The closest comparison to college football season in New York is New York during the World Cup. The rest of the city is oblivious to the passions of small, provincial sects. Saturdays on the Upper East Side and in Murray Hill, you pass groups of strangers walking together in team attire, getting together in bars and watching something that reminds them of home.
Most Michigan games air nationally so the bars aren't an issue. Much better to get together in a friend's apartment with people who actually understand the game and watch it the same way rather than cram together in a bar with fellow alumni whose knowledge, intensity or agenda don't quite match.
The Saturdays still have the feel of a secret holiday. Walking around the East Village or the Lower East Side, there's a scattering dressed in shirts for Texas, Notre Dame, or Michigan, all of us headed for a more football-appropriate part of town.
After last week's Penn State game, a group of us passed a collection of Penn State fans standing together outside a Murray Hill bodega. Being friendly, sympathetic types (I've never met a Michigan person who doesn't like Penn State) we didn't say anything. An angry Penn State guy saw us and screamed, "Fuck Blue!", with the rage more appropriate to Columbus. I look back and smiled. "Yeah, why don't you fucking go on and lose three more games this year!" he said, in a way that was indicating fistfight more than trash-talk.
We went to a neighborhood bar where three girls in Arkansas shirts screamed at a TV and a table of Wisconsin fans watched their school edge past Iowa.
In 2003 -- the last time Oregon defeated Michigan -- we watched at Blondie's on the Upper West Side, none of us knowing that it was an Ohio State bar. The Buckeyes finished up just before the Michigan game. I had a beer and waited for my friends. One of the Buckeyes struck up a conversation about how much he hates to see Michigan lose, and how his ideal season is Michigan going undefeated every year until they play Ohio State. I had the same philosophy. We commiserated about the problems with our respective fan bases.
This phenomenon isn't limited to national powers with huge alumni populations in the city. Murray Hill and the Upper East Side are alumni central. Last year, after Michigan beat Indiana, a group of us ended the night in a bar on the Upper East Side that happened to be Manhattan's unofficial Kansas State bar. It was the most fun I've had watching a football game that didn't include Michigan, that Kansas State upset over Texas last year. There was happiness and surprise in the mere fact that the Upper East Side has a Kansas State bar, and the experience of being swept up in the euphoria of fans from a school utterly foreign to you.
The front of the bar hosted Texas Tech alumni that night. Every so often I'd walk up for a beer, past the table of Texas Tech fans, who watched on one mounted TV. There they were, the Texas Tech fans and the Kansas State fans, all of us stuck in a sports town mostly distracted by baseball, the credit markets and other frivolities.