Nature abhors a vacuum. And when there is a vacuum, something rushes in to fill that empty space.
As a Spartan fan who went to Michigan State during most of the John L. Smith era, there was a lot of empty space to fill. Sure, there would be a win against Notre Dame or Wisconsin every now and then to keep a flicker of hope alive, but for the most part rooting for Michigan State was a morbid affair, punctuated by blowouts and last-minute losses alike.
For me, it was hard to stay positive when watching my soul personified get its brains crushed in week after week. An emptiness formed. To fill that emptiness, I turned not only to basketball season, but also to hope that the Michigan Wolverines would lose in the most amusing ways possible. Those were the glory days of the Lloyd Carr era, so while these losses weren't as numerous as they would become after Carr's departure, the few Michigan losses that did occur would give me satisfaction that I couldn't necessarily find when JLS was in charge.
Then came September 1, 2007.
MSU kicked off Mark Dantonio's debut by demolishing UAB, scoring six touchdowns in their first six possessions. The win was a great start to Dantonio's tenure, but the more memorable event of the day happened 60 miles down the road when Michigan played Appalachian State. I don't need to tell you the rest.
If the Oxford English Dictionary had an example for "schadenfreude", UM-Appy State would be listed. My most distinct memories of that day involved riding with friends from EL to Chicago soon after that game ended with a friend who attended UM. Every time we were at a bar that night that had replays of that game, we would tap her on the shoulder and silently point to the screen. I am still not sure why she remained friends with us for so long.
The season after THE HORROR Lloyd Carr left in Rich Rodriguez came in, bringing MSU fans levels of schaudenfreude they only dreamed of. However, a funny thing started to happen during this time as well -- Michigan State was improving as a team. Mark Dantonio's first season wasn't the one-off John L's was. Dantonio followed his first season with a 9-3 campaign, involving wins over Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. Two years later, the Spartans claimed their first Big Ten title in 19 seasons.
Michigan State was excelling, Michigan was in a quagmire. The world was perfect.
For me, voraciously hating Michigan was something I did because I needed to find joy in something football-related (my Dad raised me a Lions fan. We both live with his mistake). When Michigan State finally became a competent football program, my hate lessened for Michigan a bit. Sure, I'm always going to smile when I see the self-proclaimed "leaders and best" lose.
I was reading a piece at the Cauldron today though by another Spartan fan about his hatred of Michigan. One item in a footnote stuck out:
On January 1, 2014, the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Stanford Cardinal 24–20 in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game. It was glorious. Just, you know, not as glorious as Michigan losing to Kansas State 31–14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
I remember the 2011 Big Ten title game. I remember seeing Keshawn Martin's return to the Wisconsin red zone, only to see that return and MSU's hopes taken back by Wisconsin's punter collapsing under contact by Isaiah Lewis. I remember the Wisconsin fans cheering outside Lucas Oil stadium. Most vividly, I remember asking if I would ever see the Spartans make a Rose Bowl. It didn't matter to me that the Spartans were in Indy instead of the Wolverines - I only remember the pain of having something only to lose it.
Two years later, they exorcised those demons, and claimed their first Rose Bowl in 26 years. The Spartans now have a 4-1 record in the Rose Bowl, the most wins of any Big Ten team not named "Ohio State" or "Michigan", and the best winning percentage by any Big Ten team in that game. That's history. That's something to be proud of.
Today, we're on the eve of Michigan State's biggest nonconference game in decades, against Pac-10 favorite Oregon. There have been few times better in history to be a Spartan fan. If you take more pleasure in a boilerplate Michigan bowl loss than a historic MSU bowl victory, I'd argue you're more of a Michigan hater than you are a Michigan State fan.
So Spartans, continue to take pleasure in Michigan losses, because as Mark Dantonio has said, "I find a lot of the things they do amusing". However, take much more joy out of Spartan wins. Once I concerned with Michigan losses, because I never thought a competitive Spartan team would ever coalesce. They've come together though. Desire for a Wolverine pratfall has been eclipsed by the hope for a huge Spartan season.
And let me tell you something -- the hope's better. A million times better. Go Green, Go White, Beat Oregon.