This week I’ll be on campus giving a guest lecture on the Little Brown Jug in John U. Bacon’s great course, ‘The History of College Athletics’. (Bacs is tied up on projects so this semester legendary U-M SID Bruce Madej is teaching the class).
Prep for that lecture led to thoughts about Minnesota’s place as a U-M rival and how that has evolved over time. Naturally my thoughts quickly went to our other rivals and how our relationships have developed (or died) over the decades. A pile or two of crumpled paper later and…Bob Zuppke’s your uncle:
Overview: 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.
- 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:
- 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
nerdsstuds 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.
- 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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