The "Little Bro" Analogy Explained

Submitted by Seth on September 30th, 2009 at 5:14 PM
There has been some muttering about retiring the "Little Brother" meme. This diary is an attempt to save it, to once and for all make permanent this characterization of really one football game per year that demonstrates why sports is so much more than some silly pastime that guys substitute for war, why fandom is experiencing life in the abstract.

Because really, having football teams win or lose doesn't change our lives. But having  a brother does. Being the parent of brothers does. And sometimes the metaphor teaches us a lot more about the subject than looking at the subject alone.

There used to be a site called "Bitter Rivals dot com" that was about the Mich/MSU rivalry.

I wrote a thing for them, which if it was still online I could show you, which was written a lot better than what follows, and which called Mich/MSU a sibling rivalry back when Hart was deep under recruiting radars at some upstate New York high school.

The analogy didn't come from me -- I heard it first from a fraternity brother, and when I asked where he first heard the analogy, it was an older brother in the house, and so on... It's older than Hart. It might be as old as the rivalry itself.

Every relationship is different. Rivalries are relationships. The sibling analogy helps explain this one, because the two players act the way that rivalric brothers act, each fulfilling stereotypical roles of elder and younger.

I have two little brothers, one of whom is barely a year younger, and went to State (barely didn't get in to M, which was his first choice). He is my best friend. He will be my Best Man when I get married (in A2) next year. When I have an extra Tigers ticket, he's my first call, and I have spent enough time in the front seat of his 2000 Ford Ranger that my ass has left a permanent imprint.

And many, many, many times in my life I have wanted to rip his fucking testicles off.

Brothers fight. Brothers compete. Brothers piss each other off. If you have a brother that is close in age and you never fought each other, then that is really really weird, because this is primal shit.

If you want to delve further into the analogy, then yes, it's a juvenile fraternal relationship we're talking about.

M/MSU isn't about brothers who are late 20s through 40s and make their kids play together while talking about if the wives will ever come around to Mom. It's about brothers who are 10, stuck in the same house, the younger measuring himself by the elder, who measures himself against the big bully kid up the street, when fall Saturdays mean hours spent outside doing things that end up with one boy or several on the ground, which as winter onsets, hurts more and more.

It's one thing when the big kid up the street calls you "scUM" or "Walmart Wolverine" -- he's trying to start a fight, and, lo, the fight will come to him when it is time (and that ground has grown hard enough that he won't be cushioned when you knock his ass on it).

But you can handle the bully -- what's really irritating is when Little Brother starts picking up on something the class bully says and repeats it again and again.

And you hear it, because Little Brother is always there -- going to the YMCA, camp, the bus to school, soccer practice, a friend's house -- you can't get away from Little Bro.

Whether you got your degree at Michigan or Michigan State really matters very little in my current world. The tangible, universal difference between The University of Michigan, and Michigan State University happens at 18: one group of in-state kids got to run around the house with their parents beaming, the other had to choke down the lump of rejection and embarrassment, and then learn to become comfortable with that.

And eventually, both will learn that this measuring stick didn't matter as much as they thought.

This rivalry takes place between those points. It's about one program that has ridiculous, permanent institutional advantages put in stone by Fielding Fucking Yost, and another that needed to take advantage of the middle 20th century South's dumb-ass-ness about skin color to ever be nationally relevant.

It's about one side that is introspective and intellectual, and another that acts like a meat-head when you know damn well that he isn't as dumb as he pretends. It's about one side that values intelligence as if it's the only judge of a person's worth, and how his brother knows damn well that he's not as smart as all of his pretensions.

Getting from childhood rivalry to grownup relationship with your brother is a trial. For those of us in the State of Michigan, we at least have this annual war-by-proxy to serve as a metaphor for it. Really, by whipping each other into a frenzy over this, we're acting like 10-year-olds. The thing is, that's an important thing to do -- by framing your feelings into juvenile arguments, you get to see exactly where you might be wrong, or in this case, pretension, or an inferiority complex.

It's not something that started with a tailback from Michigan, or a tailback from Michigan State. It started with Cain and Able. Or more precisely, when someone had the idea of putting two extraordinarily good universities in one state, and then one also happened to have the premier football team in all the land as soon as football meant something to the prestige of an extraordinarily good university.

If you have nothing but hatred for MSU, then I say go to your room and cool off, because so long as you live under this roof, you are going to live with him whether you like it or not.

Happy MSU week. Now let's put that little shit back in his place, eh?



