For the past few days, I have been pondering the events that transpired over the past four years as it relates to the Michigan-Michigan State football rivalry.
Though I am a Michigan fan, I made a conscious effort not to write a reactionary piece proclaiming that Michigan is back after beating the Spartans 12-10 Saturday, Oct. 20. In fact, despite the win, I was fully prepared to congratulate Michigan State for a wonderful four-year run of dominance over my Wolverines.
That is, until I really thought about it.
I thought about what "rivalry" is and what it's designed to do. For the fans, what it ultimately boils down to is bragging rights, which is an insipid premise when you really look at the big scheme of things.
From a football program's perspective, however, rivalries mean much more than bragging rights. Beating your rival establishes momentum that carries you to bigger and better things, most notably a BCS bowl. This season, Notre Dame beat both rivals in Michigan and Michigan State, which is why the team currently boasts a top 10 ranking. Auburn beat rival Alabama en route to its national championship in 2010. Last season, the Wolverines beat Ohio State, carrying them to the Sugar Bowl.
During the past four years, MSU arguably had its best teams in decades. And what did Michigan State do with that momentum? Did the Spartans win an outright Big Ten title? Did Michigan State go to the Rose Bowl? The answer to both of those questions is no. (And Michigan State's 2010 conference title doesn't count because Ohio State earned a share until its wins were vacated by the NCAA.) In four years of dominating Michigan, not one Rose Bowl appearance. Shameful, really.
To their credit, the Spartans did go to bowl games in each of those seasons. In true Spartan fashion, however, Michigan State did nothing in those games but embarrass the Big Ten. In the 2009 Capital One Bowl, the Spartans fell 24-12 to a Georgia team that was only a fairly good in the SEC. Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were good. They weren't that good.
The following year, MSU lost to a coach-less Texas Tech 41-31 in the Alamo Bowl. The Raiders fired coach Mike Leach, opening the door for MSU to capitalize on a damaged team. However, 14 players from MSU were suspended prior to the game because of a fight in school dormitories. Many Spartans fans use this as an excuse as to why the team lost the game. Leave it to the Spartans to invent new ways of humiliating themselves.
Next, Michigan State went into the 2011 Capital One Bowl to face Alabama with one of its greatest teams ever, armed with quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham, tailback Edwin Baker, and a host of defensive players that currently hold rosters spots on NFL teams, including Greg Jones and Jerel Worthy. One would at least assume MSU would be competitive.
The Crimson Tide spanked Michigan State 49-7, which is why I found it both amusing and incredibly hypocritical of Spartan players and fans ridiculing Michigan for losing to Alabama earlier this season.
It took three overtimes for MSU to defeat Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. Granted, a win is still a win.
I wanted to congratulate Michigan State for beating Michigan the last four years, but I just couldn't do it.
In the end, Michigan State became yet another footnote in the great football tradition that is Michigan. MSU gave Michigan its 900th all-time win Saturday. Four wins did nothing to affect the all-time record in the rivalry, which is now 68-32-5 in favor of the Wolverines.
And I don't want to hear anything else about how most of those wins came in the old days of football. I don't care if they didn't wear helmets. I don't care if it was before I was born. I don't care how many of those games were played at home or on the road. I don't care about the margin of victory. I don't care if those games were played in the back alley of a sushi bar in Japan. It's all irrelevant.
Michigan won. Michigan State lost.
MSU fans didn't care that their precious four-year reign occurred during Michigan's worse stretch in program history. So I don't want to hear any excuses now.
Michigan may not be back yet. But the real Michigan State sure is.
Stats and other information was taken from NCAA.com, Collegefootballpoll.com, ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports, and MGOBLUE.com.
Aaron David Harris is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Class of 2007). He also covered sports in Michigan for four years at The Battle Creek Enquirer (in Battle Creek, MI). Visit him at www.aarondavidharris.com.