Thoughts & Prayers: Michigan State’s Game-By-Game Dominance Over Michigan
Crowley Sullivan is a 20-year sports-media veteran having spent ten years at ESPN as a producer, programmer, content creator, business developer, and brand manager. He now serves as EVP, Planning/GM, Sports for MandtVR, a content creation platform that emphasizes Virtual Reality initiatives.
Bother Crowley at @CrowleySullivan
Michigan State Is The Big Brother
Full disclosure: I’m not objective.
Fact: human beings are not objective.
Issue: people across our land – particularly those who write, report, and speak about “things” – go to great lengths to claim they are objective.
They are not.
Anecdote: I once was at a professional luncheon where a guest was invited to provide perspectives on “journalism” in America. This guest was an ombudsman for a well-known newspaper that, since this luncheon was “off the record,” we’ll call the Schmoo Snork Schlimes. He said his newspaper had specific political leanings and that those leanings were understood by all employees of the newspaper.
His counsel to the “board” was to eschew the veneer and be transparent about the newspaper’s ideology. He said if publications were straightforward about their lack of objectivity, everyone would come to trust and accept the publications far more easily. Worth noting that this luncheon took place in 2005.
It’s with this backdrop from which I speak with you this week, people.
The Michigan State – University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (UMAA) rivalry is the most underappreciated, and, perhaps, most intense rivalry in college football.
And the two schools hate one another.
No puffy pretense and pageantry.
No weepy radio announcers speaking with solemnity about the ghosts and the magic and the myths.
No flowery talk about mutual respect.
Just contempt, disrespect, and, hatred.
One school spent decades expending energy, resources, funds, and political muscle blocking the other school from becoming a member of the Big Ten.
The other school has spent 150+ years fighting an uphill battle against the school that insists – to this day – that the DNA in Ann Arbor is superior to the DNA in East Lansing.
Of course, just about all rivalries stem from superior/inferior elements.
But I’m not talking about those other rivalries today.
I’m a Spartan and I’m sharing Green & White perspectives without apology.
SOME MICHIGAN STATE OVER MICHIGAN FACTS
Let’s start with this.
I saw a TV idiot say this on a preview this week: “Michigan State actually beat Michigan the last time these teams played in Ann Arbor.”
Fact: Mark Dantonio has lost once in Ann Arbor since becoming head coach for Michigan State eleven years ago. The loss came on a last-second field goal by a kicker that shouldn’t have been playing due to his embroilment in a sexual assault scandal. However, that kicker had a beautiful mane that gloriously flapped in the wind as it breathed out of the back of his helmet for all to see.
During Dantonio’s press conference this week, he said this: “When I came here, one of my goals was to make this a rivalry. I think it’s a rivalry. We’ll leave it at that.”
It’s that last part that means so much – “we’ll leave it at that.”
The translation of the “we’ll leave it at that” goes like this: “We all know they try so hard to pretend that we don’t matter to them – but we know that we’ve kicked them all over the place for the last decade and they lie awake at night sweating over it.”
Dantonio is 7-3 against UMAA.
Michigan State has won seven of the last nine and Mike Hart’s “little brother” comments after UMAA’s 28-24 victory in Dantonio’s first season epitomized the view from Ann Arbor.
How about that view from Ann Arbor since then?
Fact: since 1990, the series stands at 15-12. UMAA enjoys the three game edge.
Kudos to UMAA for that edge.
I’m confident that most UMAAers aren’t aware of the 15-12 thing.
They’re definitely aware of ongoing discussions about the school bestowing a posthumous honorary degree on Upton Sinclair as well as the school’s ongoing search for a rumored child of a Jane Fonda/John Kenneth Galbraith summer fling in 1968 who may yet save our society.
But the 15-12 mark of this rivalry is news to these people.
Let’s take a peek at some of the bigger moments of this alley fight and see if folks out there recall some of what’s gone down over the years…
2015 – RCONSTRUCTING THE PLAY, PART I
Question: did UMAA’s Australian punter know that American football rules don’t state that you actually must punt the football?
The Australian’s reaction to the muffed snap suggests that, in his mind, he MUST kick the football.
It stands to reason that no UMAA coach ever actually spent any time making sure that the Australian punter understood the rules of American football.
So, the various pieces I’ve read this week about the strength and dignity of the Australian punter – forgive me if I don’t pause to pay my respects.
2015 – RECONSTRUCTING THE PLAY, PART II: JAKE BUTT GETS DESTROYED
Everyone’s favorite tight end, Jake Butt, has gotten off scot-free ever since this happened.
He gets absolutely destroyed by the Spartans on this play.
No matter how awesome Jake Butt is, he has to live with this forever.
UMAA has to live with this forever.
Michigan State gets to live with this forever.
My kids now say, routinely, whenever a game of any kind appears to be out of reach, “Remember Jalen Watts-Jackson.”
Jalen Watts-Jackson will be remembered.
2010 – I WONDER WHAT WAS SAID AT THE POST GAME HANDSHAKE
Two weeks after suffering a heart attack following the “Little Giants” victory over Notre Dame, Mark Dantonio returns to the sidelines in Ann Arbor and leads Michigan State to a 34-17 win.
