My first experience with the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was with my childhood best friend, Steve. We met when we were about three years old when we both moved into our brand new neighborhood, and we have been friends ever since. In a world where I know all too well that best friends come and go throughout the years, I feel very lucky to say that we've maintained that friendship through everything -- the awkward adolescent years, the clicky high school years, and the college years. And I know it will stay that way forever. Someday he'll be one of my best men at my wedding.
Steve was raised in a Michigan State household, and thus naturally gravitated towards Spartandom. I was raised in a pro-Wolverine household, and began loving Michigan football well before I even began loving my little brother Patrick (poor Pat was on the receiving end in many bouts of brotherly-fights during our youth; sorry Pat). Whether you hung a maize and blue block M flag or a green and white 'S' flag from your porch was sort of a dividing line in our neighborhood. Throughout our childhood's, our green and blue attire contrasted in the backdrop of whatever our playscape was. I'm not a big believer in destiny, but if there ever was a destined path for the both of us, it was that Steve would wind up in East Lansing and I in Ann Arbor, attending our beloved perspective institutions.
During those childhood years, consisting mostly of the 1990's, Michigan gridiron success overshadowed Sparty most of the time. I remember thinking that Steve must be really devout in wearing that Michigan State jersey when it seemed to be the unpopular school of choice in Michigan during the nineties. Being the Spartan fan in those days was the road less travelled, it seemed to me at least. And it took courage to remain resolute in Sparty-fandom during that stretch of history.
I have even more respect for Steve's resolution in those years, nowadays. After this year's Michigan-Michigan State game, in which my Wolverines were defeated for an unprecedented fourth time in a row, I remember (as I was walking back to Steve's house in East Lansing from the beer store, ironically) feeling for the first time in my life that being the resolute Michigan fan was the tough thing to do. I remember feeling like wearing a Michigan jersey around the state of Michigan required more fortitude than wearing an MSU jersey around. I felt a lot like how Steve must have felt after many of those 1990's or early 2000's games.
Last Saturday night, as me and a group of my Michigan friends gathered around a television set with drinks in our hands, begrudgingly rooting for Wisconsin to prevail over Michigan State, I felt happy for my friend when Michigan State won in the final moments of the game. Everyone deserves an experience like that every once in a while; those unforgettable moments are what makes sports meaningful, after all. But more so than happy I felt jealous. I thought about Steve and the unbelievable four years he's experienced during his time at Michigan State. And I thought about my own four years when I was at Michigan, and the utter sadness I had to deal with when it came to Michigan football. Why did Steve deserve that ultimate college experience with his beloved Spartans, but not me? It's a selfish thought, no doubt, but it's what I felt at the time (before descending into mind-numbing drunkenness shortly thereafter).
A breakdown of our college years (* note: Steve is still in his fifth year, and thus is likely to see a bunch more wins and possibly even a B1G championship this year):
Steve: 32-14 (likely to be about 38-15)
Me: 28-22 (misleading due to my freshman year 11-2 season)
Record against rivals (much more telling, in my opinion)
Steve (against the block M): 4-0
Me (against OSU and MSU): 1-7 (let me repeat, 1 and fucking 7.... 1 and fucking 7)
Times tried to kill self with alcohol
Steve: not as many as me
Me: More times than necessary
OK, jokes aside, I truly am happy for Steve. Steve's the type of fan that deserves the satisfaction. I know plenty of "Spartan" fans that loved Michigan football for 18 years until that MSU acceptance letter came in the mail and then magically it seemed convenient to become a Spartan fan. Steve isn't that guy. He's one of the fans who deserves what State is getting.
I just wonder how I'm in the group that deserves what Michigan is getting right now. I guess what you have to take from it all -- not only sports, but life in general -- is that the bad times make the good times (when they eventually come around) all that better.