Mark Dantonio walks off the field during Michigan State's 35-11 win over Michigan Oct. 25, 2014. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)
Mark Dantonio walks off the field during Michigan State's 35-11 win over Michigan Oct. 25, 2014. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)
Mark Dantonio walks off the field during Michigan State’s 35-11 win over Michigan Oct. 25, 2014. (Rebecca Gallagher/MJ)

By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor

Ricky Lindsay headshotThe annual Michigan-Michigan State football game evokes strong emotions throughout the mitten state.

But as a lifelong Michigander, I have not been affected by such emotions.

Sure, I have family that went to both Michigan and Michigan State, and they would try to buy me over to their collegiate allegiance with Christmas gifts while a high schooler. It was fun, really, but I didn’t see the point.

That’s because I have never considered Michigan-Michigan State a rivalry. To me, all it was was a game between two teams that call Michigan home. That’s all it was. Nothing more, nothing less.

But as I mistakenly wandered into Mark Dantonio’s post-game press conference at Spartan Stadium Saturday, I was quickly proven wrong.

To Michigan, the instate rivalry is petty. It’s one that has been historically dominated by the Wolverines — they lead the all-time series 68-34-5 — and more recently, verbal jabs.

But to Michigan State, its battle against Michigan is more than a game. Even after winning two Big Ten championships since 2011 and the 2014 Rose Bowl to cap off three straight postseason victories, this game is a chance for the Spartans to prove themselves. This is blood.

And after all the ridicule, all the disrespect, who can blame them?

Before Saturday’s 35-11 drubbing to Michigan State, Michigan slammed a stake (err, railroad spike?) into the Spartan Stadium turf, igniting a fury from the Spartans.

So when Michigan State had the chance to run the ball down Michigan’s throat it made damn sure that it was going to happen.

“As far as the score at the end, we knew we were going to pop one,” Dantonio said. “They had everyone up there so we popped one.

“Just felt like we needed to put a stake in them.”

Why was that the case, Mark?

“You might as well just come out and say what you are feeling at some point because you can only be diplomatic for so long,” Dantonio said. “The little brother stuff, all the disrespect, they didn’t have to go in that direction. We try to handle ourselves with composure. It doesn’t come from the coach; it comes from the program. To throw a stake down in our back yard out here and coming out there like they are all that, it got shoved the last minute and a half. We weren’t trying to get a field goal, that wasn’t the M.O. If our guys could get it in, we were going to get it in.”

In just a short snippet from Dantonio’s press conference, one understands what this rivalry means to Michigan State, its fans, players and coaches. This is what Michigan-Ohio State evokes in Wolverines fans, but with couches.

It started with Michigan’s dominance in the series. Once upon a time, it was one of the best teams in the country, with 42 Big Ten championships and 11 national championships.

Then came Michigan running back Mike Hart’s infamous “little brother” comment in 2007. It was Dantonio’s first year at the helm of the Spartans. The banter would continue from the Wolverines until this year, when they avoided the verbal jab.

Until Michigan decided it Stakegate would be a good idea.

“I think everyone saw when they ran out and stuck the dagger on our grass and disrespected us right out of the gate,” Connor Cook said. “We weren’t having that. If we have the ball, we’re trying to score.”

Michigan State has now taken six of the past eight matchups with Michigan, and has done so in dominant fashion. With everything the Spartans have done during that time, the rivalry with Michigan still matters.

Because Michigan, albeit inferior, makes it matter. Tossing a stake into turf when you’re a 17.5 underdog is just the latest example, and the most-recent lesson for the Spartans.

“Now all our players who are playing for the first time in their life and are on the sidelines for the first time in their life, now they know what we talk about,” Dantonio said. “Now they know.”