Sunday, July 12, 2020

The great divide? Columnist wants no part of it

On the banks of the Red Cedar, there’s a school that’s known to all. Or at least most.

I disregard my out-of-state friends who, until they went off to school, “only thought there was one college in Michigan.”

Because to me, those banks - and that school - were always very well known.

Perhaps this is confession therapy, but it’s time for me to come clean. I was born into, and raised in, Spartan fandom.

I cannot claim to have been a Spartan through and through (of course, not even the Spartans can claim to have been Spartans through and through - they were actually the “Michigan Staters” until a baseball beat writer pulled another nickname out of his head).

But my family ties to the green and white go back almost longer than I can remember. Weekends at the grandparents’ in East Lansing never came without a Michigan State football game on the tube. The earliest household names I can recall are George Perles and Lorenzo White. If only I could remember which design the Spartans decided on for helmets that year.

An inquisitive kid, I’d ask my mother why Michigan State cheerleaders had the letter “S” on their chests.

“The ‘S’ stands for State,” she would say.

The “M,” I realized later, was already taken.

Trips to the wooded campus on the Red Cedar continued into my adolescence. The first college football game I ever saw was from the cheap seats of Spartan Stadium - although I was more concerned with throwing ice cream sandwiches on the cars below.

The home team lost - but nobody seemed too disappointed. After all, asking for more than one Rose Bowl in a decade was a little greedy. They’d get back to Pasadena in the ’90s.

Besides - these Spartans had all the land they could want, thanks to all those hard-earned farming grants, and what more could you ask for?

But just like the Aggies of Michigan Agricultural College, as I grew older I sought different things. I didn’t want a new name, necessarily, but different experiences.

For years I had listened to the propaganda and tried to justify it in my own head. MSU, I told myself, was just as good a school as U-M. The Spartans were just as likely to beat the Wolverines as the other way around. And when it came to academics, what I’d been told from day one kept repeating in my head.

“They’re both good universities.”

So when the time came to make the call for myself, honestly, it wasn’t easy. MSU was appealing.

Sure, I enjoyed all the trees, I enjoyed the smell of farmland - I even enjoyed paying $5 for “a cup” at a friend’s party.

But something was tugging. Perhaps it was the idea of change. Perhaps it was ambition. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d heard hundreds of Michigan punch lines about arrogant pricks and Rose Bowl losses - but never one about delivering pizzas.

I remember telling an older acquaintance before making my decision that I was planning on either Michigan or Michigan State.

“Either?” she said, and smiled walking away.

Until recently, I never knew what that meant. As a freshman in Ann Arbor, old friends and family would always ask if I still rooted for Michigan State.

“I’ll always have a little green in my blood,” I would say.

I’m an honest man, but some things become untrue with time. And lying on the cool grass of Michigan’s central campus this fall, I finally realized what “Either?” really means.

It means I never have to answer the question: “Oh, now which one is that?”

It means I never have to add “

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