What Was Behind Saturday’s Michigan–Michigan State Brouhaha?

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 20:  The Michigan Wolverines celebrate winning the Paul Bunyan trophy with a 21-7 win over the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 20, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The Michigan Wolverines celebrate winning the Paul Bunyan trophy at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines beat the Michigan State Spartans 21-7 on Saturday, but what happened before kickoff and after the final whistle managed to overshadow the game itself. In-state rivalries are always pugnacious (look no further than the never-ending bloodbath between Minneapolis and St. Paul), though tensions ran at abnormally high levels for this East Lansing showdown. The fracas started during pregame warmups, and the blood managed to keep boiling through an extended weather delay and into the postgame press conferences.

It started as all wars begin: with some interrupted stretching. There’s a Michigan State tradition where players walk, arms linked, from end zone to end zone before pregame warm-ups. On Saturday, though, their opponents happened to be stretching in their path. According to ESPN, Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke said that a Michigan State coach had asked the Michigan players to vacate, but they did not comply. A Michigan spokesperson denied this and claimed the team had received no such caution. The impasse resulted in a rather raucous game of Red Rover, and it incensed Michigan linebacker Devin Bush so much that he tried to destroy the midfield logo with his cleats. (The grounds crew eventually repaired the Sparty silhouette’s head wound.)

During the postgame press conference, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh called the march “bush league” and said one of his players was clotheslined while another had his headphones ripped from his head. The only thing more insidious than messing with someone’s tunes is the sanctioning of that kind of behavior, and Harbaugh accused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantionio of “standing five yards behind it all, smiling.”

Dantonio, meanwhile, called Harbaugh’s accusation “B.S.”

During a postgame interview, Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich went out of his way to provide some spicy quotes. “Sometimes your little brother starts acting up,” he said, “and you just gotta put ‘em in place.”

After the win, Michigan stuck it to their rivals one last time and celebrated at midfield, atop the Spartan logo that Bush had trampled hours before.

Despite the temporary loss of one pair of headphones, the Wolverines took home all the bragging rights they could fit on the team bus. As always though, the real winners were the organizations, broadcasters, and advertisers who profited from the free and hazardous labor provided by the players involved in this compelling clash. Now there’s a one-sided rivalry.