MSU fans worried, but Wolverines can’t wait

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State fans were worried this day would arrive. They just didn’t expect it to come so fast.

Bill Scharffe, an MSU fan from Saginaw, graduated from the school three times: 1965, 1971 and 1977. He thinks the Spartans have a shot.

Their bitter rivals, the University of Michigan, have returned to their longtime perch as the dominant football team in the state.

When UM and MSU play at high noon Saturday, it will be a tale of two schools hurtling in opposite directions.

Michigan is 7-0 and ranked second in the nation. Michigan State is 2-5 and floundering.

“I don’t know how much of a game it will be,” said Don Van Every, a retired school superintendent from Woodhaven.

Van Every, a UM grad, wasn’t trying to be unkind. Ask Vegas. Michigan is a 23-point favorite.

For MSU fans, these are the dark old days. This is bumbling coaches Bobby Williams and John L. Smith. This is the 1970s teams struggling to finish above .500 while UM regularly enjoyed 10- and 11-win seasons under beloved Bo Schembechler.

“It hurts. It hurts more because of how the other team is doing,” said MSU grad David Kent of St. Clair Shores.

Kent hates UM so much he can’t say its name. Or maybe like the “Harry Potter” kids with Voldemort, he’s scared to.

The dread began to creep into East Lansing, the home of the Spartans, in 2014. UM announced it had hired Jim Harbaugh as coach.

MSU had been the best team in the state for several years, but Harbaugh had a penchant for turning around teams in college and the pros.

Sure enough, Harbaugh turned the team into winners in his first season and nearly defeated Michigan State, save for a blocked punt at the end of the game.

And this year, UM is even better while MSU is, well — let a Michigan State fan describe it.

“A nightmare. What else could go wrong?” asked Lauren Matthews of Bloomfield Hills.

A lot of that pain could be washed away Saturday, State fans say. A win over UM could make up for a lot of losses.

And the UM-MSU game has a history of upsets, they said. There’s something about ruining the season of your archrival that seems to fire the players up.

And also, the game is in East Lansing.

“Any Big Ten team can beat any other Big Ten team,” said Bill Scharffe, a MSU fan from Saginaw. “I have no doubt either team can win.”

Scharffe, he of the stiff upper lip, is such a big fan of MSU he graduated from it three times: in 1965, 1971 and 1977.

Wolverine fan Jeff Marshall of Brighton said he loves MSU’s fall from the top echelon of college football this year.

Meanwhile, UM fans are delirious. They can barely contain themselves as they wait for kickoff.

Jeff Marshall of Brighton will watch the game in his two-car garage. Well, at least it used be a two-car garage. It’s now a Wolverine-themed man cave.

The current season is heaven-sent, he said. Not just because of UM’s success but also MSU’s struggles.

“I would like to say I’m upset (with MSU’s adversity), but I love it,” he said.

The only dark spot on Marshall’s football calendar is Nov. 19 when Michigan State plays Ohio State. He wishes there was a way for both teams to lose.

As for Saturday, he can’t imagine UM losing. Then again, he couldn’t imagine them losing last year on the infamous botched punt.

“I don’t know if I could handle another loss like that,” he said.

Tom Matuszewski isn’t troubled by such concerns. The UM fan considers Saturday’s contest a lock.

He’s already looking past the game to UM’s showdown with powerhouse Ohio State on Nov. 26. Just like they did in the olden days, when MSU was a powderpuff, Michigan and Ohio State rule the Big Ten.

“We’re in for quite a game,” he said about the Nov. 26 contest.

But what about Saturday? The interstate rivalry? The family fight?

No worries, said Matuszewski, a former elementary school principal from Bangor Township.

Like Marshall, Matuszewski is awash with University of Michigan memorabilia. He has a succession of license plates exhorting UM coaches: “Go Rich,” “Go Hoke,” “Go Harb.”

When he was principal of Bangor West Elementary, his office was stuffed on four sides with UM flags, clocks, hats, photos, books, coffee cups, bumper stickers and stuffed animals.

In retirement, he brought it home, turning the family room into a Michigan room, with yellow walls and oak shelves holding the numerous trinkets.

“There isn’t a Michigan fan who’s a bigger fan than me,” he said.