His program continues its dominance in the series.
If I suffer from some upper chest wheezing or if I succumb to an attack of the hiccups, I’m out of commission for a week.
This guy had a heart attack.
He was back on the sidelines coaching his team against his chief rival two weeks later.
And he puts a beatdown on the rival.
2001 – SOMETIMES, LIFE ISN’T FAIR. DEAL WITH IT
“We deserved better.”
That’s what UMAA head coach Lloyd Carr said in the immediate aftermath of this controversial classic.
Why did you “deserve better?”
You did not.
You got precisely what you deserved.
You lost this game.
Deal with it.
Lloyd Carr is a lot like the lovable uncle who has a ton of hilarious stories, has traveled all over the world with his various girlfriends, can hold the attention of the Thanksgiving dinner table for 40 minutes with brilliant joke after brilliant joke, and remembers everyone’s birthdays with a phone call each year.
Except that Lloyd Carr is absolutely nothing like that and doesn’t even get the credit he deserves as a half-national championship winning coach from his own fans since his personality makes him less appealing than Janice Soprano.
1999 – DAVID TERRELL, MEET PLAXICO BURRESS
Plaxico Burress with the game of his life.
Not even Tom Brady can rescue UMAA in a 34-31 thriller.
UMAA thought it would be a good idea to put David Terrell on Plaxico.
It was not a good idea.
1995 – UMAA, MEET UPSTART COACH NICK SABAN
Nick Saban’s first matchup against UMAA is punctuated with a sensational last minute drive led by Tony Banks who finds Nigea Carter in the corner of the endzone as the snow falls.
Another dramatic win that Michigan State gets to live with forever.
UMAA has to live with this forever.
Back in these days, Saban wore bifocals, had nubby teeth that were not nearly as white as they are today, and his hair was graying compared to the auburn (pardon the word choice but it’s also a color) hue of today.
1993 – PERLES HAD SOME GAS LEFT IN THE TANK
Just when the UMAAers thought George Perles was toes-up, he whips up a masterpiece and Sparty smothers UMAA in a classic bareknuckle brawl.
17-7 here and it wasn’t that close.
Perles was a flawed man.
He won’t ever be recognized as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.
He won’t ever be confused with Milton Friedman.
And he wasn’t ever a candidate for Most Handsome Man in Ingham County.
But, when he wasn’t busy wiping the hot wings sauce off of his face, this guy rolled up his sleeves and put his dukes up against UMAA.
1989 – LET’S GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE…
Blake Ezor is stopped on four straight runs from inside the five-yard line and Bo Schembechler gets out of East Lansing with a much-needed win by a score of 10-7.
There was scuttlebutt that Bo’s time had passed and that Perles was in the process of supplanting him, still fresh off of the Rose Bowl victory on January 1st, 1988.
After the game, Schembechler said, in typical UMAA-to-Lansing-Tech-fashion: “The better team won.”
Schembechler was right.
Schembechler’s bowl record puts a stamp on his career in the way a sack of manure poured into the grave at burial properly celebrated Boss Tweed.
1990 – SOMETIMES LIFE ISN’T FAIR. DEAL WITH IT. AND LISTEN TO JACKSON’S CALL.
Forgotten by all of the whiners within this all-time classic upset of the #1 ranked UMAAers is the fact that Keith Jackson’s immediate (and repeated) words are, “Hey had it – and he dropped it.”
The ball was right, smack in Howard’s bread basket.
Nobody ever seems to want to acknowledge that.
He dropped the pass.
Totally forgotten is that UMAA was stopped cold on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line in the first half by a ferocious Spartan defense.
Totally forgotten is that UMAA missed a chip shot field goal at the end of the first half.
After this one, George Perles couldn’t wait to say what he’d been wanting to say for a year after Schembechler’s post-game comment from the previous year’s game: “The tougher team won.”
Perles was right.
1987 – MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE TRIED THE PANCAKES?
UMAA’s Demetrious Brown threw seven interceptions in this game.
How does a coach even allow his quarterback be in a position to “complete” seven interceptions?
Lorenzo White and the Spartan offensive line humbled the UMAAers.
The Gang Green defense humbled everyone.
As for Schembechler going with his quarterback all the way and seeing to it that his quarterback would complete seven interceptions –
If I fix myself scrambled eggs for breakfast and I throw up all over the kitchen floor immediately after eating the scrambled eggs, that’s a drag.
If I then continue to stand in my kitchen and make scrambled eggs for myself five or six more times, throwing up all over the kitchen floor after eating each new batch of scrambled eggs, don’t I need to examine my decision-making and general approach to preparing breakfast for myself?
At what point would I sort of need to say to myself, “Man – I’m not really digging the way I keep making scrambled eggs and throwing up all over the kitchen floor. I wonder if maybe we have some cereal or waffles or something that I might be able to eat without throwing up everywhere…”
1984 – THE QUARTERBACKS’S ARM WAS BROKEN IN HALF
When Jamie Morris fumbled the ball as his Wolverines trailed Michigan State 13-7 in this shocker from yore, UMAA’s starting quarterback lunged for the loose ball.
