SportsMonday Column: Saturday shows why Michigan, Michigan State rivalry is great

Sunday, October 21, 2018 - 7:45pm

The Michigan football team celebrated Saturday's win at midfield, on top of Michigan State's logo.

The Michigan football team celebrated Saturday's win at midfield, on top of Michigan State's logo. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

During his weekly teleconference Sunday night, more than 24 hours after it happened, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was asked about Saturday’s pregame fracas between his team and Michigan.

“I’m not gonna bother commenting on it,” Dantonio said. “The whole thing to me was sort of juvenile to me.”

You can call it juvenile. You can call it bush league. You can call it B.S. Those are the words Dantonio and Jim Harbaugh used when talking about the incident.

I don’t care how anyone describes it. What happened Saturday was amazing.

This is the best rivalry that both teams have going for them right now. With the exception of 2016, every game in the series’ current chapter — Harbaugh vs. Dantonio — has been incredible and incredibly weird, at the same time.

It makes for high-quality television. It makes for outstanding football games, no matter how sloppy they may get.

But the previous three games were missing something.

They were missing exactly what Dantonio thought was “sort of juvenile.”

Let’s go back and examine what happened. Around two hours before the noon kickoff, a group of Michigan players were on the field stretching. Michigan spokesperson Dave Ablauf said that the Wolverines thought the Spartans would arrive for the team’s traditional pre-game walk at 9:50; hence why Michigan was on the field at 10, for the warm-ups before the warm-ups.

We don’t know whether there was a miscommunication, but Michigan State did not arrive at 9:50. The Spartans arrived at 10 and began walking down the field with their arms locked and helmets strapped on at 10:02.

Michigan’s players didn’t want to move. Michigan State kept walking. Which meant everyone else got to watch both teams play a weird version of Red Rover. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall got into it with several Spartans. Sophomore cornerback Lavert Hill’s pair of very nice black headphones were not-so-nicely ripped off. Junior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. was held back as he yelled at Michigan State. Then, minutes later, he dug his cleats into the ground and mangled the Spartan logo at midfield.

Damn. I haven’t even gotten to the game itself yet — which was an absolute doozy.

There was a long weather delay. There were improbable completions off deflected balls. The bad weather came back. Michigan State paid homage to Nick Foles and the Philly Special. There was a one-handed snag by a punter, who proceeded to rip one for 60 yards. One offense heated up down the stretch. The other stayed cold all game.

When the game ended, Michigan rushed the field — as if it had won a national championship, said Michigan State play-by-play announcer George Blaha during the live radio broadcast — and Bush did several backflips to celebrate his team’s 21-7 victory. 

Later, Harbaugh sat at a podium and made his “bush league” comment. In the room next door, someone relayed Harbaugh’s comments to Dantonio, who said, “That’s B.S. You heard me. That’s B.S.”

“You guys get your cameras out,” he continued. “It’s all on Fox. I’m not gonna go to that. Go ahead, next question.”

A few seconds later: “Bush league? Mmmhmm.”

Like I said, incredible.

We are back to where this rivalry was 11 years ago, when former Michigan running back Mike Hart called Michigan State “little brother” after winning his fourth consecutive game against the Spartans.

Dantonio, then in his first year coaching the Spartans, hit back.

“I find a lot of the things they do amusing. They need to check themselves sometimes. Let’s just remember, pride comes before the fall,” he said. “They want to mock us, I’m telling them, it’s not over. They want to print that crap all over their locker room, it’s not over and it’ll never be over. It’s just starting.”

Then he coached Michigan State to six wins in the ensuing seven years leading up to Harbaugh’s arrival. In 2014, former Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake through midfield. But that gesture felt hollow. The Spartans trounced the Wolverines that day, 35-11, and former Michigan coach Brady Hoke later apologized for what Bolden did. 

The series has been much closer since then. Both teams are now 2-2 in the past four years. No one is apologizing for anything. 

Let’s hear from fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich: “We knew that they couldn’t hang with us. We did what he had to do. Sometimes your little brother starts acting up, and you just gotta put them in place.”

After the game, he tweeted, “I’d like to take this moment to apologize...FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Go Blue!”

These two teams hate each other, they have always hated each other and now they’re not going to bother trying to conceal it.

That’s great. That’s how it should be. One team is going to spend the next year thinking about what went wrong Saturday. The other team is going to remember what went right for a very long time. Next year, they’ll do it all over again.

Can’t wait.

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