To summarize:
“Big Ten member institutions are predominantly major flagship research universities that have large financial endowments and are well-regarded academically.
Large student enrollment is also a hallmark of Big Ten universities, as 12 of the 14 members feature enrollments of 30,000 or more students.
Collectively, Big Ten universities educate more than 520,000 total students [each year] and have 5.7 million living alumni.” (Thanks, Wikipedia for the nice summary!)
The University of Minnesota (UMN) was one of the original 8 founding member schools. My husband earned his Ph.D. from UMN, I spent one semester “abroad-at-home” at UMN, and our younger daughter is now a sophomore at UMN’s Twin City campus. We just returned from a most wonderful weekend of Big 10 sports in our old hometown of Minneapolis. We stayed with some of our dearest friends and visited old hangouts.
It was parent’s weekend and a big intra-conference football game against the University of Nebraska. It was a gorgeous Minnesota autumn weekend – perfect fall weather, gorgeous blue sky, leaves turning gold and red. It was crazy exciting on campus; you could just feel the electricity in the air. Bratwursts and beer and cheese curds were readily available.
The thrill of being at a major college sporting event is something everyone should get to experience at least once. It is hard to describe the energy and excitement that fills an enormous stadium. I still remember the first Minnesota Golden Gopher football game we attended in the fall of 1983. We were decked out in gold and maroon, thousands of us cheering on the young men who played on the gridiron.
It’s been 29 years since we last attended a Golden Gopher football game. I was surprised that it was even more thrilling to be a spectator than before. It felt like a homecoming. We felt welcome, comfortable and perfectly at home despite the time lapse. We were once again reminded that Big 10 football is something special―really special. But why? Is it that the traditions are familiar and lasting? Is it that the fight song has been exactly the same for over 100 years? Or is it that the marching band still makes the gigantic Minnesota “M” formation from 20-yard line to 20-yard line? After all, one could argue (and probably should) that it’s just a football game. But, no, there is something so much more to the traditions of these football programs steeped in rich history. There’s some connection, some thread that gives you an extra edge to your identity that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
One reporter from Ireland wrote a summary of his first experience of American college football. Like so many of us, he was in search of an answer to “why do college sports matter so much in America?”
“…It was the one question that no one had the same answer for as we checked out the pre-game ‘tailgate,’ but maybe the ‘tailgate’ experience itself was the real answer.
A ‘tailgate’ sounds awful on paper, with people standing around their cars for hours before the game in the shadow of the stadium. In fact, it’s families with their friends and kids…
… it struck me that the pre-game experience of hanging out with your mates for a few hours is a pretty good ritual… It’s like-minded individuals electing to come together, break bread, talk football and life and then get behind their team. It’s a self-selected community.”
Ah, I think he’s got it! It’s the ritual, the tradition, the common ground we can find by uniting with friends and family through our alma mater’s football team. It’s a sense of community that you can only get when you have some history and connection to a particular place and time. The spectators have shared the experience and the time-honored traditions at some time in the past. It creates great memories and a chance to relive our younger days, often with our own children.
For us Baby Boomers, it is a chance to belong once again to something that was important to us back “in the day”. By my rough accounting, there were some 40,000 Boomers in the stadium on Saturday, a sea of older faces. Boomers now have enough time and money to attend the games in person and get really good seats. It’s fascinating to strike up a conversation with the people around you. Everyone talks about their team – the one from 1959 or 1965 or 1983. It doesn’t matter the era, the stories are all about the same and the connections are strong.
As more and more Boomers face the reality of retiring, they share with me that they don’t know where they will fit in. They are concerned that their identity, that is often strongly connected to the company they work for, will dissolve. Who will they be once they walk out the door for the last time? What will they tell people they do for a living? This is beyond a midlife crisis. Buying a fancy sports car won’t cure retirement.
So, I’d like to suggest that it might be a good idea to go back in time for a while to help you find your retirement identity. If you were lucky enough to go to a school with a football program, it’s worth the trip back for a big game. There is an identity that comes with being an alum at these big sports colleges that you might not realize you have. You are still part of the university and will be welcome any time back to campus. You might reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in decades. You may be surprised to make new friends who you met in Section F, row 7. For at least a weekend, you will surely get a lift from those long ago traditions and recall the fun of being part of your college or university. Especially on game day.
By the way, the Gophers lost to Nebraska 25 – 48. Funny how it just didn’t matter to the Boomer fans. We were there for so much more than a football game. We were home.
For More Information:
The history of the Big 10 and other college conferences is fascinating. Click on the following articles for more information about the influence of football on the American way of life.
An excellent overview of the history of the Big 10 from Wikipedia
Why does college sport matter so much in USA? By Ger Gilroy–an Irishman’s first experience with American football
College Sports and the American Experience – by Kathryn Burkholder–an interesting article about finding your common community through sports in America