Walking through the Michigan Stadium concourse at about 3:50 on Saturday, you could hear it before you saw it.
“It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine,” they chanted, and the chants came from no one direction, just everywhere.
It was minutes after the Michigan football team kneeled down to put the finishing touches on a 44-10 beatdown of Michigan State, with Shea Patterson running the game ball to Jim Harbaugh, and minutes before Harbaugh would tell the assembled media that he stuffed the ball back into Patterson’s book bag, a token of appreciation for a 384-yard, four-touchdown performance, Patterson’s best in a Michigan uniform.
It was two days after, trailing by one against the Spartans with a power play coming midway through the third period, junior forward Mike Pastujov got called for roughing, negating the Wolverines’ best chance at pulling back in a 4-3 loss.
It was hours before the Michigan State hockey team would skate over to its student section in the corner of Munn Ice Arena and pound on the glass after a 3-0 win, basking in chants of their own, that in the game’s last three minutes went from “Board the Buses,” to “Fuck Jim Harbaugh,” and finally, “Little Sister.”
It was one moment in a weekend full of them, and it encapsulated everything about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.
There are separate repercussions on all sides for all of these games. Michigan football got a highlight in what seemed poised to be a lost season. Michigan hockey fell further back on its heels, then got kicked into the dirt. But this is not a platform to try and mix football and hockey analysis. It’s one to dissect a rivalry, and what it means to the people in it.
Like senior safety Josh Metellus, from Florida and indoctrinated into this, who waved at the Spartans when the final whistle blew and later explained, “I was telling them to go home. It’s time for them to leave. They don’t deserve to be in this stadium.”
Like sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg, from Washington, Mich., who does need need the rivalry contextualized and who stood in the offices at Yost Ice Arena on Thursday after his team threw away a 3-1 lead, arms crossed and frowning. “We just let off the gas,” he said, a cardinal sin in this rivalry.
Like Mel Pearson, who has coached in this game in some form for a combined 26 years, who took a long walk to center ice on Saturday and shook Michigan State coach Danton Cole’s hand, then trudged to the end of the handshake line. He stood in a hallway behind the bench 15 minutes later, his hands on his hips, and said of Michigan’s power play, which went 0-for-8 on the weekend, all but costing the Wolverines two games, “We’re terrible there. We’re absolutely terrible.”
Like athletic director Warde Manuel, who sent a co-signed letter with Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman to fans on Friday imploring respectful behavior at the football game. That got thrown out the window along with a few thousand yellow towels that rained down on Nico Collins after he waltzed into the end zone on a 22-yard post route early in the fourth quarter, making the score 34-10 and making a crowd of 111,496 lose its collective mind.
Like Harbaugh, the public face of Michigan athletics, who cried in the Spartan Stadium locker room a year ago after the Wolverines beat the Spartans. On Saturday, he only used one word to describe his emotions. “Happy. Really happy,” he said. “It’s a big game, it’s for the state championship. 112th version. And now our team, everybody that’s in the locker room has the advantage. Fifth-year seniors are 3-2. The seniors are 3-1. The juniors are 2-1. Sophomores are 2-0 and the freshmen are 1-0. That’s a big program win. Makes me very happy.”
This is stereotyped as a chippy, physical matchup, and rightfully so. The two football teams had five combined unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, two personal fouls and an ejection, imposed on Michigan State defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk after a blatant cheap shot on Patterson. Thursday’s hockey game featured a fight after Michigan State defenseman Christian Krygier cross-checked Jake Slaker. Sophomore defenseman Jack Summers jumped on Krygier, whose twin brother, Cole, started punching Slaker.
There is real, visceral hatred on all sides. And with that comes emotion, the two extremes displayed across sports and across the weekend.
“You never want to be in this situation, losing games,” said senior defenseman Griffin Luce Saturday night, sweat still dripping and skates still on. “… I wouldn’t say we’re panicking here, we’re not worried, but day-to-day, we just have to bring it every day as a team.”
Forty-nine miles away and a few hours earlier, Metellus was at a podium with cameras trained on him, expressing the exact opposite.
“I’m pretty pleased,” Metellus said, “because I feel like we’re way more classier than them. They try to take it to a level that wasn’t playing football. We play football over here. I don’t know what they do over there, but we play football.”
That’s what this rivalry is, and that’s what it always will be. Whether you’re in the Michigan Stadium concourse, the bowels of Munn Ice Arena or anywhere in between, it only takes a moment to see it.
— Reported from East Lansing and Ann Arbor
Sears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethan_sears.