On a late Tuesday night in 2014, a Michigan Daily sports writer had just left from a night of editing when he stumbled upon the Diag block ‘M’ painted green with the letters ‘S’ and ‘U’ alongside it.
An anonymous vandal had gone viral with just two cans of paint.
Pictures of the defaced landmark and a cleaning crew with a power hose spread online. Some Michigan students blamed their friends up at East Lansing, and others blamed a University fraternity that had camped out to protect the ‘M’ in prior years.
What happened in the last four years — since the painted blocked ‘M’ — was a major turnaround filled with classic rivalry moments. Here’s our recap of the biggest moments in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry over the last four years.
2014: Big stakes… in the Spartans’ turf
Wolverines fans were rightfully nervous in the days leading up to the 2014 Michigan-Michigan State football game. Michigan football was 3-4, suffering from losses to Rutgers, Minnesota and a 31-point shutout at Notre Dame.
And as if the spray paint on the Diag wasn’t taunting enough, few expected the Wolverines to have much luck against then-No. 8 Michigan State and former Spartan quarterback Connor Cook.
In response to the hype, junior linebacker Joe Bolden walked onto the field before kickoff followed by his teammates. He held up a tent stake and drove it into the turf.
He later claimed that his intentions were to motivate his team, but across the field, the Spartans felt disrespected.
2014: Not even close, Michigan State victory
Once the stake was lifted, Michigan State ran all over the Wolverines for 446 total yards and four touchdowns. Cook threw over 200 yards, and aside from one rushing touchdown, the Wolverines weren’t competitive in any phase of the game.
To say the least, it was an embarrassing loss for Michigan. All went according to plan for the Spartans, and they continued to taunt the Wolverines all game. A group of Michigan State students camped overnight to get front row seats so they could show off the “KEEP BRADY HOKE” letters they had painted on their chests.
“They’re just breaking records left and right for sucking this year,” one of those students said to the Daily that year. “It’s great. It’s a historic year.”
2015: Magic Johnson gets a maize-over
Something about spray paint gets Michigan and Michigan State fans riled up.
A year after the Diag ‘M’ showed up green, an unnamed Michigan fan tagged the Magic Johnson statue outside the Michigan State’s basketball arena.
A large yellow ‘M’ appeared on Johnson’s chest, his face was painted yellow and the words “BEAT STATE” were written on statue’s base.
Though a recurring theme, this particular case of vandalism hit closer to home for Spartan fans. The Sparty Statue on Michigan State’s campus had been coated maize and blue multiple times in the prior years. Sparty was the usual target, and students were prepared to defend it.
Going after Michigan State’s most famous basketball alum seemed like a cheap shot.
2015: With Gameday on site, Corso goes blue
Ignited by new coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football was back in the national spotlight in 2015. Despite a season-opening loss to Utah, the Wolverines had won five straight games going into rivalry weekend, including a 38-0 win over then-No. 13 Northwestern.
ESPN’s College Gameday aired from Ann Arbor for the first time since 2013. Michigan was ranked No. 12, and the Spartans sat at No. 7.
Tensions brewed high, and when broadcaster Lee Corso picked Michigan to win by lifting an oversized Michigan helmet from beneath his desk, the crowd erupted.
What followed was one of the most memorable college football games not just of the year, but the foreseeable future.
2015: The fumbled-punt seen ‘round the world
Do you remember where you were when Jalen Watts-Jackson returned the fumbled punt to beat Michigan?
Most college football fans do, too.
Watts-Jackson’s name is ingrained in the minds of Michigan fans. When Michigan punter Blake O’Neill mishandled the snap, the college football world tuned in. It was a night to forget for the Wolverines, but a night that national media would never let die. Images from the game’s finish, like Michigan student Chris Baldwin’s shocked reaction, reappear every time the schools meet.
Ann Arbor went silent that night.
All game long, after parties were being planned and group chats were blowing up. “Michigan is gonna go top four,” somebody texted me in the third quarter. Maybe Michigan would have.
But when Watts-Jackson crossed over the goal line, that all came to a halt.
2016: A new recipe…
The first rematch after the botched punt was highly anticipated, but the scene in East Lansing had completely changed since Michigan’s last trip to the state capital.
Wolverine fans were present, and they made their presence known. When wide receiver Eddie McDoom ran a jet sweep, you could actually hear the “Doooom” chants from the visiting fans. No Michigan State students painted “KEEP HARBAUGH” on their chests.
Then-No. 2 Michigan dominated, and it was clear that Michigan State’s three-year run had concluded. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated, and the Paul Bunyan trophy went back to Ann Arbor.
2016: … With Peppers on top
Late in the game, the Wolverines led 30-23. The Spartans had scored a meaningless touchdown, and in hopes of padding the score line, set up to attempt a two-point conversion.
They lost control of a toss, and linebacker Jabrill Peppers, the face of the 2016 Michigan football team, scooped up the ball and sprinted the other direction.
Peppers ran all the way for the safety. It might not have left the same impression as the prior year’s ending, but it stung for Michigan State fans nonetheless. When the clock finally reached zero, Peppers stood at midfield, and back flipped in celebration.
2017: To be determined…
It’s a quieter year for the rivalry.
Saturday night will be the first night game in Ann Arbor in three years, and the first night game of this rivalry in the 110-game series. Michigan and Michigan State will duke it out once again. There’s no College Gameday, no infamous vandalisms and No. 7 Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 4-0 overall) is favored to win comfortably. As everyone knows, though, nothing is over until it’s over between these two teams.