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Big Brother vs. Little Brother – A Recent History

October 12, 2011







For those that grew up in and around East Lansing, the Michigan vs Michigan State rivalry was often more intense than more publicized Ohio State rivalry.  While Bo Schembechler’s teams mostly dominated the Spartans in the 70’s and 80’s, the 90’s and 00’s have provided some of the best games in the history of the series.

Though I didn’t enjoy all of the outcomes, here are 7 of the most memorable games, no matter who won.


1995- MSU 28 Michigan 25

One of the coldest games I ever remember going to, it was something like 22 degrees at kickoff.  Michigan State went out to a 14-3 halftime lead behind the running of the aptly named Scott Greene.  Michigan would storm back for an 18-14 lead before the two teams traded touchdowns late in the 4th quarter.  With under 4 minutes to go, MSU trailed 25-21 but converted a VERY close 4th down to keep the drive alive.  Freshman Charles Woodson let an almost sure game ending interception go through his hands, and then Tony Banks and Nigea Carter did this:


In addition to the cold and the great ending, this game will be remembered for the number of guys who went on to have significant pro careers including Tony Banks, Muhshin Mohammed and Derrick Mason for MSU, and Brian Griese, Charles Woodson, Jon Jansen and Amani Toomer for Michigan.


2005 – Michigan 34 MSU 31

In one of the stranger games in this rivalry, Michigan came limping into East Lansing with a 2-2 record, with the chance to fall below .500 five games into the season for the first time since before a guy named Schembechler came to Ann Arbor.  MSU came in at 4-0 and ranked #11 in the country and was looking to avenge the 3 OT loss in 2004.  Michigan sprinted out to an early 14-0 lead before MSU battled back to tie the game at 24 heading into the 4th quarter.   A 5 play, 80 yard drive that included 75 yards on the ground from Mike Hart put Michigan up 31-24.  Michigan looked to be driving to score and put the game out of reach and had the ball at the MSU 25 yard line with 7 minutes to play when this controversial play occurred:


MSU fans argue it was a fumble, Michigan fans think it was an incomplete pass.  Either way, it counted as the tying touchdown for MSU.  And who doesn’t enjoy seeing a giant Samoan rumbling his way 70+ yards for a touchdown?

This game may be remembered most for its misses more than its makes, as Michigan’s Hayden Epstein missed a 26 yard field that would have likely won the game with :53 seconds remaining, and MSU’s John Goss missed a 37 yarder on MSU’s first possession of overtime (He also missed a 23 yarder after a 90 yard MSU drive that would have given the Spartans a 27-24 lead to start the 4th quarter).  Finally, Hayden Epstein connected on this 37 yarder to give Michigan the win:


1999 – MSU 34 Michigan 31

A game between perhaps the best two teams to go to head to head in the recent history of this rivalry resulted in a great game.  Unbeaten and #3 Michigan came into East Lansing to take on unbeaten #11 ranked Michigan State.  Michigan fans may remember this as the height of the Tom Brady and Drew Henson dueling quarterbacks experiment.  Brady would play quarter #1, Henson quarter #2, and the better QB would start the 2nd half.  Tom Brady was good in the first quarter, but only managed to put up 3 points, while Drew Henson led Michigan to a touchdown on an 81 yard pass in the 2nd quarter, earning him the 2nd half start.  MSU had led 13-10 at the half, but quickly stretched that lead to 20-10.  After a Drew Henson interception deep in Michigan territory, MSU QB Bill Burke found Plaxico Burress (a common theme for the day) for a 15 yard touchdown to increase the lead to 27-10.  Michigan quickly inserted Tom Brady into the lineup and answered with a touchdown of its own, which MSU then matched to make the score 34-17.  Michigan and Brady refused to go away as Brady led Michigan on back to back touchdown drives, the second going for 96 yards to cut the lead to 3.  MSU recovered the onside kick with 2:44 remaining and was able to run out the clock for the 34-31 win.  In defeat, Tom Brady completed 30/41 passes for  285 yards and two touchdowns in just 3 quarters of play.  He was outshined by MSU quarterback Bill Burke, who threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress who abused Michigan for 10 catches and 255 yards.  Michigan got the last laugh though, as they finished with the same record as MSU but got the invite to the Orange Bowl.  Sorry, no decent video on this one.


2007 -Michigan 28 MSU 24

The last time Michigan knocked off MSU was another great one in this series, and represented Michigan’s 6th win in a row over the Spartans.  Michigan jumped out to an early 14-3 halftime lead and looked ready to run (and pass) all over the Spartans before MSU flipped the switch to reel off 21 unanswered points to take a 24-14 lead with 7:40 to go.  Chad Henne led a Michigan comeback that included a furious 79 yard drive in 53 seconds to pull within 3 on a beautiful touchdown pass to Greg Mathews.  The Michigan defense stopped MSU to get the ball back and Henne again led Michigan down the field. Facing a 3rd and 12 from the MSU 31 with 2:36 left Chad Henne and Mario Manningham connected on this:


And Spartan fans throughout East Lansing were heartbroken.  Beyond the win, the best thing to come out of this game was when Mike Hart, who went 4-0 against MSU in his career and rushed for 100 yards each year, provided MSU with the moniker of “Little Brother” in his postgame.  Sadly for Michigan, Little Brother has gotten the best of the rivalry ever since then.


