This is my third football posting in as many weeks. I must be a frustrated sportswriter...
October 14: I left Illinois this afternoon at 3 pm and headed east on 1-94. I was going to Detroit. I am visiting my parents and attending the Michigan - Michigan State Game which will take place in E. Lansing tomorrow at noon. I am going with my good friend Jack Hachigian, his family, and friends. He gives me a ticket when the game is at Spartan Stadium. I reciprocate when the game is in Ann Arbor.
It should be a good game tomorrow. Michigan, somehow, is rated in the top ten and Michigan State is in the high teens. I am not sure how Michigan is rated above Michigan State especially given that the Spartans are favored by three over the Wolverines!? But such is the dichotomies of college football subjective rankings.
This will be the best game in the past few years. The Spartans have won the last three games. If they win tomorrow, it will be the first time MSU won four in a row over Michigan since the 1950s. I sure hope that doesn't happen.
There are lots of such instate rivalries: Iowa - Iowa State, USC - UCLA, Auburn - Alabama, Florida - Florida State, and Washington - Washington State to name a few. Around here, where I grew up in Detroit, there is no other in state rivalry that matches Michigan vs. Michigan State. But, I bet they say the same thing in Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa. The announcers will always say it is for in state bragging rights not only of the players but for the fans as well.
I am a different kind of fan. I fully understand that you cannot have a rivalry without the rival. I also understand that for a rivalry has to be close to 50-50 in victories. If one team dominates the other year after year, the passion dissipates. The rivalry becomes lame. It has to be evenly matched to maintain the intensity. Not everyone sees it like me. Most want to pound the other team into a pulp every year winning 63-0. These folks do not understand the dynamics of a good rivalry.
When it comes to Michigan State, I generally like the Spartans. I tell anyone and everyone that the Spartans are my second favorite team in any college sport. I want them only to lose to Michigan, but I want them to beat everyone else. It is that simple. If they beat Michigan in football or basketball, I want them to win the Big Ten and a National Championship. I enjoyed the basketball success of the school since Magic Johnson was there. I am glad that their football program is reborn and competitive under the tutelage of Coach Dantonio. He has done a great job.
There is an exception, actually two exceptions: Ohio State and Southern Cal. I like seeing these teams lose as many games as possible. I am not sure why? It may be their obnoxious attitudes. I do believe Ohio State and their fans are actually poor winners (you heard that term coined here first). Something is wrong when collectively the team and fans are poor winners. If you ask me who my favorite team is, I am likely to answer Michigan and then Michigan State. I am equally likely to answer, Michigan and whoever is playing Ohio State. When Ohio State and Southern Cal play, I wonder if it is possible for both teams to lose.
Having said this, and had my little hissy fit, I cannot really hate Ohio State. As I said, there is no rivalry without the rival. Furthermore, the series has to kind of be 50-50. It was great fun, but not a great rivalry when we beat them 10 out of 12 times in the late 1980s and 1990s. It has been out right dismal and also not a great rivalry in this century when Ohio State has turned the tables on us and won like 8-9 games in a row. The Ohio State and Michigan rivalry has not been that great in the past 20 years. It has been lopsided. Now, in the famed ten year war between Woody and Bo, the record was 5-4-1 in favor of Bo. It was crazy intense and really took the game to another level.
That is what I want for Michigan State and Michigan. I want Hoke and Dantonio to commence a ten year war tomorrow. It would be a blessing to both schools and their fans. I am totally OK with us winning the first round.
October 15: Well for all the hype and all the excitement, Michigan is not yet ready to resume this rivalry. We lost today, 28-14.
The Spartan defense was just too good for the Michigan offense. We were held to just 250 yards which is the lowest production of the year for our high powered offense. Michigan relies on the running game, specifically the running game of quarterback Denard Robinson. The MSU defense was aggressive, tough, and quite skilled. They held the Wolverines to a mere 82 yards rushing. Coming into this game, Denard Robinson was the leading rusher in the Big Ten. Today, I am sure he is nursing his banged and bruised body from the punishment doled out by the Spartans. The Spartan defense put pressure on the Michigan quarterbacks the entire game. In the second half, they seemed to sack our QB with increasing frequency. Their defensive front are monsters... very fast and agile monsters.
The Spartans came out of the tunnel on fire. They were pretty jacked up. That intensity and excitement was not contained. They were penalized 13 times for 124 yards. Something like six of these penalties were for late hits, roughing the passer, and unnecessary roughness. Late in the 4th Quarter they knocked Denard out of the game by slamming him to the turf after he had already passed the ball. That resulted in a roughing the passer penalty. I have to believe beating our guys up was part of their strategy.
Before the game I thought we would score some points and the game would be settled by our defense versus their offense. Their offense scored 21 points on our defense. I had assumed our potent offense would finally rack up some points on MSU. I was wrong. Our first down productivity was not very good. We seemed to be facing 2nd and 10 or 8 on every series. Our second down productivity was not much better.
I knew we were mis-matched most of the game. We were clearly a better team than the last few years, but still not ready for the prime time. We were clearly not deserving of our high ranking in the poll. We will no doubt move down and the Spartans should definitely move up.
While I knew we were mis-matched as the game progressed into the 2nd Quarter. I began to get upset and angry. I did not realize how much or why until about twenty minutes after the game ended. Now, there is no reason to get upset at a football game simply because they represent a school I graduated from in 1974 and 1978. I should not really be upset because of the main fact that I had no control or influence on the outcome of the game... no matter how much I yelled or cheered. I probably have very little in common with most of the so called students playing for either team. Most of them could not have gotten into either school if they had to rely on their academics alone. Yet, I am not alone in this living and dying with our teams.
I knew my being upset and angry was due, simply, to the fact that I had drunk the Kool-Aid that my team was back and competitive. I was mostly upset and angry with myself for not being more rational and objective about our status. The State fans were proud and happy as well they should be. The Sparty fans did not lord their victory over us either. They were gracious. Most of them thought that the game was in question until Denard was intercepted in the 4th Quarter that was run back for the final score of the game. I realized that my being upset and angry was exactly how the Spartan fans felt for many years between the Duffy Dougherty glory years of the 1950s-1960s until Mark Dantanio won the first of this current run of four in a row.
People in the same row were I was sitting unfurled a banner that read "Who is arrogant now??? 4-0." They were referring to a term, Arrogant Asses, that a former MSU coach used when referencing the University of Michigan and their fans. It was said in frustration with the lopsided record and, truly, our arrogant attitude in that regard. We had a superiority complex and they had a serious inferiority complex. I looked at the sign and did not like it. But, the truth is the truth. I had to rely on the philosophical belief that we are improving and the last haven of the recently beaten... wait until next year.
I have seen the look of how I was feeling and no doubt was easily discerned from my visage. I have seen that feeling in the eyes and body language of my good friend and host for the day, Jack Hachigian, several times when Michigan beat MSU. I remember when he stood next to me at the famous triple overtime game when Michigan, who was pushed around most of the game, came back to tie the game and then win it in dynamic fashion in three overtimes. It was one of the great victories for Michigan in the series. It was one of the most bitter defeats for MSU and their fans. This loss for us was nowhere near as bitter. In fact, if we had taken the game to multiple OTs, I would have felt we were on equal footing again with our in-state rivals.
We shall see what next year brings...