I heard on my radio dial yesterday that if you aren’t currently living in or had previously lived in the state of Michigan…then the Wolverines versus the Spartans annual football game is just another interstate rivalry game across this great country of ours. And probably just like any one of those, you can say it’s the most intense game of the year….Pitt vs Penn State…Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State…Florida vs Florida State…I’m sure it’s all the same.
The Wolverines are not lacking rivalries…that is a certainty. They have their annual battle with Notre Dame…the trophy game with Minnesota where UM equipment manager Jon Falk gets the Little Brown Jug out of the display case in Schembechler Hall…dusts it off, puts it in the carrying case and he rolls it out onto the field behind the Michigan bench. Once every 15 years or so, the Gophers get to take it back to Minneapolis for a year…but it quickly returns to Ann Arbor. Shan’t we forget the season-ending battle with the Buckeyes…and although the Buckeyes have recently dominated the series, UM still holds a pretty sizable advantage in the overall series…it still is a big game.
Each rivalry game across the U.S. has spirit and great traditions and games that stand out for one reason or another….but this Michigan-Michigan State game…year in and year out, means the most to me as a Michigan fan.
But those losses to MSU just stay with me…I think there are a couple reasons.
The first and most annoying reason is the Spartan fans. It isn’t that Spartan fans are annoying (yes it is) it’s the fact that they are everywhere. They linger around at work….they infest family gatherings…they foul up regular grocery shopping trips…even this past Sunday as I was taking the family to a cider mill, there were even Spartan fans lined up outside liquor stores waiting for them to open. I can’t go from point A to point B without seeing that little green “S” on a license plate or a tattered green car flag that looks like it has just come back from Baghdad flying by me on US-23. To a point, I can understand why they are so excited…they have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years..so I have to give them their due.
The second reason….the losses linger like bad Mexican carryout…and this reason directly relates to the first reason. The first loss I remember to MSU was in 1984..UM was 3-1 heading into this one and MSU was 1-3 having lost 3 straight. The Spartans won that day in Ann Arbor 19-7 and I was crushed…I fully expected Michigan to win..because they had the better record…give me a break..I was 13. I just couldn’t understand how a team that was 1-3 could go on the road and beat a team that had a much better record….and of course UM went on to have a horrible record 6-6. The next loss was the last time MSU went to the Rose Bowl in 1987…MSU won that game 17-11 behind the running of Lorenzo White…the 2nd best HB I have ever seen in East Lansing. Michigan also went on to have an un-Bo like 8-4 record losing to MSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Indiana of all teams….but after that…it was mostly landmark losses earmarked by unforgettable experiences….the list follows;
1990- MSU 28-27…Desmond Howard tripped by an MSU DB…#21 still should’ve caught it, but the penalty wasn’t called.
1995- MSU 28-25…my first and last trip to the MSU press box…I had a press pass and if there is one thing you cannot do in a press box is cheer, root or even show support for one of the teams in the game you are reporting on…MSU was up big and all I saw were people like Tico Duckett walking by me high-fiving George Blaha and George Perles running back and forth from the buffet line cheering while choking down turkey leg after turkey leg. Completely unprofessional.
1999- MSU 34-31…the Plaxico Burress game…Michigan couldn’t cover him at all..they even tried putting David Terrell, A WR on him…and they still only won by three…but I still hear about that game.
2001- MSU 26-24…TJ Duckett and the clock game…”Spartan Bob” was the reason the NCAA no longer allows the home team to provide clock operators…nope nothing wrong with that practice.
My point is this…MSU will let you know that they have beaten you….even if it is only 11 times in the last 40 games. They currently trail the all-time series against Michigan 67-31-5…and they have strung together three straight wins in the series for the first time since the mid 1960’s. It also happens to coincide with the worst 3 years of Michigan football ever in its 132 year history. But don’t tell them that. “It’s all about now…what have you done lately” Well congratulations Spartan fans….keep hanging your hat on your three game winning streak and your shared Big Ten title that 20% of the conference also had last year. If you want the Michigan fans and the nation to respect what you’ve done…here’s a list of things you may want to do before fans start rolling out the red carpet for you….
A) Win big road games…consistently for a year or two.
B) Win a big bowl game…not necessarily a BCS game..that would be asking too much.
C) How about three straight winning seasons?…like 97 through 99 or better yet..88-90.
D) Forget about Michigan…beat the Iowa’s or the Minnesota’s or the Purdue’s regularly.
These are just a couple of things that may or may not get your program on the road to respectability. Ask Tom Izzo what to do…he’s done it…and that’s quite a program he’s established there…believe me….I’ve heard about that one too.