By now, you’ve probably heard Jim Harbaugh’s quote from his Monday press conference.
The Michigan football coach was asked if he has given his players any directive on how to talk about the sixth-ranked Wolverines’ upcoming game with No. 24 Michigan State.
“I think we could all use a break from the clichés that have been plowed so thoroughly on both sides,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh didn’t mention any in particular, but there are dozens to choose from.
One of those clichés has become Harbaugh’s record against his rivals, including a 1-2 mark against the Spartans. Detractors of Harbaugh, including many Michigan State fans, love to talk about that. It has made the common response — pointing out how close Michigan’s two losses under Harbaugh were — just as cliché.
Wolverine fans, on the other hand, like to praise their team’s historical dominance in the rivalry — Michigan leads the all-time series, 69-36-5. Spartan faithful will then point out that their team is 8-2 in the last 10 matchups. Those stats have been plowed pretty thoroughly.
That’s how this rivalry has always been. The back-and-forth is part of it, especially between the fanbases.
Then there are the quotes that have added fuel to the fire over the years.
Back in 1978, then-Michigan State coach Darryl Rogers called the Wolverines and their fans “arrogant asses.” Perhaps that sentiment still lingers today? I’ll leave that up to the readers.
The most recent resurgence of these sound bites came in 2007, when the Wolverines came back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win in East Lansing during Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s first season.
After the game, Michigan running back Mike Hart had a quote that is constantly regurgitated.
“I was just laughing. I thought it was funny,” Hart said. “(The Spartans) got excited, it’s good. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball and let him get the lead. Then you just come back and take it back.”
Since then, “little brother” chants are frequent when the Wolverines beat the Spartans — in football or basketball. On the flip side, Michigan State running back L.J. Scott called Michigan “our little sister,” this summer. That idea came from chants the Spartans have used over the past few years. I guess it’s supposed to be more demeaning.
But Hart’s quote also spurred an inspired response from Dantonio.
“I find a lot of the things (the Wolverines) do amusing,” Dantonio said two days after the game. “They need to check themselves sometimes. Let’s just remember, pride comes before the fall. … 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 here. It’s just starting. … I’m very proud of our football team, and I’m very proud of the way our football team handled themselves after the game as well. You don’t have to disrespect people. If they want to make a mockery of it, so be it. Their time will come.”
In light of how things have gone recently, Dantonio was right. The Spartans won the next four games in the series, beginning the eight-out-of-10 run they have going presently.
But more than the results on the field, Dantonio was right in that this will never be over.
The line in the sand is drawn incredibly clearly between Michigan and Michigan State. I grew up in Michigan, and it is incredibly rare to find someone who roots for both teams. If you do, they either have children at both institutions or aren’t big sports fans.
I remember in elementary school, kids would chant “Michigan, State!” The young Michigan fans would put their thumbs up when they said “Michigan” and their thumbs down when they said “State.” The Spartan children would do the opposite. Maybe that’s just a quirky, small-town West Michigan thing, but the point is that the deep-seated fandom of either team is synonymous with a deep-seated disdain for the other.
Log on to social media this week, or any other for that matter, and you’ll see how true that is. Heck, both campuses have been vandalized in the last few days, and I sure haven’t seen any calls for kids to be prosecuted. That’s because it’s just how this rivalry goes, and it has been forever.
When Harbaugh called for a break from the clichés, he was likely talking specifically about his team, attempting to quiet the noise within his program and focus the Wolverines for the hard-fought game ahead.
But this will never be over. There will always be another game next year. That means the clichés will never end, either.
It’s all part of the fun.
Persak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeDPersak