Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking back at Illinois and ahead to Michigan...(and my secret shame)

Michigan State relentlessly bludgeoned Illinois on Saturday, coming away with a resounding 42-3 win. It was a slow, methodical drubbing, with the Illini's will essentially broken by the middle of the third quarter.

Many in the local media thought that Illinois would beat Michigan State. But now, suddenly, Illinois went from being a potential offensive juggernaut to being essentially worthless. At least if one listens to Drew Sharp, Graham Couch, Joe Rexrode (and maybe a few more that I missed). Look, I can't fault anyone for questioning MSU's offense after the Purdue ho-hummer, and even I thought that if things went Illinois' way, and the Spartan offense continued to sputter, the Illini could pull an upset. And really, I can't even rip anyone too much for picking Illinois to win. These sportswriters are paid to put themselves on the line with their predictions, so they deserve some leeway. What bothers me most is when writers backpedal, and suddenly the team that they predicted to spring an upset becomes the most pathetic excuse for a team on Earth.

I will give Graham Couch credit for sheepishly, and somewhat humorously, making fun of his Illinois prediction. I don't know what Rexrode has said about this pick. As far as I know, he hasn't said anything about it. Naturally, the curmudgeonly and never self-effacing Drew Sharp hasn't said boo about his pick, and instead has decided to bad-mouth Illinois.

I've never said anything bad about Drew Sharp on this blog, but lately the guy has gotten on my nerves more than usual. The thing is, I actually think Drew is a, sharp guy and a decent writer. I don't think he needs to be a cheerleader for local teams, and he does need to maintain objectivity, but it seems that he takes it too far. In fact, he goes so far to the grouchy extreme that it has become his schtick. Anyone who's read enough of Drew Sharp can predict his opinion before he even writes anything.


Michigan State is now 7-1. Which makes me wonder: what if MSU had beaten Notre Dame? Where would they be in the BCS rankings? Would it be higher than 24? and does it really matter? Maybe it's better for the Spartans to fly under the radar for the rest of the season.


I'm guardedly optimistic about the Michigan game, but I've been disappointed too many times in the past to put the cart before the horse, to use that tired expression. Having come of age during the Bo Schembechler era, when Michigan was the big bully on the block, it's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that this rivalry is not as one-sided as it was in the 1970s and '80s.

Michigan State has won four of the last five games against Michigan, and each game against the Wolverines in the Mark Dantonio era has at least come down to the last few minutes of the fourth quarter before the final score was decided. In MSU's four wins under Dantonio, three of the victories were by double-digits.

And still I view the Spartans as underdogs. It's just part of that mentality, formed at a young age, that I can't shake.

As far as the game itself goes (and not my usual jitters as a fan), I read in the Lansing State Journal that Damion Terry will be playing the role of Devin Gardner in this week's practices. I'll go out on a limb and assume that Terry's athletic abilities are at least on par with Gardner, and he may very well have a better arm. I'd advise him to go all-out in practice, as Earvin "Magic" Johnson did before the 1979 NCAA basketball championship where Magic played the part of Larry Bird. Magic lit up his teammates in practice, making shots from everywhere on the floor. If Damion Terry relishes his role as Devin Gardner on the scout team, the Spartans should be well prepared for Saturday's tilt.


Even at my age, I take the Michigan game quite seriously. I know I take it more seriously than it probably warrants.

I want the Spartans to beat Michigan badly. It gets to the point where I don't know how I can possibly watch the game and not completely freak out through the entire ordeal. Somehow, I managed to do it last year until the very end when Michigan got the ball and kicked the game-winning field goal. I had a bad feeling about that ending and just couldn't watch it unfold.

In 2011, the only part of the game I was was part of the second half at a bar/restaurant in Detroit Metro Airport. I thought I was about to have a coronary during that game. I was so jittery and worried about punching out people in the restaurant that I was forced to pace and follow the end of the game on my phone. After watching the replay on Big Ten Network, I was further convinced that I may have been close to a coronary with all of MSU's ridiculous penalties.

In 2010, I made it through the entire game by drinking beer after beer after beer. It also helped to have friends with small children over to our house because it forced me to be on better behavior. I did manage to watch the entire game, and what a joyous sight to behold the despondent Michigan fans moping in the "Big Hole" throughout the fourth quarter.

2009 was perfectly fine until Michigan mounted it's fourth quarter comeback and tied the game on the final play of regulation. I was so pissed off that I went for a walk during overtime and missed MSU's game-winning touchdown.

2008. After the heartbreaking 2007 loss, I decided to spend the majority of this particular year's Michigan game raking leaves--only catching the end of the fourth quarter. I was just too damned nervous. (I did watch the replay of the game in its entirety later).

At this point, many of you have probably declared me a big wimp and a nancy boy. I can't fault you for this assessment. I assure you that I don't have this same reaction towards other games MSU plays, but something about the Michigan game just sets me off. It's just the sheer hatred I have when I see those blue and yellow candy-striped helmets and hear the Michigan's obnoxious Barnum and Bailey circus-like fight song. My blood boils to the point where, quite often, I find it better to just step away (and watch the replay if Michigan State wins the game).

As far as ever attending this game in person? Forget it. If I ever did that, I'd probably end up spending the night in jail.

So there you have it, but deep dark shameful secret: my aversion to watching the MSU/UM football game in its entirety. I hope all of you don't feel to much less of me. I may be able to make it through this year's game if I imbibe about three glasses of wine per quarter.

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