Players and Coach Mark Dantonio Embrace, Cherish and Love Michigan Week As Connor Cook Declares, â€œIt's going to be a blood bath.â€
East Lansing, MI
I have said it my entire life after learning from my father who said it for his. This week in college football, Michigan vs. Michigan State is NOT about the other teamâ€™s record. Records donâ€™t matter. Star ratings donâ€™t mean anything on the field. This week is about a heart.
Nationally-ranked #5 Michigan State will play host to the Michigan Wolverines this Saturday at the High Cathedral of the Spartan Nation: Spartan Stadium at 3:30 pm ET for what is sure to be a physical battle of wills. Story lines abound. Enough drama is swirling to make an afternoon soap opera addict go through two boxes of tissues. This game is about desire.
Spartan C and OL Travis Jackson summed it up best earlier today saying, â€œMichigan's a big week for us. Definitely Coach D has definitely put an emphasis on Michigan week. It's kind of a battle for the state, so that's a big deal to us, especially being seniors up here and being our last time playing them, it's really special for us. You could kind of throw records out the window in this game. You kind of go out there and it's a slobber knocker of a game, and that's how it's been for a long time and that's the way we like it.â€
Heâ€™s right. This is the 107th game for these two schools and Mark Dantonio is 5-2 against his rivals from Ann Arbor. He said of this rivalry that it first got into his native Ohioanâ€™s blood in 1999. â€œI think it was certainly when I got here and I was it was 1995 when I first came here and that's when I first got a taste of it. It was embraced at that time, because of the past, and I've said all along here, I didn't make these rules, I'm just playing by 'em. I keep trying to play by them. It gets in your blood a little bit; it's just the way it is. I've been in other places where the same thing has happened. There is no difference in this game than being at the South Carolina vs. Clemson game when I was in college. It just divides the state so it makes it unique in that respect, and you embrace it, you get involved in it, and it's in you.â€
Fellow Spartan C Kurtis Drummond, star S and super young man made no bones that this rivalry is personal. Real personal. â€œI think any rivalry game you're going to take it personal. This rivalry game, like Travis said, it's about battle for the state. Each year is a good game. Both teams come out playing hard, with a lot of emotion. Regardless where the game is, the atmosphere is always crazy. So it's more so just a battle of the state. We're playing for not only ourselves but past Spartans and future Spartans to come. It just comes down to when you get out on the field, you really understand why the game has so much intensity behind it.â€
RB Jeremy Langford is from the state so this game goes from already being bigger to being SUPER SIZED. He understands the numbers. Although he is now a RB, he once got some looks on D,l and the Spartans havenâ€™t allowed UM to score a touchdown in 1,102 days.
Langford said of the contest that, â€œPersonally, you just want to win. You want to win every game. This game has a little more emphasis on it. It's about the state of Michigan and not to worry about anybody talking bad about you because we did what we had to do.â€
Spartan MLB Taiwan Jones is from this state. The product of two amazing parents, he joked with me today that this game is a monster for him and may even be bigger for his amazing father. I think he is right. I already mentioned that it has been 1,102 days since the Wolverines scored a TD on the highly respected MSU D, but think about it in football terms. That is 129:49 of actual football time. UM has been able to add a tally on the scoreboard with five field goals over the last eight quarters.
Jones talked about how he takes this rivalry to heart. Telling me, â€œIt means a lot to me. Coming up, Michigan didn't really recruit me, so you always have to take that personally. But I know a few guys on that team, and we talk a little bit. But this week we haven't said much to each other. It's always really personal. We're looking forward to playing against them and having a good game against them.â€
Why do the Spartans take this rivalry so personally? Why does it resonate not just with their schedule, but their hearts as well? No one could have said it better than Jones, â€œPretty much because we've always known every single game we play we're never picked to be the favorites. It's always been about the school down the road instead of I feel like as much emphasis about us. So like you said, we take it personal because every single team we play, it's always about bragging rights in the state of Michigan, being able to walk the streets. So that's one of the main reasons why we take it personal.â€
For starting QB Connor Cook his path is different. The native of the Buckeye state didnâ€™t get a look from OSU and his fatherâ€™s alma mater Indiana didnâ€™t think he was good enough. So I asked him about this rivalry. Where does it stand in his perspective?
His answer didnâ€™t disappoint, â€œPretty much because we've always known every single game we play we're never picked to be the favorites. It's always been about the school down the road instead of I feel like as much emphasis about us. So like you said, we take it personal because every single team we play, it's always about bragging rights in the state of Michigan, being able to walk the streets. So that's one of the main reasons why we take it personal.â€
I talked with Cook today reflecting about his true freshman year. We walked out of practice together that day and he was explaining how he didnâ€™t understand his upper classmen teammates and coaches telling them that the intensity goes up for this week, until he experienced it.
His emotion of that experience still resonates with me from that day years ago. I asked him to explain it for you--the fan at home--who isnâ€™t around it on a daily basis. How can it be that much more emotional? He said, â€œYeah, you have all the coaches flying around, the coaches are moving fast and the players are moving faster. The scout team's energy is up a little bit. I'd say the main thing is everyone's energy is just up here as opposed to being down there. But Coach (Ken) Mannie is on edge. Coach Mannie is going to be on edge tomorrow during our lift, and today he's probably on edge too. Everything's just moving faster. Everything's done with more intensity. With meetings, there is more intensity in the meetings. I don't know how you can do that, but just everyone is a little bit more on edge. Things, just drills, practices, whatever, just move faster and there is more energy.â€
That was a great explanation so I had to ask Dantonio to expand on that. He tries to say they all count one. This one doesnâ€™t. The game clock counts down all year. They talk about UM every single day of the year. This is in their blood.
I told Dantonio about Cookâ€™s comments to me. Does he notice the energy level going up from the coaches? He got a big smile and said, â€œI think you as a coach, I mean, you're involved in it deeply as well. You're trying to do everything you can from that perspective, and sustained energy is what you need, I guess, because it's a long week. We just do what we do. I think we're hopefully we're like that every week, but I guess not.â€
I know this one fact. Throw out the records. Throw out the recruiting stars. This game is about heart. Who wants it more? Itâ€™s a nasty battle, an uncivil war, brouhaha and itâ€™s going to be a riot. Saturday. 3:30 pm. Be there.