The problem for that quarterback was that Michigan State’s future Super Bowl Shuffling linebacker, Jim Morrissey, was dead-set on beating that quarterback to the ball.
Morrissey broke Jim Harbaugh’s arm in half on that play.
To most of us, it seems reasonable to assume that the broken arm had a lasting impact on Coach Harbaugh’s penchant for burning bridges, and his ability to somehow lay claim to the wearing of khaki pants despite the fact that roughly 98% of all male professionals wear khaki pants and there really isn’t anything original or even interesting about wearing khaki pants.
I’m wearing khaki pants at this moment.
Alert ESPN and have everyone across the media talk incessantly about how kooky and original I am for wearing khaki pants.
And when one stops to examine the close losses Coach Harbaugh has sustained since becoming head coach at UMAA, one finds a pattern.
When his team has a lead late and the game is tight, something else becomes tight – Coach Harbaugh’s mind and select body orifices.
His inability to close out would-be wins at Iowa City, Columbus, and in Ann Arbor against this week’s opponent is one of the more under-examined coaching dynamics in college football over the last few years.
When a man is too consumed with officials, too consumed with waving his arms around like a windmill after every play for any of the imagined slights his team is a supposed victim of, too consumed with yelling and screaming at anyone within a fifty yard radius about issues related to things that are indiscernible, that man becomes less focused on the need to calmly and strongly lead his team to closing out the game properly.
That snap that the Australian had trouble with in 2015 – if Coach Harbaugh had his head on straight and managed to think about the best way to convert a simple first down, the Australian punter would never have been on the field and the clock would have simply expired.
But back to the 1984 battle between these teams when Jim Morrissey broke Jim Harbaugh’s arm in half –
Michigan State pounded UMAA 19-7 on this day and Bobby Morse’s punt return still reverberates.
ATHLETIC DIRECTORS UNITED
The athletic directors of the two schools co-authored a letter to the fan bases of these schools this week that implored the fans to behave in a civil manner, to treat to the opposing fans with respect, and to see to it that the discussions after the game are about the game and not the behaviors of the fans.
One of the athletic directors is among the most respected, most admired, most innovative, and most successful athletic directors in all of collegiate athletics.
The other athletic director is the athletic director for UMAA.
Not long ago, UMAA’s athletic director was taking the college sports space by storm with his corporate efficiency and hard-charging approach to accountability.
Dave Brandon implemented some interesting initiatives as UMAA’s athletic director that included paying a sky-writing pilot to sky write GO BLUE over Spartan Stadium one Fall Saturday. It was a bit unusual that the opponent for the Spartans as they played that day in Spartan Stadium was South Florida – but sometimes it’s hard to understand the brilliance of America’s captains of industry.
Dave Brandon also offered free tickets to UMAA football games with the purchase of a bottle of Coca-Cola. This was a shrewd move and one that the athletic directors across the nation have spent many hours in meetings conducting important After Action Reviews to determine the success quotients of the marketing strategy.
But, without a doubt, Dave Brandon’s legacy will always be attached to his shrewdest move – the hiring of Brady Hoke.
But Dave Brandon continues to show us the way.
As the CEO of Toys R Us, he is in the process of turning around a key player across the retail landscape.
One of his shrewdest moves, so far, is to have filed the company for bankruptcy.
Look out, folks.
It’s the titans of industry who understand that the key to any success story starts with the bankruptcy filing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, there are a ton of great games on the docket this Saturday – and they all matter and they’ll all be great.
But, to one college football community, there’s only one game and one mission that matters.
Are there other great rivalries? Of course.
But from where I sit, there is only one that makes the blood boil; only one that matters in the middle of April only; only one that causes me to not talk with my father for a day (and, in 2015, for about a week); only one that can stir up memories that bring back the smells, the feel, the colors, the moments, the joy, the heartache, the shock, the fun, the hate, and the passions that make all of this what it is.
People who wear Green & White proudly stomp their feet over this one.
We proudly make sure the chip on the shoulder is the size of The Paul Bunyan Trophy.
We proudly recognize that there are some of us who would take one victory in a whole season if it guaranteed the victory came in this game.
We proudly cue up Coach D’s “Pride Comes Before The Fall” after a tough loss to any opponent.
We proudly walk tall thinking about the “Spartans Will” slogan, knowing it points out how our school is built on a philosophy of doing things rather than sitting around and theorizing about the way things should be.
And the other guys spend their energy pretending this game and this stuff doesn’t really matter to them.
They’re missing out on all of the fun.
And they’re gonna miss out on a lot of fun on Saturday.
STATE – 26
UMAA – 16
And now, I’m going to lie down on Dr. Schnicklelinder’s couch for forty-five minutes….
OTHER STUFF THAT I MUST ADMIT MATTERS – END OF SEPTEMBER RANKINGS
The Fighting Elephants
Earl Bradley University
The State Beverage is Milk
The State Marine Mammal is the Orca
DeFazio and Feeney were exceptional bottle-cappers
Affiliated with – but not governed by – the Disciples of Christ
The State Land Mammal is the Olympic Marmot
The Professional Football Club of Columbus