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?



September 30th, 2009 at 5:41 PM ^

ah, well, when you post a diary with a baby book as the lead image, you're kind of asking to be called a metaphor for baby food.

I figured it has as much meaning as any RBUAS entry, except it's fan-sap rather than player-sap.

I don't expect everyone to like, FWIW.


September 30th, 2009 at 6:07 PM ^

Great post, I was born in raised in Ann Arbor and go to State now. I didn't get into U of M but it really didn't matter, my fanhood has never been shaken. These days kids who grow up in Ann Arbor are usually about half and half in where they go to college. There is sort of a mutual respect every week but this one. Something Dantonio seems to not understand.
I usually stay pretty reserved here about my love for U of M quietly wearing my maize and blue and taking everyone's shit for it. But for this one week of the year I talk more shit than my mouth can hold and hope my boys back it up on the field and we put little brother back in his rightful spot. Go Blue!

03 Blue 07

September 30th, 2009 at 7:05 PM ^

Dr. Worm: I don't believe you. I'm going to need some .pdf files from you to back your shit up. Of the 100-200 Spartans I have met and had this conversation with, I'd say all but about 10 of them made the claim that they got into U of M. I simply don't believe them. Or you. Please don't tell me anything else- it's all internet bullshit. PDF files or nothing. For being such a troll and all the shit you talk, I'd think you'd have them scanned into your computer for times like this. Prove me wrong. I dare you.

As for the OP, I thought it was poignant stuff. I went to Michigan out-of-state, so some of it, frankly, didn't necessarily jive with my personal experiences. For me, the "State" university is Illinois, where my whole family went.

And re: the commenter saying you should root for where you go, I agree with him. I don't want to be a jerk, but if you go to another big ten school, that's who you should root for. I spent the first 18 years of my life rooting for the University of Illinois. My whole family went there. My friends and I were huge fans. I grew up within 2 hours of the campus downstate.

But when it came time to pick a University for myself (and a law school for that matter), after taking a long hard look at things, I chose Michigan*. And from that point forward, I was with Michigan. When U of I came into the Big House in 1999 during my freshman year, it felt strange rooting against them for a few minutes at first. But I did. It was the choice I made when I went to Michigan. That's how it has to be. Pride. And they beat us. My friends from home called, and still call, me a traitor. It wasn't easy. But that's how it is- I'm with Michigan now. From the day I received my acceptance letter 10 years ago. And I think this is how it should be.

I could see rooting for U of M 364 days a year and also rooting for State if you grew up in Ann Arbor and went to State. But I could not and cannot see rooting against your alma mater against anyone, period, if you have any kind of pride in where you went to school. Especially when your alma mater is a big ten school with all kinds of athletic facilities and the ability to compete in the big time if it had the right guidance.

But maybe that's because I chose Michigan, and Michigan makes it impossible to root for anyone else.

Go Blue. Put Sparty in its place.

*And Michigan State was never even a whisper of a thought. Absolutely no reason to go there out-of-state, unless your parents are alums or something.

03 Blue 07

September 30th, 2009 at 7:08 PM ^

When I say .pdf files, I don't mean of your nuclear engineering degree- congrats by the way. That's a hell of a degree. You won't hear me knock it. They have a good program. But back to the .pdf stuff, I was referring to .pdf's of your acceptance letter to U of M. Come on, rocket scientist (er, nuclear physicist/basement dwelling Magic: The Gathering master)- I'm sure you kept it.

03 Blue 07

October 1st, 2009 at 12:37 PM ^

Re: "I didn't actually keep it."

Well, then, see my previous comment. Sorry. I don't believe you. Also, did you know I got into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, Cal Tech, MIT, Cambridge, Duke, the India Institute of Technology (just to see if I could get in out-of-hemisphere), etc? What's that? You don't believe me?! But I said I did! I said it! So it's true! Right....?

(I do have to give you this- the Magic deck line was pretty funny. But I can't +1 you. One funny thing in a shitstorm of stupidity isn't enough)


September 30th, 2009 at 7:16 PM ^

Coming from Texas, I was an A&M fan in high school (all my cousins went there and one even played as part of the 12th Man program). Never really followed UM athletics growing up (aside from just being a general sports fan). Enrolled in 2000 and have been a Wolverine die-hard ever since.

