Soon after the Creighton-Cincinnati matchup in the NCAA tournament was announced Sunday, I received an email from a college friend: “GO, BEARCATS!”
Hey, I'm all for being true to your school and, as the old song says, letting your colors fly.
But I called my friend and fellow University of Cincinnati graduate — retired Air Force Col. Michael J. Fitzwater of Papillion — and playfully broke the news: After 43 years in Omaha, I'm more of a Creighton fan; and so, in Friday's game, I can't pull for our alma mater.
“Neither can our daughter,” he said with a chuckle. “Melissa is a Creighton grad.”
March Madness is upon us, and it's all about fun and excitement. We either pull for our schools and our picks or just root for upsets. We create a lot of noise and racket, wear school jackets and try to divine the NCAA brackets.
Like me, Mike grew up in Cincinnati. Fitz married another Fitz — UC classmate Sharon Fitzpatrick. While I put down roots in Omaha, he embarked on a 30-year Air Force career that ended with a parade in his honor at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Cool.
The family (including daughter Sara) had moved often, the longest stint in one place being 1991-96, when Mike worked in administration at Ehrling Bergquist Hospital at Offutt Air Force Base. After he retired in Texas in 2001, he and Sharon returned to the Omaha area, recalling how much they had enjoyed living here.
The Omaha area benefits greatly from all the Air Force retirees, many of whom live in Papillion or Bellevue. The Fitzwaters, like most military families, had embraced their itinerant lives.
“You've got to jump right in and get involved,” Sharon said. “Our daughters wrote on their college application essays that it made them more self-sufficient because they had to go to new places and meet new people.”
Mike has his own Creighton connection. As a civilian after his military retirement, he spent 4½ years as administrator of the neurology department at the Creighton University Medical Center.
That's not enough to switch his allegiance when the Bluejays play the Bearcats. Oh, you ask, what the heck is a Bearcat?
Why, of course, it is a binturong, a variety of civet found in Southeast Asia, with tufted ears and a long tail. Bearcat is also a nickname for panda, and an expression for a person of exceptional power, strength and energy.
I normally pull for UC. For years I even received mailings from my university's “C” Club.
No, that doesn't refer to my academic average. It's the varsity letterman's club.
Uh ... I didn't actually win any varsity letters. But I enjoyed receiving the club's letters — inviting me to outings and other events for former athletes (I didn't attend) and keeping me up on plans and other news.
The problem was that for more than 20 years, the club confused me for another Michael J. Kelly, who played on the UC football team at the same time I was in school and later became a physician. I finally owned up to being the wrong MJK, and the club located the doc in Tacoma, Wash., where he practices internal medicine.
The university was good-humored about it, even sending me an honorary “C” Club certificate. When I traveled to the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Kelly and I enjoyed dinner together, and he chuckled about the confusion.
Cincinnati is a public university that dwarfs private Creighton University in size — 41,970 students to 7,730. Only five students from each school, though, can be on the basketball court at one time.
UC averages about 8,000 fans per home game, CU more than 16,000. But they play Friday on a neutral court in Philadelphia.
As an alumnus and an honorary member of my university's “C” Club, I proudly wear the red and the black of UC. But on Friday, I'll don the white and the blue of CU.
As I replied to my college friend Col. Mike: “GO, JAYS!”
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