East Lansing, MI
Growing up a fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Zanesville, Ohio, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a healthy respect for the Irish even to this day. It reminds him of fond memories rushing home from church each Sunday with his father Justin and watching the replay of his beloved Golden Domers.
But now Dantonio finds himself at the helm of the Spartans with a love for Michigan State, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t remains special to him. He said of facing his boyhood team this weekend that, “(I’m) very excited about going down to South Bend to play in this game. It's a rivalry game for us. Been involved in this football game probably since `97 as an assistant coach, and there's been some great games with Notre Dame.”
He elaborated on the deep roots of the rivalry adding, “I think it all goes back to the '66 game certainly and even maybe before that. So it's been a traditional-type rivalry and we've embraced that as we have so many of our other rivalries. I think when you look at them right now, a good football team, very well-coached football team. Offensively, quarterback makes it happen, two quarterbacks actually make it happen for them, but they've chosen to go in one direction there.”
That respect for the rivalry goes deeper than just Dantonio. His captains love it as well. Demetrious Cox discussed this game by describing both programs. “I would have to say how we're two really, really good programs, but I feel like we're kind of just different, like how different we are like culturally. That's where our two cultures are different. But at the same time we're like ying-yang.”
For MLB Riley Bullough the game is deeper than just a rivalry. His family ties go deep to both schools and he has been at a lot of games for both programs. “The biggest thing is I think the atmosphere. The atmosphere there is going to be out of this world. There's going to be so much coverage for that game. Notre Dame has such a profound following, people all over the country. They're one of the few teams that are truly like that that have fans in all 50 states. So to go down there and play in a game like this is going to be awesome.”
Just like his Coach, QB Tyler O’Connor grew up a big fan of the Irish. The QB had dreams of one day leading a team to victory in South Bend and he may get that chance this Saturday, just as a Spartan.
“I think they're playing with such a rich tradition that Notre Dame carries with itself. And the following of Notre Dame is obviously huge. In a sense, we kind of always have a chip on our shoulder no matter what. But obviously Notre Dame gets so much national coverage and everything like that, that we're going in there with an even bigger chip on our shoulder and a bigger opportunity to show what we can do, I think.”
The Michigan State Spartans have a great opportunity to reach their goal of making Back 2 Back trips to the college football playoffs. With a win on Saturday, it doesn’t change that the roots of this rivalry that runs deep on both sides, but it can be another epic chapter in the history of this great rivalry.