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Hail to the Victors


I wasn't even sure if I was going to write this.

As the week went on, I couldn't get myself excited for this weekend's game. Through the Q&As and previews I wrote, I still wasn't feeling it. I picked Michigan to win, and I'm sticking to that. Maybe that's why I wasn't excited. The State News/Michigan Daily dueling columns were both underwhelming, so that didn't help.

But then Diamond Leung tweeted a video previewing the next episode of The Journey.

Leave it to Marky D to get you fired up for Michigan Week. Now I'm in the mood.

I grew up on the other side of things. Being born and raised in suburban Detroit, I was a Michigan fan. That's just the way it was. I used to use the fact my grandpa went there to try to legitimize it. I cheered for Braylon Edwards in 2004 and Garrett Rivas in 2005. I never hated MSU, but I hated the September Heisman talk about Jeff Smoker and Drew Stanton. Man, this sounds familiar.

When I got to high school, I made it my No. 1 goal to get into the University of Michigan. For what? I didn't know. I took all sorts of honors and AP classes, because they told you that's what you were supposed to do.

But then I got into my high school newspaper. That was fun. This writing thing was fun. I went and visited U-M and realized they didn't have a journalism program. I don't even remember what major I chose on the application. Still, the visit was fun, even if it was strange I was the only kid from Michigan in my group of more than 30 people. I had worked so hard in high school. This is where I was supposed to be.

Then a strange thing happened. I visited MSU, and I loved it. The weather wasn't great. It was snowing. The football team was coming off a 4-8 season and didn't even have a coach, but everything about the place felt right. It had a great journalism program, too. I visited a couple months later and it was great again, even if it was raining. For the first time, I didn't know if I wanted to go to U-M, even if I got in. I had been deferred once or twice at that point, while I had already gotten in to MSU.

My dad and I were at Perani's Hockey World, and I really wanted to get an MSU hockey jersey (I already had a U-M one for years). On the drive home, my dad asked me if I would go to U-M if I got in. I didn't think I would. Still, it was easier to say without the acceptance letter.

When we got home, I had a letter from U-M. It was another deferring letter. My mind was made up. I knew a girl from my high school who had been deferred so many times that eventually she got in if she would start in the summer. I was done. U-M didn't want me, and I didn't want them anymore. We went right back to Perani's and got that jersey.

This could sound like another one of those "You went to MSU because you didn't get into U-M" stories, or it could sound like an excuse. I don't really care. It ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me. I obviously went to MSU and somehow got into The State News (one of the best college newspapers in the nation), which got me to where I am today. Along with my career, it also introduced me to my wife. We had our wedding in the chapel on campus and reception in the Spartan Stadium club level.

I imagine I'm not the only one with a story like this. I think I speak for many MSU fans when we say we don't necessarily hate the University of Michigan. We hate douchebags and jackasses. And Juggalos.

U-M is a fantastic school that has done a lot for the world. MSU has, too. MSU is a top-30 public university, a top-100 university in the world. The nuclear physics graduate program is No. 1 in the country. Better than MIT. That's why we got FRIB to our crib. MSU is one of the best schools in the country for teaching at any level, same with psychology. MSU was the first land-grant institution. Education for the common-folk. Take pride in that. And if you haven't read Heck's piece from last year on U-M attempts to prevent or take over MSU, make sure you read it.

MSU fans don't necessarily hate the University of Michigan. They hate the people who sing along to "If you can't get into college, go to State," while they're holding a CMU degree in their pocket.

And that's where the biggest difference is between these fan bases. For most, rooting for U-M is like rooting for a pro team. There's no tie to the team except for it's in the state. That has been the difference in my U-M and MSU fandom. I walked the same halls as the football players, as the other MSU fans. I liked U-M because they were nearby — and they were good. U-M is the No. 1 team in this state. That's fine. It's easy being a Michigan fan. Spartans have never been about doing things the easy way (by choice or not).

When you're sitting in Spartan Stadium, you know most of the people there spent at least four years in East Lansing and left with a degree. When you see someone in another part of the country wearing an MSU shirt, you can ask them where they lived freshman year.

I was certainly fortunate that my MSU experiences basically begin with Mark Dantonio. I can say the 2007 loss to U-M is my most painful memory, but I'm certainly not as credible as most of you.

When Mike Hart called MSU the "Little Brother," I thought that was my initiation as a Spartan. There were ways things were always supposed to go, and I was now on the other side. But then something happened.

For the first time, someone stood up for MSU and said it didn't have to be that way. Spartans didn't have to lay down during football season. And he backed it up. Since then, Spartan football has had some of its most successful seasons in 50 years. They've tied their longest winning streak against the Wolverines. You can blame RichRod, but that's how college football works. You're not entitled to winning every year.

Now, the rivalry matters. Pride in MSU over the last four years has never been higher.

When a U-M fan tells you the rivalry doesn't matter, just ignore it. No, we know this rivalry will never be bigger than Ohio State. That's fine. Don't bite on the "Little Brother" comment. It's telling that U-M fans have embraced a term that marks the beginning of a four-game losing streak to MSU.

It's a different rivalry than Ohio State. In-state rivalries always are. It's pure hatred. It's seeing the other school's shirt at the gas station, at the grocery store, at work, at dinner. It's truly 24/7. Yeah, U-M and Ohio State fans hate each other, but how many days of the year do they interact (unless you live near the border)? How many days do U-M and MSU fans interact? How many days do you see a U-M fan? Every day?

You can hate a team because they cost you a Big Ten championship, or you can hate them because you've always been told you're not good enough.

I'm not saying it's a "bigger" rivalry game. It's not, and it will never be. It's just different. It's pure hatred. At least on one side.

The champagne is on ice in Ann Arbor. Most everyone is picking Michigan to win. Whether it's tomorrow or another year, it's going to be a weird feeling to see Paul Bunyan return to Ann Arbor. I am not prepared for glory.

But if the Spartans fall tomorrow, just don't be fooled that the "pecking order has been restored." Michigan is a good program that is going to be good for a while again. MSU is a good program and is going to continue to be good. These teams are going to have some epic matchups in years to come. Rivalry losses happen. Don't fall into the trap to believing it's something more. You can still wear your MSU hat with pride the next day.

If someone wants to point out recruiting, they probably haven't followed recruiting very long. Just like MSU's past four wins didn't affect the trajectory of the other program, a U-M win tomorrow wouldn't do it to MSU, either.

Maybe the Spartans will find a rallying point and turn this ship around. Maybe they'll crash and burn. The narrative is ready. But the times have changed in East Lansing, and they're not going back. You can believe that.