Morning Wood: UMass fans join together in Huskies hate-watching

By Morning Wood Staff

James Jensson/Daily Collegian
James Jensson/Daily Collegian

Citing a deep hatred which has spanned generations, local fans of Massachusetts athletics gathered on Sunday at Rafters in Amherst to watch Connecticut face Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals.

Locals have unofficially staged UConn hate-watching parties for decades, meeting at Rafters each March to angrily watch the Huskies take part in the NCAA Tournament. This year was especially intriguing for fans, as UMass also appeared in the tournament for the first time in 16 years. Previously, the locals at Rafters had limited rooting interest.

“I hate those guys,” Minutemen fan Jim Armstrong said of UConn before angrily hissing at Huskies guard Shabazz Napier, who was shown on one of the Rafters televisions.

Over 75 fans showed up at the Amherst based sports bar for the second round of the NCAA Tournament, bypassing a chance to travel to Raleigh, N.C. and watch the Minutemen in person. The opportunity to cheer against a regional opponent was too rich for David Smith of Sunderland.

“Yeah, sure I could’ve probably made the trek to North Carolina,” Smith said. “But if I’m not here to cuss CBS out every time the camera cuts to Jim Calhoun, who else is going to do it?”

Hate-watching UConn has become a rite of passage for Smith, who learned it from his father. Both UMass and the Huskies are considered rivals, despite neither school facing each other recently.

“My father banned us from wearing navy blue and gray clothing,” Smith said. “Now, I have two sons and it’s only fair I pass along the tradition.”

Smith was later seen lecturing his 11-year old son about why the name Chaz is allegedly vastly superior to Shabazz.

This year’s version of hate-watching has been especially difficult for UMass fans, as the Huskies recently defeated Michigan State to reach the Final Four. The fans have loyally returned to their respective posts at Rafters as UConn advanced through every round. What was initially a sense of optimism has turned to bitterness and confusion.

“It’s ruined my month of March,” Armstrong said. “Every weekend we come back hoping to see an epic Huskies collapse and we’ve been disappointed every week. It’s not even like they deserve to go to the Final Four, they barely graduate any players. ”

Armstrong, who pointed out that UConn’s success affects his well-being on a daily basis, was recently asked to sleep on the couch by his wife.

UMass’ performance in the NCAA Tournament did little to aid the spirits of the hate-watchers. The Minutemen lost 86-67 to Tennessee in a relatively unexciting affair, ending a promising season on a disappointing note.

“We showed up,” Armstrong said.

With the early exit, all sights were set on a Huskies team which entered the tournament without much publicity as a seven seed. It didn’t stop fans from watching intently from within Rafters.

“That Napier guy, he gets all the calls,” Smith said. “If Chaz (Williams) got as many whistles as he did, he’d be the best point guard in the league. And that Kevin Ollie guy, is he actually the coach? He looks like he just graduated last year.”

Neither Smith nor Armstrong have any intentions of stopping the hate-watching despite UConn’s success. Both will be among what’s expected to be at least 100 fans who will gather on Saturday to watch the Huskies face Florida in the Final Four.

“There’s no way they’ll win the National Championship,” Armstrong said.

“No way,” Smith piped up from the background as he shielded his sons eyes as the Huskies finished off the Spartans.

“If they do, I’ll eat my fist.”

Gas Masterson can’t be reached conventionally, but you may find him at the closest Bruce Springsteen concert. He’s rarely late and enjoys a nice pair of slacks.