Complex

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

"We finally got a win against them. This is what it's supposed to be like."

It takes a long time for scars to heal.

Michigan State has a long and storied football tradition. By most lists, they're one of the 25 best programs in college football history, with numerous national championships, classic games and Hall of Fame players. It's a top-100 world university. Not bad for a school that didn't join the Big Ten until 1953 and had a neighbor trying to squash its creation, existence and expansion at every turn.

But MSU isn't a big boy. A blue blood. A king. It never will be. And that eats at you. Some of you.

That's why, when a quarterback who goes 1-3 against MSU, completing 48 percent of his passes in those games and not crossing the goal line in the win, says that win is supposed to happen, it upsets you. Not because he's wrong. Because you think he's right.

Because what Michigan says matters to you.

Wolverines say there's an inferiority complex with MSU fans. And there is, with far too many of you. Inferiority complex. Obsession. Whatever they want to call it. The meme has developed in such a way that any comment about the Wolverines is labeled as such, and that upsets you even more.

Those scars haven't healed. Not yet.

During the George Perles and Nick Saban years, things were back and forth in the rivalry. From 1987-1999, MSU posted a 5-8 record against Michigan. Not bad, especially when several of those U-M teams went to Rose Bowls and some MSU teams didn't go any bowl.

But then, dark times.

Under Bobby Williams and John L. Smith from 2000-06, MSU went to two bowls and posted a 1-6 record against the Wolverines.

After this season, Mark Dantonio will have lasted as long as the two of them combined, he will have reached seven bowl games, and he will have a winning record against U-M. Heading into Saturday, MSU is a six-point favorite, and you'd be hard-pressed to find many Spartans who are very nervous about the game.

But it's that lack of nervousness that has them nervous. Because it takes a long time for those scars to heal.

Before that 5-8 stretch, the Spartans were 2-15 against U-M, during the height of Bo Schembechler's time. Prior to that, it was a 14-4-2 stretch for MSU.

There's a mix of generations of Spartan fans with different feelings about this rivalry, and the football program in general. Some feel inferior. They believe the Spartans are bound to lose, bound to screw something up. They're young and old, depending on their formative period. Sparty, no.

The others look at the full context. They realize that the lopsided all-time record is partly due to 44 of the first 50 games being played in Ann Arbor, and MSU not having much of a program. That, since MSU joined the Big Ten, the Spartans are a respectable 12-15-1 against the Wolverines in East Lansing (6-4 in the last 10).

The others know the RichRod years count. They see U-M is 3-11 against MSU teams that finished with at least eight wins since joining the Big Ten. That U-M hasn't defeated an MSU team that won at least nine since 1955. That, since 1953, MSU is 5-2 against U-M when both finished with at least eight wins.

The others fully grasp what Dantonio & Co. have built. The foundation formed and the bright future still ahead. MSU has not missed a bowl in Dantonio's seven seasons. They have had a winning season in six of those seven. In the three seasons MSU has won fewer than nine games, they began the following years at least 6-1. The lulls were considered high points in previous administrations, and they didn't last long.

The bar has been raised, and it's not going back down. Roses will be on those cleats. The dark days are gone. But there will always be some people looking over their shoulder, waiting for the bad to come. Others will know the good will come.

The rivalry will be fierce. It will be heated. It will be competitive, and MSU will earn its share of victories.

That's how it's supposed to be.

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