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MSU vs U-M: The Best Rivalry Games in History

Paul Bunyan TrophyPaul Bunyan isn’t a pretty sight. Neither is his trophy. Some even argue that the Paul Bunyan Trophy is one of the strangest/ugliest things an athlete could possibly win. Well, I think it could be worse. A lot worse. I mean it, a hell of a lot worse. And since Paul resides in East Lansing right now (and we hope that he sticks around for some time), you better stop picking on him. Or Chuck Norris will kick your ass. Yes, Chuck Norris. Because Chuck Norris one had a son – and his name was Paul Bunyan. Or so they say.

But no matter if you like him (please choose either Paul Bunyan or Chuck Norris) or not – the annual fight for the Paul Bunyan Trophy between Michigan State and the University of Michigan has produced some of the most memorable rivalry games in recent history. Or, as our foes from @UMGoBlog just tweeted: “The Paul Bunyan trophy is ugly but we still want it back.”

Well, good luck with that. We just awarded Coach Mark Dantonio with a new contract and there’s no better way to celebrate his new membership to the ‘Spartan for Life’-Club than bringing the still unbeaten Wolverines down to earth. But in the meantime, statebeat.com presents some of the greatest MSU vs. U-M rivalry games in recent history (and with recent history I mean since Pauly was the prize).

Number One vs. No One

I’m not religious in a churchy sense, but I know that: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18). So dubbing a game “Number One vs. No One” might not be the best idea. Because, in the end, “No One” might kick your ass. Just as it did in 1990, when the Michigan faithful chocked on their very own catchy tag line.

Here is what happened: The Wolverines came into the game ranked #1 in the country but struggled to put away the 1-2-1 Spartans at home in Ann Arbor. With only a a few seconds remaining Michigan scored a TD making the score 28-27 MSU. But hey, why should you go for overtime when you can win this thing. Especially when you are the “Number One”? So Michigan coach Gary Moeller went for the two point conversion – and failed. Michigan receiver Desmond Howard stumbled, appeared to have caught the ball for a moment before dropping it as he fell to the turf. Game over. Even if some Michigan fans still feel that Howard was interfered by MSU’s Eddie Brown.


When fans send death threats to game officials, you know that it must have been a big game. And it was. On fourth-and-goal, with one second remaining in the game, Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker (who still holds several MUS passing records but never made it in the NFL) threw a touchdown pass to running back T. J. Duckett (who very well mede it in the NFL) as time expired to win it 26-24. So far so good. Nobody would argue the play itself. It’s what happend in the seconds before that tipped off the Blue.

Smoker spiked the ball with one second showing on the clock. Or no second? Michigan coaches, players, and the broadcasters argued that the clock should have expired on the play and that the timekeeper, Bob Stehlin (now also known as “Spartan Bob”), purposely stopped the clock before the ball was grounded. But even if video evidence showed that the clock call was correct, this incident led to a conference rule change that control of the game clock would be held by a game official instead of a school representative.

Over-, Over-, Over-Time

Again, time was an issue here. This time: Overtime. The 2004 edition of the rivalry game was the first triple overtime game in the history of the Big House. Michigan was down 27–10 with 8:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, but erased that 17-point fourth-quarter deficit in just 5:44 minutes. But the real game hadn’t even started. 28 more points had to be scored until this wild ride could end with Michigan defeating Michigan State 45–37. “It was one of the greatest games I’ve ever been in,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said afterwards. “It’s unfortunate somebody has to lose.” Unfortunate is not the word that crossed MSU coach John L. Smith’s mind: “I’m just sick. It was a game I feel we could have won and should have won.” Hero of the Night: Braylon Edwards, the U-M receiver who had just passed on a million dollar NFL rookie contract to play his senior year at Michigan. He hauled in two touchdowns in regulation to force overtime and then caught one more in OT. “This is why I came back,” said Edwards. “To be honest, I’ve never felt like this after a game.”

Some facts for 2011

This year, it’s Number one vs. Number two – at least in the Big Ten Legends standings. It’s one of the best defenses in the country (MSU) vs. the unbeaten Wolverines and Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson (1130 PASS-YDS, 10 TD, 9 INT, 720 RUSH-YDS, 8 RUSH-TD).

What: #11 Michigan (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) @ #23 Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten)
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Laning and on ESPN, ESPN3
When: Saturday, Oct. 15th, 12:00 PM ET

About Jan Boehmer

Assistant Professor of New Media @ the University of Miami; Ph.D. from Michigan State. Researching Sport, Social Media & Big Data. NBA Writer for NBA.de & Welt.


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what is a beat writer?

Beat writer build up a base of knowledge on and gain familiarity with the sector they report on, allowing them to provide insight and commentary in addition to reporting straight facts. And thats’s exactly what this blog is all about. It’s about Michigan State University. The Spartans. Basketball, Football, Baseball, Soccer – and everything a sports lunatic has to say about it.

This is the beat writer!

This is Jan. Jan is a sports writer and editor for SPOX.com, one of Germany's most popular sports websites. But Jan is also a Ph.D student at Michigan State. That's why he decided to start this blog on the Spartans. GO GREEN, GO WHITE!

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