This weekend was a very hard one for many loyal fans of Michigan State athletics. As someone who went to school at Michigan State and has now covered Michigan State football and basketball since 2019, it has been sickening to see what I consider to be a special rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan devolve to the point of an actual physical altercation and multiple suspensions, with likely even more criminal charges and team dismissals incoming.
First of all, while there is a criminal investigation going on to fully bring to light the extent of the abhorrent, unacceptable behavior that occurred Saturday night, let us state very clearly that we condemn the actions of both the players on Michigan State who engaged in the incident that we have all now seen on video and also the players who stood idly by and allowed it to happen. It doesn’t take an actual verdict from a judge to let us know that was wrong, that can never happen, and it is an embarrassment to the program and the school where this took place. Some may have tried to take to social media to complain about Michigan players waving goodbye and skipping to the locker room as some sort of twisted justification for an assault, I think that is another embarrassing course of action to try and justify what happened. There is no justification.
It is no secret that MSU fans, players, and alumni have, since the infamous ‘little brother’ quote from Mike Hart, felt a feeling of condescension and pretentiousness coming from their rivals in Ann Arbor. I have even seen some in the Michigan fanbase acknowledge and try to quell some of that in-house. But, when you act the way the Michigan State players did on Saturday, you become the little brother they said you were all along.
I think I have a little bit of a unique perspective on this rivalry because, in full disclosure, I did grow up as more of a Michigan fan up until I went to school at Michigan State. My parents still have a caricature of me from Disney I had done of me wearing a Michigan hat hanging in the room I stay in during the holidays. However, I also still always respected and appreciated MSU well before I went to school there. Heck, I remember getting a Charles Rogers Lions jersey for my birthday years ago, and I remember being a huge fan of TJ Duckett. I remember actively rooting for Michigan State when they beat Florida to win the NCAA basketball championship and being so proud as a kid watching a school from my state win one. That type of fan seems extinct today, and that’s sad for me to see.
Like many things in our world today, it has been sad to see things become so polarized in this rivalry, a rivalry that should have a lot more respect and mutual admiration. I mean, how many states out there have two public colleges that are so formidable in both football and basketball? It’s really a special situation. Both Michigan and Michigan State have been to the College Football Playoff. Both programs have sent teams to the Final Four. That is special, and rare, and should be the focus of this rivalry, instead of silly antagonisms on social media, and definitely instead of actual physical altercations in a tunnel.
I think Mel Tucker said it best before this game, where he talked about every great rivalry being rooted in a foundation of respect. It wouldn’t be a big deal to win this game if both teams didn’t respect each other, and that’s what makes it so fun and prideful when you do win it. But if we let this rivalry be lost to aggression and violence, the state of Michigan could lose something that is very special.
I would like to see Mel Tucker and Jim Harbaugh find a way to use this horrible situation to build a bridge between the programs. In my opinion, repairing this rivalry should be Mel Tucker’s top priority as head coach since this happened under his watch. Maybe even next season, in the lead-up to the game, bring the teams and coaches together to teach each other the amazing history of both programs (they are both amazing and historic teams), and maybe we can find a way to leave this situation better than we entered it, and not let this ruin a rivalry that has brought many people joy and excitement over the years.
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