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Essay: 'OSU-MSU means something'

Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports

When you grow up in Michigan in the 1970s and '80s in a family that lives for Big Ten football, fall Saturdays are celebratory occasions, with the last Saturday of the season ranking somewhere close to Christmas among high holy days.

That is, until you and your brother decide to eschew the whole maize and blue thing and go green instead. Save for the Rose Bowl season in 1987 and intermittent bowl appearances in the 1990s and early 2000s, disappointment was too often part of being a Michigan State football fan. I longed for a competitive, back-and-forth rivalry with a conference power, a series with major stakes on the line more often than not.

For example, I couldn't generate much hatred among Ohio State fans once they learned my affiliation. Like that time my license plate gave me away in the parking lot of a Columbus, Ohio, hotel in 2007.

A passerby asked about it.

I told him I went to Michigan State, was now working as a college football reporter and was in Ohio that weekend for an MSU vs. Ohio State game. He moved on. As long as I didn't bring up 1974 and 1998, those years when MSU played spoiler to No. 1 OSU's dreams of an undefeated season, I was OK. But I wanted hate.

In 2011, I moved to Ohio. Although I lived in Dayton, I was still surrounded by scarlet and gray -- the grocery store, church, my workplace and even my children's daycare centers were bastions of Ohio State fandom. And with my new Ohio driver's license, I appeared to be one of them. That made me embrace my Michigan State identity with a new degree of dedication, becoming a bigger fan than when I resided in Detroit or East Lansing.

Michigan State won 10-7 in 2011, claiming victory in Columbus for the first time since 1998. Ohio State won by one in 2012, weeks after I had my first child and was thankfully too sleep deprived to pay much attention to college football.

But I was quite focused in 2013. Ohio State was speeding to a national title. Michigan State's defense was pounding opponents into oblivion. Both teams won their divisions and prepared for a showdown in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.

Around my workplace, Buckeye-loving colleagues were abuzz with New Year's vacation plans, many of which included trips to see Ohio State play in the Rose Bowl.

"Well, they do have to get past Michigan State first," I said.

Two days later, I returned to work after witnessing MSU's 34-24 win over OSU in the Big Ten title game, coach Mark Dantonio giving a shout-out to rapper Rich Homie Quan, Urban Meyer eating pizza memes and roses dancing through my dreams. Dejected coworkers darted around the corner as I approached.

"It's OK, Miami is nice in the winter too," I said and placed an orange on an OSU grad's desk.

Michigan State wasn't so benign anymore. Yes, OSU fans still planned parties around the game and mostly talked trash about Michigan, but MSU began drawing new levels of ire.

"You know that song, 'We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan?' Yeah, that includes you too,'" said one angry Buckeye fan I met at Kroger shortly after that 2013 game.

Finally, a rivalry. I relished it.

In 2014, Ohio State won handily in East Lansing on its way to a national title. I even dropped my native state allegiance during the playoffs, thrilled to see the Big Ten finally end the SEC's reign of terror.

The Buckeyes were supposed to win it all again in 2015 but fell to MSU, who went on to capture another Big Ten championship. Months later, a neighbor learned I was from Michigan and ripped both Michigan and Michigan State after telling me she'd gone to the MSU-OSU game on Nov. 21.

"Oh, you mean that game where Michigan State ruined Ohio State's chances at back-to-back championships on a cold, rainy afternoon when starting quarterback Connor Cook was injured and then the kicker made the winning field goal and windmilled his way around the 'shoe? That game?"

"Just. Shut. Up."

This weekend, both teams are in position to advance to the Big Ten championship again. Only a few games remain in the season, and once again, MSU-OSU means something. Let the hate begin.