03. October 2017 · 1 comment · Categories: 2016

I’ve attempted to represent the overall and relative strength of U-M’s rivalries over time.  If you had a seizure reading this, cheers, you are reading it correctly.  Click the pic to expand it.  Please jump to Bullets listed below for additional notes, definitions and context.rivals-updated

Overview:

Digits:
(1) Western powers clash highlighted by annual Chicago/U-M Thanksgiving games; Elbel pens ‘The Victors‘ following 1898 game.
(2) Yost arrives and unleashes Point-A-Minute reign of terror; brutal Minnesota Little Brown Jug game in 1903 fosters bitterness.
(3) Apex of Stagg vs. Yost Chicago rivalry with recruiting wars, “loans” and scandal.
(4) Notre Dame wins in 1909 and Coach Shorty Longman taunts Yost in Ann Arbor.1910 game abruptly canceled due to eligibility dispute.
(5) The Trough of Disillusionment – U-M’s is out of B1G and schedule shifts, Penn emerges as the top rival.  Ohio State’s Chic Harley dazzles Yost in 1919.
(6) Games with Bob Zuppke’s Illinois teams and Red Grange create national buzz and a wicked (yet short-lived) rivalry; Rockne and Yost exchange accusations of rule-bending and bigotry.
(7) Battle with Minnesota for B1G/national supremacy; Francis Schmidt introduces OSU gold pants. Chicago quits football.
(8) Notre Dame series resumes, 1947 national title controversy blazes in the sports world.  MSU rises.
(9) Biggie, Duffy & Woody. A trio of all-time rival coaches arrive, MSU creates a national powerhouse, Dr. StrangeHayes emerges & will do the same.
(10) The Ten Year War – Bo and Woody battle and create Big 2 and Little 8; Gophers crushed.
(11) Blame Bo & Reggie Ho – U-M dominance over MSU pushed rivalry intensity down; Irish series resumes with classic games.  Bo is Bo, Earle Bruce ain’t Woody.
(12) The Loch Ness Gopher – It’s full on whack-a-gopher.  Despite the jug, the rivalry is only meaningful in Ann Arbor after Minnesota wins.
(13) Carr Blasts Cooper but game outcomes settle B1G title; Spartan Bob.
(14) Hart jabs, Little brother gets excited and MSU rises. 2006 #1 vs. #2 & rematch talk, HBO’s ‘The Rivalry’ airs.
(15) RichRod/U-M’s struggles elevate MSU focus; OSU intensity wanes and Meyer arrives.
(16) Enter Harbaugh – #4 returns home; national stakes in B1G East, ND series off schedule again.
Bullets:
  • This is a Michigan view of the world – so this won’t mirror how other teams view the intensity of their rivalry (or lack thereof) with U-M.  Michigan is unique to have so many rivals (arguably 5-6 different “main” rivals) over time.   Consider Ohio State’s view of its rivals:

that-school

  • This is obviously more art than science, but more science than Malcolm Gladwell typically relies on.
  • Creation of a rivalry requires a primordial stew of history, competition, and culture (including perceived cultural differences.)  I wouldn’t eat this stew, dude.
  • Once a team is a rival, I figure the strength of that rivalry at a given time is a confluence of the stakes involved (including bragging rights), the success of the teams, and at times the temperature of off-the-field activity between the players/coaches/universities and fanbases. (Fact: the Notre Dame rivalry has been fueled by behind-the-scenes shenanigans, f-yous, and tomfoolery.)
  • I rated each rivalry on 5 year intervals.  I could have gone granular especially over the last 20-30 years but rating rivalry strength on 12 month intervals gets a little ridiculous, even for nerds studs like me.
  • Not a surprise, but the peaks you see on this chart are when the two teams are very strong.  The nosedives often occur after Michigan pummeled the former rival to a pulp.
  • Thanks to the unholy trinity of Michigan historical & cultural wisdom (Craig Barker of the HSR, Steve Clarke of WTKA and John Kryk of Natural Enemies and Stagg vs. Yost) for the input.
More thoughts from Craig Barker:
  • Your inauguration into Michigan fandom plays heavily on whom you consider Michigan’s prime rivals.  OSU is always there, but younger generations, including the kids in that class, are going to see MSU as equally important, as you see in the chart.  Same with boomers who grew up during the Biggie/Duffy ascendant era.
  • On that tack, I also think that the importance of Michigan State as a rival can be personal, especially based on family.  If you have Spartan fans in your family, you know quite well how much they love to needle you, like some kind of…little brother…or something.
  • I think there’s a correlation to “the bigger you are, the more rivals you attract.”  Call it a gravitational theory.  The top five winningest schools are Michigan, ND, Texas, OSU, and Nebraska.  Michigan and ND definitely have multiple rivals, Texas has Oklahoma and A&M (dormant as it may be), OSU just has Michigan (which I think speaks volumes to their single-mindedness) and Nebraska had Oklahoma and Colorado from the Big 8 days, but then has the Rectangle of Ruckus in the B1G West now (since Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska all just hate each other.)
  • Rivalries tend to come in the intrastate and the interstate.  The intrastate is the Big Brother/Little Brother dynamic, or the university vs. land-grant rivalry.  The interstate is the defense of state honor thesis, crossing lines with the state that for some reason you hate.  Alabama’s is more intrastate focused, but they still sure don’t like Tennessee or Mississippi.  Florida hates FSU, but the Georgia game is a big deal, etc.  So I think many schools have two rivals, the internal and the external, and then it moves from there.
  • Penn State, not a rival, because the importance of the games in the 1990s and 2000s were about B1G standings, not about bragging rights.

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1 Comment

  1. Having grown up in Georgia as a UGA fan, the interstate dynamic between UGA and GT in football seems similar to that of UM/MSU. Clearly, one is historically stronger and more prestigious than the other, although the other does have its moments. That lends itself to a bit of a superiority/inferiority complex – very much the “big brother-little brother” dynamic that we witness with the UM/MSU rivalry.

    Also, as an out-of-stater (and out of region, for that matter) attending UM, it was always held that ohio state was THE rival, notre dame was that other snooty team we hated, and michigan state was the lesser in-state team.

    As an aside, if you ask GT fans about their biggest rivals, probably 100/100 will say UGA. If you ask UGA fans, you’ll probably get Florida, followed by GT, Auburn, and Tennessee. And for the old-timers, maybe even Clemson.