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September 19, 2015

by Dan Gunderson

The rumors started late on the night of August 21, 2014. North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota were on the fast track to renewing the football rivalry. The two schools hadn't played since 2003, when UND beat the Bison 28-21 in overtime in Grand Forks.

On Friday, August 22, it was confirmed: the game was back on. NDSU would host UND in 2015 and 2019. UND would end up making a nice little chunk of change for both games being played at the Fargodome, but that seemed like a footnote.

The rivalry was back.

I could feel the excitement as a smiled spread across my face.

The rivalry was back.

I was 14 when the final game was played. A freshman in high school. I'm sure I watched it, although the memory of the game is foggy. I probably blocked it out knowing that was one of the last times I would see the game for awhile.

I was a diehard Bison fan growing up, donning the Bison logo the week of the game, chiding UND fans for even thinking they deserved a right to talk about their one national title and then feeling uncomfortable as I walked into a classroom that was very UND friendly.

It was a tradition in the Gunderson household to watch the game in our living room. I would sit on the floor or the couch or just walk around, too nervous to watch the outcome. My brother, who is eight years older than me and was much more up-to-date on the Bison, would watch the game with me.

My mom would make smokies, chips and cheese and pizza. We would drink pop and cheer on NDSU. It was usually the one chance we got to watch NDSU play as we lived 150 miles north of Fargo, 80 miles north of Grand Forks.

We saw more UND sports than NDSU sports growing up. I probably had a tough time naming the other teams in the North Central Conference. I could tell who UND was and why I didn't like them though. And that was all that mattered.

As long as NDSU beat UND, I was happy.

Both football programs have gone in opposite directions since that last game in 2003. UND has struggled to even stay relevant in the region while NDSU has become an FCS powerhouse.

This dichotomy led many Bison fans to get upset when you brought up the renewal of the rivalry.

They would say, "We don't need them! Why should we help out UND?!?!"

I'm assuming those people won't be going to the game in 2015 since sticking to their beliefs is much more important to them than keeping up tailgating appearances.

Despite their complaints, the game is back. The rivalry is back.

Rivalries in sports are things of beauty. Especially in college athletics where families have separate sects of fans. Your wife's family is UND fans but your family is NDSU fans.

Both schools will be connected to small towns in the region. Cavalier has deep roots in both NDSU and UND. Your neighbor's lawn ornaments may include a UND logo. It might have been something you wanted to kick down a time or two. Or ten.

The yelling of the fans as the lean forward in their seats, spit flying from their mouth as they implore a player to destroy the rival.

The explanations as to why NDSU is just an Ag school and will never really be as good as UND, regardless of the outcome of the game.

UND produces doctors. NDSU produces nurses. UND produces pilots. NDSU produces farmers.

Everything you can imagine will be said between the fan bases in the next year. And it will be beautiful.

Sure, they won't be playing for the Nickel and that stings a bit. But there really doesn't need to be a trophy. This doesn't need to be a conference game. This just needed to happen.

And it will. September 19, 2015 at the Fargodome. The two programs will final come together after a nearly 12 year hiatus.

At this point in my life, the passion of cheering for one side or another has waned. The passion to see an actually, real, honest-to-god rivalry is still very real for me.

I hope it is for the rest of the state as well.

You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly sports talk show on 740 The Fan and 740thefan.com called Fan Sports Saturday from 8-10 a.m. Pinto is a radio producer and talk show host within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.