If anyone remembers the classic SEC mocking article from 2009, you'll know why an appropriate tagline for Maize and Brew Dave would be: "Aggravating opposing fans in the offseason since...whenever M and B was created." Not to stray far from his niche, Dave has joined us on TRE for Michigan State week to share his thoughts on the foot-shooting Spartans and Mark Dantonio's sparking personality. Enjoy this offering from Maize and Brew...and don't hold your handguns too close to your lower extremities.
When Graham asked me to do a piece on MSU for his week long series on the Spartans, I wasn't really sure which way I'd go with the piece. Initially, I thought I'd do something neutral and staid, like some a few of his previous guests. You know, something marginally positive in the spirit of giving "perspective" and "sportsmanship," all whilst gritting my teeth and attempting not to say anything inflammatory or funny. But where's the fun in that? In the back of my mind, I also knew I could break out the hatchet and go to town. In the end it wasn't much of a choice.
Always choose the hatchet.
Michigan State is, and will always be, a team incapable of handling even the slightest amount of success without irreparably harming themselves immediately thereafter. There's a reason MSU doesn't have a skeet shooting team. If they ever won anything, by the next day half the squad would be dead from self inflicted gunshot wounds. I mean look at Plaxico Buress. If you're looking to sum up Spartan football in eleven seconds, here you go:
That's right. Michigan State is a Gus Frerotte touchdown run. A fleeting moment of joy immediately followed by shocking stupidity and season ending pain.
They are the little brother. The kid who tries too hard in a pick up game. The heavy weight boxer with the glass jaw. MSU is a program with grand aspirations that always sees itself on the brink of something big, yet shoots itself in the foot every time the opportunity presents itself. It's a miracle anyone has any feet left in East Lansing.
Sadly, it's a systemic problem at MSU.
How telling is it that their greatest game, the "Game of the Century" ended in a tie. Or, the game after the "Greatest Comeback in College Football History" the Spartans lost by 25 points to Indiana. Yes. That Indiana. In 2005 they led their hated in-state rival Michigan by double digits, yet found a way to lose in Overtime. The next year, in a rain soaked home game they surrendered 19 fourth quarter points to lose to Notre Dame, including a 37 yard interception return for a touch down that was the margin of victory. It was so bad it caused a MSU radio personality to melt the fuck down on the air.
Year by year it doesn't change. The Spartans find new and horrifyingly painful ways to loss games they have a chance to win and embarrass their University. 2009 was the Spartan program in a nutshell. MSU started out by losing to Central Michigan in mind blowing, how-in-god's-name-did-that-happen fashion. Then, despite that, fought back and made a Bowl Game. However, despite being on the cusp of doing something that no Spartan team had done in a decade (win a bowl game), the Frerotte'd themselves. Instead of coming to play at the Alamo Bowl, they came to fight in some crappy dorm room. At least 14 players stormed a frat house to beat up a bunch of frat boys who "disrespek'd" them. The end result was jail time for some, expulsions for others, suspensions galore, and an Alamo Bowl shellacking at the hands of Texas Tech. Sparty on, indeed.
Opportunities for success are really just opportunities for the Spartans to create new methods of self mutilation. Michigan State is that team. A team that probably should be better than it is, but will always be weighted down by its lengthy history of incompetence, malfeasance and mismanagement. Since Perles left the East Lansing sidelines it's been a cavalcade of idiocy donning the headsets. Excepting Nick Saban, who never won a bowl game or a conference championship at MSU, the Spartan coaching fraternity can only charitably be described as not-quite-drooling-on-itself. Nothing sums up the Spartan coaching tree better than John L. Smith's fateful post Notre Dame press conference:
For all the stock people place in Mark Dantonio, I'm at a loss as to why. Dantonio does come from a respectable coaching tree. He was mildly successful in a low pressure job. He has the personality of an oak tree. We had the same thing once. His name was Tommy Amaker. Dantonio collects mediocre talent and coaches them poorly. But he doesn't slap himself on camera, so hey, he's a step up. Then there are the players that end up in Green and White. A crack addicted quarterback, appropriately named Smoker. A Super Bowl winning wideout who now collects his mail from a New York State Penitentiary P.O. Box. And then you've got all the players from Frat-Gate. Just top-notch.
That's just how it is if you're a Spartan fan. You have a team that you know will ultimately rip your heart out on the field and embarrass you off it. A mediocre coach who's views on discipline are too lenient for Urban Meyer. A veteran team with all the courage and leadership of a French Cavalry division.
Yet Spartan fans continue to cling to the belief that this year will somehow be different than every other year. And they forcefully assert that belief to anyone within ear shot. They'll tell you how things have changed. How MSU is dominating in-state recruiting. How great a coach Dantonio is. How this is the year they get national respect. How scUM will finally get what's coming to them. And above all, Michigan will respect them this year. That's what it's all about.
Having someone ask "Do you mean 'State' or University of'" when you tell someone you went to school in Michigan, rather than having them tell you how cool the winged helmets are. [State Grads] want people outside Michigan to be impressed when they say they went to State, and go "Wow, good school" rather than say "Oh... Great party school, eh?" They want to prove they were smart enough, fast enough, good enough, etc...
That's what makes [the Michigan Michigan State Rivalry] so interesting. It's a constant battle for respect by one side and a constant face of feigned indifference on the other.
Don't let anyone tell you differently, Michigan fans love to beat Michigan State. They love to remind them that even with easier admissions requirements they still can't field a competitive football team. Michigan fans love to remind State fans that they haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1988 and have a better chance of seeing Jesus in a jar of peanut butter than a BCS bowl game. Michigan fans love to tell State fans that they would've gone to Michigan if they could've, but they didn't get in. They love to thumb their noses and fart in the general direction of a school they consider inferior.
And no matter how successful Michigan State ultimately becomes, it still won't matter to Michigan fans or for that matter the rest of the conference. When you realize that Michigan State was the last team added to the Big Ten before Penn State, you start to get the sense of where the Spartans fall in the grand scheme of the Big Ten. They're there. They exist. Occasionally they'll make some noise in the conference.
Then they'll shoot themselves in the foot.
MONDAY: MSU Spring Field Guide
TUESDAY: Michigan State's Achilles Heel
WEDNESDAY: Michigan State's Greatest Strength
THURSDAY: MVP Profile - Jerel Worthy
FRIDAY: Keeping the Enemy Close - Maize and Brew and MSU
More Big Ten 2010...
Indiana | Michigan | Illinois I Minnesota I Purdue