“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
Vince Lombardi, the Creme de la Creme of football coaches, put winning on a pedestal that was taller than Lambeau Stadium itself, and said truer words than have ever been spoken.
The same can be said to the in-state rivalry between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines.
July 30, 2010 is a special day for all Spartans in the state and beyond. It commemorates the 1,000 day mark of not losing to the Wolverines on the gridiron and the hardwood.
The last victory in each respective sport for Michigan? A 67-56 basketball triumph at Crisler Arena on Feb. 27, 2007. The Wolverines's defeated the Spartans in football on Nov. 3, 2007, at Spartan Stadium. Tommy Amaker was the Wolverines’ head basketball coach and Lloyd Carr was the football coach.
Times have definitely changed since that cold day in November.
For Michigan State players, coaches and fans, the streak is a benchmark for how far each men’s program has come—especially the football program under Mark Dantonio—and what is being done each day to continue the dominance.
For everyone associated with Michigan, today is a reminder of the futility to which the athletics of a proud university have succumbed. It has been a long road since the Fab Five and the 1997 co-national championship football team, but maybe nothing has been recently worse than losing to a rival like Michigan State.
Let’s be frank—these two universities do not like one another, and that sentiment best extends to the playing field.
Athletics, most notably college athletics, present a nuclear relationship between not only the coaches and players, but also of everybody else associated with a school and program. Bragging rights between alumni are on the line, while complacency is lost among all students attending both universities.
The dates of the annual Michigan-Michigan State contests are always circled on calendars, becoming a focus of regional dominance and provincial superiority. The games also mean plenty in terms of recruiting.
The Spartans have recently been more successful in terms of in-state recruiting, particularly in landing big-time athletes in William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas. Both players were recruited by the biggest football programs in the nation, from USC to Texas, and even Florida.
Basketball has been a different story.
The Spartans possess one of the great coaches in college basketball in Tom Izzo. Six Final Fours in 12 years have catapulted Izzo into the stratosphere as one of all-time best in the sport.
On the other hand, John Beilein left West Virginia in 2007 to coach the Wolverines on the court. In his three seasons at the helm, he has guided his squad to one NCAA tournament appearance and has missed the postseason altogether twice.
One thing is for sure—the rivalry has created some memorable moments, including some which are more poignant than others.
There was the infamous “clock game” in 2001 in which the Spartans won on the final play of the game, to which Wolverine faithful everywhere cried wolf and thought time had expired.
There was Michigan’s 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback at Spartan Stadium in 2004. The game took three extra sessions to be completed, but it ended in three times the heartbreak for the Spartans.
There was Larry Caper juking and jiving his way into the end zone on a 2009 game-winning touchdown scamper that was immediately placed into Spartan lore as soon as he crossed the goal line.
And who could forget this past season’s basketball game at Crisler Arena? With time ticking off the clock, Kalin Lucas made a jumper which gave the Spartans the eventual victory and extended the streak of days to which we are still counting today.
It has been an interesting ride in the last 1,000 days. Each university’s football and basketball programs seem to be heading in different directions, yet anything can change in the matter of just one game.
One victory would take the proverbial monkey off of Michigan’s back, shunning all those who say the school has taken a turn for the worst in terms of athletic achievement.
On the other hand, another green and white victory in Ann Arbor would give Michigan State two consecutive wins in the Big House, a realization which Dantonio expected to occur when he first took over the head coaching position.
As the seconds, minutes, days, and years fly by, so is the escalation in the rivalry between these two behemoths in the state of Michigan. A rivalry like this never ceases to stop mattering, no matter the state of each school’s programs.
For the coaches and players, the pressure is greater than ever. For the fans, it is just as great as it has always been.