Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spartans, Wolverines set to mark 100th meeting in rivalry

Associated Press Writer

Former Michigan State running back T.J. Duckett says his lifelong best friend, fellow Kalamazoo native John Bradford, ``is the biggest Michigan fan in the history of the state.''

In 2001, Duckett irritated his buddy - and millions of other Wolverines fans - by catching the game-winning touchdown as time expired in one of the most controversial games in a rivalry that celebrates its 100th game Saturday.

Measured by a century or a second, time is a recurring theme in the Michigan-Michigan State football series.

In the 'Clock Game' of 2001, Michigan fans swear time stood still in Spartan Stadium long enough for Michigan State and Duckett to pull off a last-second 26-24 victory. Duckett says that to this day, Bradford claims Michigan State didn't really win the game.

This year, clocks in football training facilities at Michigan State (5-4, 1-4 Big Ten) began counting down the days to kickoff against No. 15 Michigan (7-2, 5-0) before the season started.

It's the latest edition of a rivalry that began in 1898. Except for a two-year break caused in part by World War II, it's been an annual affair since 1910. That's plenty of time to develop millions of split allegiances between friends and families that roar to the surface during Michigan-Michigan State week.

Michigan State usually has measured its football success against neighboring Michigan, college football's all-time winningest program. The Wolverines have dominated the series with a 66-28-5 advantage.

All but a few games were played in Ann Arbor until Michigan State became a full-fledged member of the Big Ten in the 1950s. That's when the teams began playing for the Paul Bunyan Trophy and the Spartans had equal standing for a home-and-home series.

The only prolonged streak of Spartan superiority over the Wolverines came in the 1950s and '60s, when Michigan State held a 14-4-2 edge while winning at least one version of a national championship in six different seasons under Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty.

Before and since, it's been pretty much all Michigan. The Wolverines have won five straight headed into Saturday's contest and own a 29-8 record in the series since 1970. No wonder some Wolverines say the Spartans have an inferiority complex.

First-year Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio this week asked his players, none of whom has ever beaten Michigan, if they were ready to stop bowing to the Wolverines. He says the Ann Arbor school, located roughly 60 miles southeast of East Lansing, is a measuring stick for the Spartans - and they haven't measured up lately.

``We compete against them in everything that we do every day, whether it's for a recruit, whether it's for a fan, or whether it's for a 9-year-old's heart,'' Dantonio said. ``Whatever it is, we are going to compete against those people down the road every single day.''

Some Michigan alums say the rivalry means much more to Michigan State than it does to them. No wonder some Spartans say the Wolverines are arrogant.

``I've always considered Ohio State and Notre Dame to be our rivals, not Michigan State,'' former Michigan receiver and Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ``As a player, I always had the impression from State that if they could beat us it would make their season. However, it was never like that for us. We expected to win and beating them held no more significance to us than a victory against Purdue or Minnesota.''

The Wolverines established their football program in 1879 and were considered a powerhouse well before what was then Michigan Agricultural College fielded its first team in 1896.

Michigan won the programs' first meeting 39-0, en route to a perfect 10-0 season in 1898.

A 0-0 tie in 1908 prompted wild celebration in East Lansing. About 6,000 fans threw their hats and pennants in the air and carried Michigan State players off the field. Then some 600 students took streetcars to nearby Lansing and partied in the streets, starting a big bonfire near the state Capitol.

Michigan State's first win, 12-7 in 1913, came in Ann Arbor and ruined Michigan's unbeaten season. Michigan State fans celebrated on the Wolverines' field for a half-hour after the game. Back home, the win prompted another celebration near the state Capitol and a building fire on campus that some suspected may have been set by rowdy celebrants, although that was never proven.

Police still marshal a larger-than-normal force whenever the Wolverines visit East Lansing.

The teams have traded massive upsets over the years.

In 1955, Michigan State's only loss was 14-7 in Ann Arbor. Although the Spartans would win the Rose Bowl and a minor version of the national title that season, the loss to Michigan likely cost them the consensus national championship.

In 1990, Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the nation and hosting the underdog Spartans in the Big House. The Spartans escaped with a controversial 28-27 win. On a potential game-winning 2-point conversion pass late in the game, Howard looked for a penalty flag against Michigan State's Eddie Brown, but it never came.

In 1999, Spartans quarterback Bill Burke passed for a school record 400 yards to lead No. 11 Michigan State past No. 3. Michigan in East Lansing, 34-31.

``You got the idea that a lot of people were affected by the outcome of that game,'' said Burke, an Ohio native who didn't know much about the rivalry until he arrived at Michigan State. ``You drive down almost any street in East Lansing and you'll see a lot of Spartan flags, but you'll see some Michigan flags too. Michigan State grads marry Michigan grads. A lot of families are split right down the middle.''

Ron Bellamy, a former Wolverine receiver who like Duckett is now with the NFL's Detroit Lions, grew up in Louisiana but quickly learned about the Great Lakes State rivalry.

``Michigan State is like the neighbor that keeps coming on your property, and you say, 'We're going to have to handle this if you keep coming on my side,''' Bellamy said. ``We hate them, and they hate us and it's a dirty game with a lot of trash talking.''

Bellamy is among those who believe the Wolverines were robbed by the clock operator and game officials as time wound down in the 2001 game at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker spiked the ball during a last-chance drive in time to preserve one second on the clock, officials ruled, despite Michigan's objections that time should have run out.

Frank Beckmann, a longtime radio announcer for Michigan football games, called the clock incident ``criminal'' on the air.

Smoker, scrambling and off-balance, then lobbed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Duckett as time expired.

``I don't know if it was criminal, but it definitely was a great play in Spartan history,'' Duckett said.