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Little Brother: Dirty words in Michigan-Michigan State rivalry

William Gholston plays defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and owns a Super Bowl ring because of former Michigan Wolverine Tom Brady.

Gholston is also from Detroit and played football at Michigan State. Because he’s from Michigan, he has a different perspective on the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State–– bitter unbeaten rivals who play this Saturday in East Lansing for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

We met during a charity basketball game after he left State. My job was to guard him during the game, and I’m sure it looked like a Mutt and Jeff reunion as I chased the chiseled 6-foot-6 behemoth around the court.

Later we spoke, and Gholston opened up about a sore subject that began with former Michigan running back Mike Hart.

Little Brother.

The words do not hurt. They irk.

“Man, let me tell you when Michigan starts talking that little brother crap that fires us all up,” Gholston said. “At MSU you get a bunch of two and three stars who are athletic and a little pissed off, to begin with. There are times where Michigan should beat us. But they start talking that little brother crap and the players at State grow into monsters.”

So far, this has been a relatively quiet week during Michigan-Michigan State rivalry week. That bodes well for Michigan because the Wolverines had not riled up the monsters that reside in East Lansing.

In 2007, the Wolverines overcame a 24-14 deficit to beat Michigan State on two scoring drives in the final eight minutes of the game to win 28-24. It was a bitter defeat for the Spartans and a wonderful win for Wolverines. After the game Hart, the running back added a charge in the rivalry that can still be felt today. He called the Spartans the Wolverines’ little brother.

“I was just laughing,” Hart told the media after the game. “I thought it was funny. They got excited. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you are playing basketball, and you let them get the lead, and then you come back and take it back.”

That riled up MSU coach Mark Dantonio who gave his famous “Pride come before the fall speech” which added more fire and brimstone to the rivalry.

“I find a lot of things they do amusing,” Dantonio said. “They need to check themselves sometimes. But remember pride comes before the fall. So they can mock us all they want. It’s not over. So they can print that crap all over their locker room. It’ll never be over here. It’s just starting.”

Michigan State won the next four times the two teams played and seven of the next eight.

Michigan State
Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins runs against Michigan State during the third quarter at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Michigan

Gholston’s Spartans won two of three meetings against Michigan from 2010 to 2012. State won four of the next five times after he left, perhaps fueled by the “Little Brother” rhetoric that peaks its ugly head into this rivalry on occasion.

I even got in hot water because of the rivalry. I wrote a column in the 1980s that this was not a true rivalry because Michigan State did not win enough. The Wolverines won 14 of 16 games, and I lost interest in the series. Charlie Baggett, an assistant coach, and a former player called me up and told me how intense the rivalry was. I was wrong, he said.

I told him for the Spartans to win ball games and I’d change my mind. The Spartans have done that has won nine of the last 13 games.

Fans snipe at one another. And you don’t know from year to year who is going to win this game. That’s a true rivalry to me. And if Michigan folks want to bring up Little Brother again, you do it at your own expense.

Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.

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