October 1st, 2009 at 3:01 AM ^

Great writing. My brother and I are 16 months apart in age, so this is very familiar to me. I could kick my brothers ass all day growing up. When we hit high school, he grew to 6'3 215lbs., and turned into a barney bad-ass. Myself on the other hand, 5-10 175lbs., and really had very little interest in weights or strength training. In relation, I'm thankful that MSU never turned into the big little brother, and hopefully they never will because it sucks taking a beat down from the beaten.


October 1st, 2009 at 8:28 AM ^

Wow, man, our situations are pretty damn similar.

My bro and I are 16 months apart. And sometime during high school, he was playing Right Guard, and I was playing Bob Dylan songs on my guitar, and he got a lot bigger than me. I'm still taller (6'0, 210) but he's 5'11 and over 300, with much of that upper body muscle. We still wrestle from time to time, and the only way I can beat him is to keep squirming until he's tired -- which 20 years ago was totally his strategy on me.

Who's to say Michigan will still be as dominant in a century from now?


October 1st, 2009 at 10:47 AM ^

"If you have nothing but hatred for MSU, then I say go to your room and cool off, because so long as you live under this roof, you are going to live with him whether you like it or not."

I don't get this? Besides being hilariously condescending, it's not even logical, especially when the whole intent of the thread was to perpetuate a dig at Sparty.

Of all the fanbases that I interact with, none are as classless as Sparty. From the vote to kick Michigan out of the '74 Rose Bowl, to the stupid Appy St shirts, to couch-burning jubilation at the release of every new Freep/ hit-piece, what evidence is there that this relationship is a "brotherhood"? There's no "brotherhood" here, so why convey it, even in jest?

For the "rival siblings" analogy to work, it sounds like a damn dysfunctional family to me. My younger brother and I battled, but that was rare and we're best friends to this day. I see none of the positive parts of a brotherhood in the UM / MSU relationship. Can you name a single Sparty fan that roots for Michigan, ever? They get headaches during our Spring game.

Ohio State, Notre Dame and even Penn State are perennially solid programs. There's usually a ton on the line when Michigan plays them. Those rivalries are born of respect.

But Sparty is not an equal. They are a "rival" only in that their fans and players will it to be so. They are a "spoiler team". That's it. They're a bulletin board program, for one, maybe two weeks out of the year.

Respect must be earned. What have they done to deserve respect? I'll respect them when they play each and every other game with an intensity even close to "Michigan week". I don't even care if they win, just be freaking competitive, then come back and "demand" respect.

Speaking as a Michigan resident only, Sparty is persistently an embarrassment to the state, both on the field, and off. I'd much rather bestow the "little brother" title upon any of the directional schools in our state, like CMU. I don't want Michigan to be related to Sparty.

I'm for replacing "Little Brother" with "Spartina trying to fit into an 80's style mini-skirt" as Larry Foote suggested. Given how Spartina behaves itself in every other game, except Michigan and ND, it's far more appropriate.


October 1st, 2009 at 2:30 PM ^

Hey, not every sibling relationship is the same.

My other brother (let's call him "iSlayeri" and I are four years apart, and the relationship was a lot more like WMU -- we respected the different things we were good at (though everything came easier to me), and he was largely successful in his own arena of activity, which wasn't mine. We fought from time to time, but this usually ended early with him crying to my parents, and me getting in trouble for picking on him. Competing in sports wasn't really an option -- he would be made "all-time goalie" or something and Brother 2 (Sparty) and I would try to pretend like he (iSlayeri) made an awesome stop.

Perhaps you and your brother are more like that?

That's not the M/MSU rivalry. M/MSU is me and Sparty. We both valued the same things. We both had relatively similar interests. When we were put on opposite teams, or when we built Lego spaceships, or when we went out for Holloween candy, it was always a competition, and it was always a competition where I was trying to best my best, and he was trying to best me (it has been my experience that most adults have completely forgotten how seriously children take "play").

The sibling rivalry that we are generally referring to with MSU is the one of brothers close enough in age so that competition is close, but with the elder still holding a distinct (yet progressively shrinking) advantage. Maybe it's not your experience, but it was mine, and I think it was the same for a lot of other brothers who are within 1 or 2 years apart in age.

If the analogy is just a way to irritate MSU, then you're right, it gets tiresome. But it's not. It points out flaws in us just as much as it does them. As I said in the diary, the "Little Bro" meme is a powerful metaphor for life experiences. If you just want crap to fling for a football rivalry, this isn't it.

