Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies. Batten down the hatches. Tell Katy to bar the door.
I don’t know where you’ll be Saturday afternoon around 3:30, but wherever it is, kneel down and place your ear against the soil. That low rumble you’ll hear can be traced directly back to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This is Michigan-Michigan State Week, in case you’ve been unable to push that rock from on top of you. This is a week where co-workers who would normally be as cordial to each other as the attendees of a British tea party sneer as they pass by in the hall.
This is Michigan-Michigan State Week, where the logos from the respective schools are branded on the foreheads of the graduates. It’s Civil War, minus the civility.
It’s Michigan-Michigan State Week, and this time the game actually matters.
It’s a football game played annually, alternately in the corn fields of East Lansing or in the chic, quasi-cosmopolitan Ann Arbor.
It’s a game that will be coached by a Rich and a Mark. It used to be coached by guys named Biggie and Duffy and Fielding and Bump and Bo.
This is Michigan-Michigan State, and upstairs Duffy Daugherty is giving Bo Schembechler the skunk eye. Fielding Yost doesn’t trust Biggie Munn’s backfield formation. Someone in a fur coat carrying a flask and a noisemaker is letting the air out of the tires of someone’s Packard.
You could scour this entire great nation of ours and not find a bigger college football game this week.
Correction—this isn’t a football game, not really. To steal and paraphrase from the late, great sportswriter Jim Murray, “Yeah, this is a football game—the same way the Nazis’ game was 20 Questions.”
Michigan-Michigan State. Two unbeatens, both a little crabby. The Wolverines are tired of hearing how bad their defense is and how they haven’t played any real competition yet. The Spartans are tired of hearing how they’re, well, the Spartans—a football team that has often collapsed like a cheap tent after mid-October.
In the past, this was a synthetic rivalry, designed to look like the real thing but rarely did it deliver the goods. Michigan-Ohio State was sugar; Michigan-Michigan State was Splenda.
In the past, Michigan coaches would politely tell anyone who asked that, yeah, this was a big game for the school. It took all they could to not roll their eyes and stifle a chuckle. Then on Saturday, the Wolverines would politely hand the Spartans their rear end on a platter.
That was then.
MSU is riding a two-game winning streak in this ancient series, and if you don’t think that’s a big deal, imagine Charlie Brown with a two kick streak against Lucy; Sylvester burping up the remains of Tweety Bird.
MSU hasn’t beaten Michigan three times in a row since the Johnson Administration.
This is where the churlish Wolverine fan asks, “Andrew Johnson?”
No—Lyndon—but that’s still over 40 years ago, 1965-67 to be exact. It was a time when MSU was among college football’s elite, with a brutal defense anchored by lineman Bubba Smith and linebacker George Webster. Michigan was the so-called “little brother” back then.
Michigan hasn’t beaten MSU since 2007, which in regular time is just three years ago, but in Rivalry Time is just this side of eternity.
The teams go into Saturday’s tilt both ranked in the Top 20, both with 5-0 records.
That’s the kind of stuff that used to be associated with Oklahoma-Nebraska or Notre Dame-USC or Florida-Florida State, back in the day. Or Michigan and that school in Columbus.
Michigan-Michigan State—a game that hasn’t been talked about like it has this week, in years. You bring it up this week and it’s not a hollow or phony discussion, not contrived rivalry talk. It’s not Splenda.
This is a game with subplots. The physical health of MSU coach Mark Dantonio. The employment health of U-M coach Rich Rodriguez. The All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones of Michigan State versus the dynamic Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. That two-game MSU winning streak.
This could be a shootout like they used to have at the OK Corral. Bo and Duffy are spinning in their graves. We could see 70+ points scored on Saturday. In the days of Schembechler and Daugherty, it could take three meetings, combined, to hit 70.
Michigan and Michigan State are going to get it on and this is serious business, folks. This isn’t a rivalry in name only. It’s not a titular game. There won’t be any little brothers on the football field. Michigan can’t play this one with one arm tied behind their back, like so many of the other encounters.
The loser of this one will look like he bit into a lemon for a whole year, just about. It’ll be almost 52 weeks of grumpiness, a year of Monday mornings.
And for the winner? Well, MSU doesn’t play Ohio State this season, so if they win Saturday, the Big Ten title doesn’t look like anything like a fantasy. If U-M wins, Rodriguez’s detractors will temporarily have a sweat sock stuffed in their mouths.
Now, about this Denard Robinson kid.
Michigan hasn’t had a player this dynamic since Desmond Howard. But this is bigger than Desmond, because Denard—who is the spitting image of Howard, what with the 1000-watt smile—touches the ball on every snap.
Players like MSU’s Jones have never faced a player like Robinson, certainly not this season and maybe not in their entire lives. The emergence of Robinson as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate adds bling to this game, not that it needs it.
People used to ask, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”
Today, I ask you in advance, “Where will you be on October 9, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.?”
Michigan-Michigan State. This is not your father’s rivalry anymore.