2001 – MSU 26 Michigan 24

Clockgate, Spartan Bob, or The Catch.  How you refer to this game clearly depends on your rooting interests.  For Michigan fans, it rivals the 1990 game for the greatest injustice in this series, and perhaps in any Michigan game.  For MSU fans, it represents a great comeback and a thrilling finish.  For me, it is a reminder of one my poorer moments, as I completely lost it when I realized what had occurred, and I have to imagine embarrassed my family as I ranted and screamed about the travesty that had took place.

So what happened?  Michigan came into the game at 6-1, ranked #6 with national title aspirations.  Michigan State was no slouch, sporting a 4-2 record, and had one of the best running backs in the country in TJ Duckett.  Duckett would set a Michigan State record for rushing yards in a game (211) and MSU would have dominated if it wasn’t for Michigan matching Duckett’s rushing effort with a record 12 sacks of MSU QB Jeff Smoker.   With Michigan clinging to a 24-20 lead, Hayden Epstein’s 28 yard punt gave MSU the ball at the Michigan 44 yard line with just over 2 minutes to play.  And that’s when the fun started.  On 4th and 17, Jeff Smoker’s pass fell incomplete and Michigan seemed to have won the game.  Except that Michigan cornerback Jeremy LeSeuer was flagged for an illegal facemask to a wide receiver nowhere near the play.  The penalty was an automatic first down for MSU. 4 plays later, a Michigan sack was negated after having 12 men on the field. Finally,  after converting a 4th and 4, MSU spiked the ball with 17 seconds left, setting up this:


From my seat inside Spartan Stadium, I immediately went ballistic after the clock was clearly stopped early.  It was obvious then, and its obvious now.  And for anyone who claims that the ball hit the ground with 1 second left, the rule is that the clock stops when the referee blows his whistle and waves his hand, which is not immediate and always results in an additional second to be run off before the clock stops.  ALWAYS.  The game was over, and it should have ended with a 24-20 Michigan victory.  And to pour salt on the wound, the referees missed one of the most blatant holds on defensive end Larry Stevens on the final play, allowing Smoker enough time to pass the ball to Duckett for the win.  An atrocity on all counts.  But still a memorable game.  It’s also the last time I watched a Michigan vs. MSU game from inside Spartan Stadium.


1990 – MSU 28 Michigan 27

Michigan State came into this game given virtually no shot to beat #1 ranked Michigan.  It was a certainty that the 1-2-1 Spartans would get throttled by Michigan.  Nobody passed that memo along to MSU and in particular Hyland Hickson and Tico Duckett, who ran all over the Wolverines.  A relatively boring game, the score was tied at 14 until midway through the 4th quarter when Hickson’s 26 yard TD gave MSU a 21-14 lead that lasted all of 14 seconds, as Desmond Howard brought the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards for a score.  MSU followed that with a 70 yard touchdown drive that was then matched by Michigan who scored a touchdown to pull within one point with 6 seconds remaining.  As the #1 team in the country who had their sights on a national championship, Michigan knew a tie wasn’t going to cut it and elected to go for two points and the win.  In what was the most controversial play in this rivalry until 2001, Elvis Grbac threw a slant to Desmond Howard.  Howard had cornerback Eddie Brown beat, but at the last second Brown reached out and grabbed Howard’s ankle to throw him off balance.  Howard still got to the ball, but couldn’t hang on as he fell to the ground.  The seemingly obvious pass interference call (even Brown would later admit he interfered) went unnoticed by the refs, and MSU won 28-27.

Here are the exciting last 6 minutes (to just see the final injustice, go to the 5:10 mark):


2004 – Michigan 45 MSU 37

In 2004 an upstart 4-3 MSU team led by Drew Stanton came in to Michigan Stadium to take on the 7-1 Wolverines.  MSU jumped out to a 17-10 halftime lead behind Drew Stanton’s running and passing.  Unfortunately for MSU, a shoulder injury took Stanton out of the game at the end of the 1st half.  Damon Dowdell filled in admirably, pushing the MSU lead to 27-10 with just under 9 minutes to go in the game.  That was before the Braylon Edwards show started.  Edwards caught 2 touchdowns in the last 6 minutes from Chad Henne – each on jump balls over helpless MSU defenders to help send the game into overtime.  In overtime, Edwards added another as Michigan survived in 3 OT by a score of 45-37.   In addition to Edwards, both Michigan’s Mike Hart and MSU Deandra Cobb had stellar days, each rushing for over 200 yards.   Michigan finished the season with a Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl while MSU limped to a 5-7 record.

The Comeback Starts Here:


And the Overtime is Here:

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