EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan‘s Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State‘s Mark Dantonio agreed earlier this week that the tone of their in-state rivalry had been sportsmanlike and respectful the past few years. That’s over now.
A pregame dust-up hours before the kickoff of Michigan’s 21-7 victory stoked tempers and rekindled an often snippy and heated war of words between the two programs.
“Yeah, I didn’t think that was real respectful,” Harbaugh said when asked if Saturday’s events changed the tenor of his team’s relationship with the Spartans. “You know my feelings on it. I think it’s bush league, and I’ve got nothing else to say on it.”
Harbaugh said that he didn’t see the incident, but “apparently Coach Dantonio was 5 yards behind it all smiling.”
Dantonio stood some 10 yards away on the other side of a partitioned media room when he was asked about Harbaugh’s comments.
“That’s B.S.,” Dantonio said. “You heard me.”
The bad blood started when Michigan State arrived on the field at Spartan Stadium a few minutes late for its usual ritual of walking, linked arm-in-arm, from one end zone to the other prior to taking the field to warm up. Michigan’s players were already on the field stretching, which led to a slow-motion game of chicken, with neither side willing to yield to the other.
Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke told reporters after the game that the team’s strength coach asked players to move off the field while the Spartans walked across it. Michigan spokesman Dave Ablauf said earlier in the day that Michigan had no warning that the Spartans were coming. The two sides clashed and exchanged words. Ablauf said a Michigan player was clotheslined, and another had his headphones ripped off of his head in the exchange.
Michigan linebacker Devin Bush responded by jogging to the large Spartan helmet logo at midfield and attempting to kick up as much of the painted grass as possible in a 20-second time span.
“It was just one of those things where you felt like you got disrespected,” Bush said after the game. “What Michigan State did — with the whole walk, the 100 yards, with their arms locked up while we trying to warm up — I felt like you was trying to take a shot at us, trying to do something to us, and I didn’t like that.
“I just got caught up in the moment in my emotions,” Bush continued. “I feel like they took a shot at us, and that was just something I acted off my emotions with. … It was pure emotion. I did what I did. I can’t take it back, so it is what it is.”
Harbaugh said the altercation might have added some extra motivation for his team, but “it certainly wasn’t going to intimidate us.”
To cap off the victory, the Wolverines celebrated atop the Spartans logo at midfield.
Michigan celebrates right on the logo pic.twitter.com/YwpqoONGky
— Max Marcovitch (@Max_Marcovitch) October 20, 2018
The pregame exchange joins a significant list of off-the-field animosities in the history of the rivalry. Michigan’s players drove a stake into the Spartan Stadium turf prior to losing to Michigan State in 2014. The most well-known jab came from former Wolverine running back Mike Hart, who called the Spartans their “little brother” after a win in 2007. Dantonio responded to that comment by telling reporters “pride comes before the fall.” Michigan State then won eight of the next 11 games in the annual series. The visiting team has lost the past four games.
Michigan senior defensive end Chase Winovich referenced that Hart quote in a postgame interview with Fox Sports on the field.
“Sometimes your little brother starts acting up, and you’ve got to put them in place,” Winovich said.
Dantonio said in the week leading up to Saturday’s game that the games with Michigan since Harbaugh’s arrival had been respectful and sportsmanlike because both coaches “respected the game of football,” and that trickled down to their players. The cordial vibes appear to have dissipated quickly this week.