For One Night, Michigan And Michigan State Didn't Hate Each Other
It was a game unlike any other because it had to be. There was nothing spectacular about last night's Michigan/Michigan State matchup on paper. Neither team is in a position to win the Big Ten, and neither team is looking like a group that will make a deep run in the NCAA tournament (Michigan likely won't make it at all). But last night's game will go down as one of the most memorable the rivalry has seen, not because of what happened on the court, but off it.
The game itself wasn't the story. It couldn't be. Earlier this week, Michigan State suffered an unspeakable tragedy. Three students were killed and five more injured in a campus mass shooting. The images of pain, loss, and grief are all too familiar for a generation that has grown up surrounded by these tragedies. For some Michigan State students, this was the second mass shooting they've experienced in as many school years, as multiple students also attended Oxford high school in Michigan in November 2021 when four students were shot, and seven were injured. All Michigan State athletic events were canceled, including their men's basketball game against Minnesota, meaning that MSU's first game back after the shooting would be against their biggest rival in Michigan. Michigan won what was admittedly a very entertaining, close game of basketball, but the final result to a back seat to a rare moment of unity between Michigan and Michigan State fans.
I'll be honest. I was scared as hell about how things were going to go at the Crisler Center last night. The Michigan/Michigan State rivalry has reached an all-time level of hatred. It may not get the national attention that Michigan/Ohio State or Duke/UNC receives, but this is one of the nastiest rivalries in sports. It can turn smart people stupid, and I was worried we'd get more of that last night. Thankfully, I was wrong. I must credit Tom Izzo's crew for even showing up to play last night. If there was ever a game in which it would've made sense for their hearts not to be in it, it was that one, and while they ultimately came up short on the scoreboard, they played their asses off. From a Michigan standpoint, the Maize Rage seemingly conducted themselves with the utmost respect and class, paying tribute to all those affected by the shooting. As far as the players are concerned, there have been well publicized on court conduct issues within Juwan Howard's program over the last few seasons, but none of that was on display last night. It was genuinely refreshing to see.
I'm incredibly lucky to have the job that I have. I get to do what I love for a living. There's one part of the job that I can't stand: the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry. It's not fun, it's never been fun, and it gets worse every year, and as much as one side likes to claim that it's the fault of the other, the truth is that it comes from both sides. Everyone is to blame for what it's become. The Sharks and the Jets didn't have this much contempt for each other. The games themselves have taken a backseat to the Twitter war, the insults, the memes, the hatred, the finger-pointing, and the doxing of any fan or a media member who shares a differing opinion. It's so tiring to hear about Little Brother, tunnelgate or any ridiculous things that have happened in this rivalry outside of the field of play. But for one night, all of that was put to the wayside.
I know that this won't last. I know that in a few days, weeks, or months, everything will return to "normal." Michigan vs. Michigan State Twitter will become a dumpster once again. Both sides will come loaded with material, slinging mud at the opposition like they're doing it for sport, and media members who claim the rivalry has gotten too ugly with continue to fan the flames of hatred. I've been around long enough. I know how this goes. But there will always be this week, in which hope shined through during a time of devastating tragedy. For a brief moment in time, we were all Spartan Strong.
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