STW P. Brabbs

October 1st, 2009 at 2:52 PM ^

That you're giving the State football program way too much credit. Your characterization of your relationship with your brother is interesting, but from my perspective you're really reading that into the Michigan-Michigan State dynamic. Because your brother actually went to State, it's easy for you to see a parallel between growing up as brothers together and UM and MSU existing as football programs and universities together in the same state. To me, this doesn't really make any sense. What are the forces that are supposed to foster this special relationship and respect between UM and MSU? Just proximity? The Big Ten? Michigan is not making a seat impression with its ass in State's truck, as far as I can tell. They only come into contact once a year.

Maybe Michigan is like the doctor whose sister (the State of Michigan) marries a personal trainer with an inferiority complex (that'd be Sparty, obvs.)*, and they all get together once a year at Thanksgiving, and they don't quite actually want to murder each other but it's close. That's a family metaphor I can get behind. Little Brother => Jealous Brother-in-Law. Not as catchy, though. To me, 'Sparty' incapsulates everything just fine all on its own.

This is, of course, just a matter of perspective. I personally think Aequitas is closer to the mark, but not because I want a stirring battle cry or a catchy nickname - I just don't have a lot of respect, grudging or otherwise, for the MSU football program.

* Note: the choice of personal trainer is not supposed to be insulting, for all you personal trainers out there. Personal trainer is a fine job, but ol' Sparty can't be confident and happy in his own thing - he's gotta measure himself against Doctor Michigan in everything he does.


October 1st, 2009 at 3:43 PM ^

I think your analogy is closer to what I had in mind, this part in particular:

"What are the forces that are supposed to foster this special relationship and respect between UM and MSU? Just proximity? The Big Ten? Michigan is not making a seat impression with its ass in State's truck, as far as I can tell. They only come into contact once a year."

Couple the lack of said forces combined with my own personal experience and my opinion is that Sparty and Michigan have very little in common.


October 1st, 2009 at 4:00 PM ^

I don't disagree with that, I just don't see a single positive tie between the schools that would exist in even highly competitive siblings. So the comparison only half fits for me.

I also think your relationship with your brother, and the fact that he attended MSU, is helping you define the metaphor here.

We can respectfully agree to disagree.


October 1st, 2009 at 3:45 PM ^

As an out-of-stater who is currently attending U of M, am I alone in thinking the MSU-UM series is a bizarre relationship? Michigan leads 67-29-5... that's not competitive, nor is it a rivalry. It seems to me (as a relative outsider) that this game differs from the Notre Dame or Ohio State in a few major ways.

Notre Dame and Ohio State are regarded with grudging respect, and both teams take measure of themselves by how well they do in the game, as do we. Neither is a brother, but both are truly rivals.

Now, let me ask you-- What Michigan team has ever defined itself and its season by its game against Michigan State? It seems like Michigan State defines its season-- bowl game, Big Ten standing, or record be damned-- every year, by beating Michigan or seeing Michigan lose. It's not a reciprocal relationship. Michigan fans who refer to Sparty as a rival are enablers-- MSU is not a rival.

They are a sad and deluded bunch who join rival message boards (looking at you, Worm), burn couches after our losses, and generally don't display any class, ranging from slapping themselves silly on national television to making fun of Mike Hart's height. And that's just their coaches.

I just don't understand how anyone could with a straight face call them a brother. They are the second major in-state school, and certainly many UM students have siblings that went to MSU, but at the end of they day they haven't done anything to show they merit the respect of a rival, or a brother.

Misopogon's story is a great one of brotherhood, but as noted before, it's not a 1:1 analogy with MSU. Your brother is always trying to beat you and take your best shot, but at the end of the day when you confront your own rival, out of the family, he has your back because you're brothers. (after all, I certainly don't root for MSU to lose to out-of-conference teams). Not so with MSU.

Neither brother nor rival. What are they? Just a team that carries the collective angst, insecurity and rage of its student body onto the field against us once every year and leaves at the end of it, generally with a loss, and either way without having proved anything with any consistency except that they hate us. We don't leave impressed either way, and it's on with Big 10 play.

If they took a hard look at bringing even 1/10th of the intensity with which they hate us to every game, worked hard to define their season by a Big 10 title or bowl game rather than beating us, they might win our respect. Until then, Michigan fans should stop goading them and treat them just like Illinois. Wouldn't that push them to be better, and just infuriate them that much more?