I used to look forward to this weekend with so much joy. From 1979 to 1983, when I was a Michigan student, the Michigan-Michigan State series was a tasty, meaty slab of victory sandwiched between the two Wonder Bread Spartan wins in 1978 and 1984. Some of my best high school friends had left me behind in Ann Arbor to study at MSU. It was a time before personal computers, email, smartphones, and texting. We fed our friendly rivalry with long distance phone calls on rotary dial phones and my occasional handwritten letters addressed to them at the Pioneer Land Grant College. They usually contained a long list of the traditional MSU jokes. You know, the pizza delivery guy genre. The fun was mostly on my side in those days.
The Wolverines had some good runs after that, but the Spartans managed to eek out a win or two every few years. It gave them something to hang on to until the next time a 'W' came along. Michigan still owned them and the series, but ask any Spartan and they could recite in detail the last time "we beat you!" It was irritating. Like little gnats flying around your head. Michigan would kick MSU to the curb. Again. And my Spartan friends would in unison chant "But we really got you in [insert year]!" The last great Michigan campaign came in the series from 2002 to 2007 under Lloyd Carr. It was SO great to be a Michigan Wolverine. And it REALLY sucked to be a long-suffering Spartan. What a glorious time it was.
And now it's all a distant, somewhat foggy memory, so far from the current state of affairs that it seems more like a myth than how it actually used to be. Since the last "good" win in 2007, the Wolverines have snagged only one victory from MSU (2012). At first the losing seemed like a fluke. Another occasional lapse that Michigan would overcome the next year. Except they didn't. Each year Michigan continued to beat its chest like the cocky Xerxes at Thermopylae, shouting "Little Brother!" while facing 300 angry Spartans with something to prove. And each year, the Spartans would send the Wolverines home in abject shame. Even the 2012 victory, 12-10, was unconvincing, won only by the kicking game. It gave some Wolverine players enough confidence, however, to revive the "little brother" moniker. The Spartans didn't take it lying down.
Last year's game, a 29-6 beat down, may finally have established the new order of things in the Wolverine mind. It took a while. In the two weeks before this year's contest, the Michigan players and their fans have been quiet - models of moderation and discretion. No one has resurrected the "little brother" taunt. No one has guaranteed a victory. I don't know if it was the Spartans or Hoke or their own good sense that served up the humble pie, but I'm glad they've eaten heartily of it. I think all of Wolverine Nation understands now. The table has turned and we are what Sparty used to be. It's tough to swallow that. It goes down like brussels sprouts or lima beans, which I like, but suspect most of you don't. Wouldn't we all eat brussels sprouts, though, if it meant Michigan would regain its rightful supremacy?
My memory isn't what it used to be and I am often hard-pressed to tell someone what I had for lunch the day before. I wish it was as simple to forget what Michigan vs. Michigan State has become. It's hard to be humble when the tradition of Michigan greatness, both academic and athletic, is almost part of your DNA. We are told all the time how great we are. The best program in "this" or the Top Ten in the world in "that". What we're forced to swallow is, we're not among the best in football anymore. It may come again, but it won't for a good long while.
So this weekend, I'm feeling a little quiet. A little numb. I don't expect a Michigan win, but I wouldn't rule out an upset if the emotion Michigan (and Devin Gardner) showed at the end of the Penn State game is there. If our offensive weapons are healthy and if Gardner plays the game of his life. The game that may be his coach's life (or at least his living.)
One thing I won't be doing is wallowing in the past. I'll try to be quiet and humble no matter what happens. I'll try not to grope for past glories like Spartan fans did in their own dark times. Win or lose, all I can do is sit back and watch what unfolds in Ann Arbor at the corner of State and Hoover. A win or a loss here can change everything or nothing. One thing is true. The two quietest weeks of Brady Hoke's 2014 season are about to come to an end in either a blaze of glory or the noxious couch-fire smoke of a Spartan win. Let the football gods decide. For my own part:
MGoGirl Brain: MSU 38 Michigan 17
MGoGirl Heart: Michigan 24 MSU 21
Miracles can happen. Go Blue!