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Timelines and Yard Lines: A History of UMich’s Rivalry With MSU

The University of Michigan was founded on August 26, 1817, which makes the university not only a Virgo but also the oldest university in Michigan and public universities in the nation. Walking through the beautiful architecture of the Law Quad makes the University’s age obvious. Being in the same state as another Big Ten university is bound to start some friendly rivalry (though when game day comes “friendly” is not exactly true) can be expected. With the upcoming game with Michigan State University, you may be wondering about the history of these rival universities.

THe First Game

October 12th, 1898 is the first game between the two schools, back when MSU was called “Michigan Agricultural College.” Hosted by UMich in Ann Arbor, 61 years after the university moved from Detriot to Ann Arbor, the football game was the start of something much bigger than the men on the field ever would’ve imagined. There were large size differences between the schools, leading to a 39-0 win for the wolverines.

Rising Tensions

There was plenty of notable games of the past between MSU (or M.A.C. as it was referred to) and UMich that make clear the early tensions rising in the two schools. 1908 saw the first tie, the first game in Lansing, and the first time UMich did not beat MSU. Two years later, UMich breaks MSU undefeated season, after the MSU students adopted the phrase, “On to Michigan,” in the days leading up to the game, however, the first victory for MSU didn’t come until 1913. These annual games were full of enthusiasm by both schools, both student bodies willing their football teams to win against the other, sparking the rivalry that still runs strong today.

Paul Bunyan Trophy

Not only does a victory in a rival game entitle the winner to bragging rights, victory includes getting the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The trophy was first introduced in 1953, a four-foot wooden statue of Paul Bunyan with an ax between his legs, standing on a map of Michigan, supported by a five-foot stand, and carrying the mark of both a UMich “M” and an MSU “S.” There has been little consistency over who reigns over this trophy, passing it back and forth between the universities since it was introduced. In the 1953 game, the first game with the trophy, MSU won. Then the next year it was a wolverine victory. Currently, the trophy resides in Lansing, since the 2020 game between MSU and UMich ended with a 27-24 win for MSU.

Wolverine Shining Moments

The University of Michigan started strong in this rivalry, one of the first shining moments for the Wolverines was the 2nd game ever played between UMich and Michigan Agricultural College in which the final score was 119-0 in a game that lasted 38 minutes, which is an average of 3.1 points per minute of the game.

In more recent years there has been plenty of jaw-dropping moments from these games. In 2004, for example, the Big House saw its first triple-overtime game. In the fourth quarter, 8:43 left on the clock, UMich was down 27-10. In that time the team managed to tie with the Spartans, and then go into those overtimes. The final score ended up being 45-37, a victory for UMich.

2012 marked another win for the Wolverines against MSU, with a score of 12-10. This win was more than just winning back the Paul Bunyan trophy though, it was also the 900th all-time win for UMich. Michigan is the first program in college football to reach this achievement, and even today stands at the top with the most wins for a college football team with 978 wins as of last weekend’s victory over Northwestern. With an undefeated season backing the Wolverines, many are hoping that we will bring home the Paul Bunyan trophy from Lansing and be one step closer to winning the Big Ten Championship.

Jamie Murray

U Mich '24

I'm a sophomore at the University of Michigan, my major is Political Science and I hope one day to go to law school. As an Aquarius, I hope to have some unique ideas and takes for Her Campus articles. And I'm excited to meet new friends along the way.
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