Harbaugh places cone of silence around humbled Wolverines

michigan-vs-michigan-state.jpgI’m a bad husband.

I picked out the biggest Michigan Wolverine booster I could find and waited for him to be within listening distance of my wife Abs. Just to let you know,  Abs is a die hard Spartan. She is always nervous during Michigan-Michigan State week for fear that Michigan might beat her team by a ridiculous score of 82-0.

Any way this guy is strolling around Kroger with the biggest, boldest Michigan Wolverines shirt in history. I waited until he was near Abs to ask: “Who is going to win the big game this Saturday?”

In years past the Wolverine would pause for effect, take a stance like they were John Wayne before proclaiming: “We are going to kick some Sparty ass.”

This guy didn’t. My Wolverine friends at the gym didn’t either.

“Well you can tell who I am rooting for,” he said. “I think we should win but you just never know. I am worried.”

He went on to proclaim MSU coach Mark Dantonio to be some kind of magician who spins wins out of thin air. The Wolverine was nervous.

A Michigan writer asked Coach Jim Harbaugh can his team muster up enough energy to face a Spartan team who makes this game their Super Bowl and World Series all rolled into one.”

That is no longer true. The Spartans do not make this a life or death situation any more even though beating Michigan is important to them. They get riled up when Michigan players bombard them with “little brother” talk and other disrespectful terms. Harbaugh, who once guaranteed victory over Ohio State as a player, has put the cone of silence around his players this week and they followed his lead.

Harbaugh has won the week by his players not talking a lot of noise. MSU is already fired up about this game. Why add fuel to the fire?

Do your talking on the field.

And you know the media is dying for a Michigan player to utter the term “little brother.” So is Dantonio.

The Spartans have finally humbled the Wolverines. They’ve won eight of the last 10 meetings, won two Big Ten championships and been to the BCS national championship semi final.

Michigan, who used to rule the state, hasn’t even played in a Big Ten title game.

MSU also wins games it has no business winning. That is why the Michigan program is being more respectful and silent.

I’ve spent years snooping around the Spartan program as a journalist. MSU players would give us the standard “we hate Michigan” sound bites. Calm stuff. Then someone from Michigan would talk about little brother and suddenly State players had razor blades piercing from their eyes with anger.

My advice for Michigan players was to shut up and play the game. It looks like the humbled Wolverines learned their lesson and it is one of the reasons I pick them to win a dreadful, boring game over the Spartans.




Outback Bowl turns into a Sparty Party

I enjoyed a green and white Outback Bowl as the University of Michigan choked away a 24-19 loss to South Carolina.

And there was laughter through out the afternoon.

My wife Abs is a Spartan. Although she attended Western Michigan University both her mom and dad were long time MSU employees who taught their children to bleed green and  white.

The host brother in law Ralph, who joined me once on a MSU road trip to Penn State and snored so long and loud that I was barely up for the game, attended MSU and his son is a freshman there.

My son Brandon wears Michigan State gear and wants to attend the school when he graduates from high school in three years. I wore his Spartan skull cap and of course ran into West Bloomfield High football coach Ron Bellamy who wants me to trade in the hat for a Michigan hat. Coach Bell was once a fine wide receiver at Michigan.

Also in attendance was a former Spartan non relative.

There was complete silence as we chowed on ham sandwiches and a batch of greens, black eyed peas and smoked turkey as Michigan piled up a 19-3 lead. The Sparty party was a sullen affair because it looked like Michigan would roll to an easy victory over a disinterested and error prone Gamecock squad.

But the Wolverines began to implode and the roars of glee and laughter grew louder.

“Do you know what’s better than Michigan losing this game,” said big Ralph. “Michigan imploding and losing this game.”

More laughter.

I understand the rivalry. The Spartans root for Michigan to lose. The Wolverines once claimed they did not care if State won or loss. But that all changed when MSU became good under Mark Dantonio. Now both sides are out for blood.

The Big Ten finished 8-1 during the bowl season which made my Spartan family gleeful. The glee became more shining because Michigan sustained the only loss.

I was asked why I wasn’t sharing in the same glee.

I explained that I am a state of Michigan man. I want to see the mitten do well. And after three decades as a sports writer I am programmed to not root for teams. I do not root for Michigan or Michigan State. I do not root for the Lions. I watch as a sports fan, not a sports team fan.

I root for good games more than victories.

Any way Michigan loss and the get together for lunch turned into an outright party filled with sinister laughs and giggles.

I wonder if Wolverines do the same?

There was anger because Michigan (8-5) got a better bowl than MSU (10-3). Bowls are not about rewarding the best teams. They are about filling seats, getting television ratings and getting the most publicity. It does not matter what bowl you are in unless it is one of the playoff bowls. Besides I’d rather spend a week in San Diego this time if year than in Tampa.

My Spartan family hates the term Little Brother. My advice to Wolverines is to stop using the term. The Spartan players play off that and become a little better team because of it. Dantonio uses it as jet fuel and I’m convinced the Spartans are 3-6 points better against Michigan because of it.







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