Central Michigan Defeats Michigan State. Nothing New…

Yeah…let me explain.

I was there in 1991, after four straight years of Michigan State being in the upper echelon of the Big Ten. There was that issue of Steroids, but about the only people who believed it (from my vantage point) were UofM fans and a couple of reporters in Detroit’s Conservative Paper. I don’t even remember a name mentioned in that newspaper article, and quite a few of us read that article and commented on it.

Everyone expected Michigan State to be about as strong and powerful as before, and while Perles’s successful putsch for the Athletic Director’s job left a sour taste in many people’s mouths (including school president John DiBiaggio, he jumped to Tufts University as soon as he could) it was assumed that the Spartans would have another winning season including a good bowl; and from there that sour taste would disappear in the aura of a man able to successfully juggle two jobs.

Then came The Central Michigan University Chippewas. It wasn’t even close in 1991, and the 1992 game was more lopsided than the score looked. Heck, had the Chips had a defense in 1993, they would have been 3-0 against MSU during that period.

Needless to say, the sour taste became bitter.

I remember being in the cab at the time of MSU’s first loss to Central Michigan. I didn’t even listen to the game, but I did ask dispatch what the score was towards the end of the game. He said “Central over State, 20-3;” I didn’t react for three minutes – it took me that long to realize what he said.

I then got caught on campus when the game ended. I’m not sure what was more startling: taking the cab over all the gullies the MSU fans were digging in the sod and pavement, or seeing CMU fans walking OVER my cab.

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In retrospective, that was probably one of the first signs to those of us who hadn’t followed Mandarich’s “career” in Green Bay (He’d have a better time in a few years in Indianapolis, but that’s another story) that the Detroit News and the Michigan fans were right about MSU’s football team being on steroids. After all, a great team doesn’t just fall off the national stage so completely after four years of being one of the best. It takes time to fall…time of fighting, readjusting, even rising back before one sees the possibility of living life in the constant shadow of mediocrity. Ask Michigan fans (who claim they’re still fighting), Notre Dame fans (further along in the collapse, IMHO), Miami Hurricane Fans, Nebraska Cornhusker Fans, even MSU fans who were around during the glory years of the 1950’s and 1960’s (and who remember the struggles since then); if they’re not in denial they’ll tell you the pains and struggles that go with being on the downside of past glories.

And four years of greatness doesn’t cut it. Especially when it comes on the heels of three years of Probation (No TV, No Postseason, many fewer scholarships) and seven years of various levels of sucking after that. Teams with a history of greatness tend to drop slowly, with fits and starts back towards the top.

And even if the Central Michigan’s teams from the early nineties were some of the best they’ve put on the field (if one school’s building their football team from science projects and organic chemicals, wouldn’t it make sense that some others would have good players gifted to them, good players with something to prove?), we’re still talking about the difference between a top level Division 1 team and their little brother in a second-tier division. Enough of a difference that the higher-level team should be questioned. That you’d have four years of “greatness surrounded by five years of sub-500 play on both sides makes those four years look VERY suspicious. Steroid encrusted, maybe.

(Of course, it doesn’t help that Pittsburgh’s 70s juggernaut turns out to have been steroid-fueled, as did the AFL/AFC from the days of Kansas City’s championship year. Of course, you know who was Pittsburgh’s defensive coach during that time. Makes me wonder if he hadn’t been given notice and was allowed to jump to Michigan State before he had to be “fired.”)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

And, of course, this last year was a year of MSU overachievement. Finishing third at 6-2 in-conference record (9-4 overall, including bowl game), they played better than anyone expected them to. Of course, it was a different year with Michigan struggling to go 3-9 and the whole of the Big Ten having the bad year that everyone else was expecting and hoping for. But still, 9-3 (pre-bowlgame) and third behind OSU and Penn State was much more than expected by all.

In comes Central Michigan. An MAC team with a chip on its shoulder and a history of killing “that giant down 27 127″ every so often. And while  they end up spending most of the game behind, they end up winning on some last-minute plays and final mistakes.

Was CMU 2 points better than MSU? Try a touchdown better. After all, with them being at home and playing in a “better” conference, MSU is coming in with expectations to win the game. CMU not only has to play better than their opponent, they also have to outplay the fact that they’re at the opponent’s stadium (a 3 point swing in and by itself) AND their station in the scheme of the NCAA universe. So definitely a touchdown, maybe more better than MSU.

(and lest you think I’m joking, think of all the games that have played so far that were close. Almost always the bigger, higher-placed team was able to pull out in the end.)

So congratulations, CMU. 3-4 isn’t bad, given the relative stations.

And it looks like it’s going to be a long year at East Lansing….

Dec. 2 edit: Changed from 1A/1AA reference to top tier conference/second tier conference.

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