As for obnoxious moments, watching the 2005 Rose Bowl while home for the holidays and having every dumbass in town (most of whom had never even set foot on the t.u. campus) running around like Vince Young had just won them the Super Bowl was gut-wrenching. I still don't know how that field goal didn't get blocked.

03 Blue 07

September 30th, 2009 at 7:24 PM ^

I actually have a soft spot for A&M because my grandparents met while working in the Biochem department there as PhD students. (They are much more intelligent than I am). That had to completely suck when we lost that Rose Bowl to Texas, living there. The thing is, most UT grads I meet are actually intelligent people who respect our program as I respect theirs and recognize that the 2005 Rose Bowl was an incredible football game that, really, no one deserved to lose. (Although us giving up that lead was quite unfortunate, to say the least.)


September 30th, 2009 at 7:41 PM ^

There is a huge gap in annoyance level between actual UT students/grads and the bulk of people who claim to be Longhorn fans (OSU and SC are the only fanbases I've come across that have close to as wide a gap, though I haven't spent much time in SEC country).

The dual allegiance LA fan (loves SC football and UCLA basketball) is the only one worse.


October 1st, 2009 at 12:11 PM ^

My older sister went to MSU when I was 5. She also went to vet school there, so for many years I cheered for State. I went to about one State game a year for around 8 years. I never saw State win live. I was thrilled when they beat Michigan and went to the Rose Bowl in 1987.

I wanted to study Science or Engineering growing up. When I was a Junior in High School, I realized that Michigan was a lot better school in these fields, and I started to consider living with the enemy. When I was accepted at Tech, MSU, and Michigan, the choice was easy: Michigan. My sister was not happy.

My freshman year, I became a Michigan fan. I loved my school. My friends were great, and it was neat to be at a place that valued education. When it came time to choose sides in the 1990 UM-MSU game, the choice was also easy: Michigan. Well, the first time I saw MSU beat Michigan live was the first time I didn't want them to win a game.

State is still my 4th favorite team. If they are not playing, Michigan, Illinois, or Virginia, than I cheer for State. (I got graduate degrees from the other two schools.)

It is fine to cheer for your childhood team. But no matter how bad Michigan gets in football, basketball, or hockey. I will always cheer for them, and remember those great years as a student. GO BLUE.

Feat of Clay

October 1st, 2009 at 3:41 PM ^

FWIW, it's not like Michigan doesn't do some probing into this. Fact is, for every 10 kids who are deciding between admissions offers from both MSU & U-M, 8 or 9 of them will go to U-M.

So yeah, you're going to find students up in East Lansing who chose MSU over U-M for reasons of fit, or program, or scholarship, or whatever, and that's cool.

But if a lot of MSU kids claim they turned down U-M, some large-ish proportion of them are full o' crap.


September 30th, 2009 at 7:57 PM ^

Congratulations on getting accepted to two great universities.

I'm sure that a deserving and appreciative candidate on the waiting list or in the next class was able to take advantage of the opportunity for a Michigan education that you chose not to take.

You know, rubbing it in like that, though, that's just trollish. I got in to some schools out East that I couldn't afford (but not Northwestern -- WTF Northwestern?); I never would tell somebody who didn't get in that I "bumped yours off -- ha ha!"

Enjoy your fine education and the fruits of your hard work, as well as your cheese on rye. I just find it surprising that someone with your work ethic and abilities would find something as simple as basic human kindness to be unattainable.

I guess we humans are a strange lot.


September 30th, 2009 at 8:29 PM ^

Your tone in this post is inconsistent with your original post.

"Two great universities" does not quite rub me the same way as "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." You're right though; that was mean-spirited, and I apologize. I just take offense to the constant assumption that everyone wants to go to UM, and only those who didn't get in go to State, because it's simply not true. That said, I do apologize for saying it like that. I try to avoid trollish comments, but sometimes it just slips out, especially during rivalry week.


September 30th, 2009 at 9:01 PM ^

but Michigan is pretty much better in every major besides the ones that only MSU offers.

Sure if you want to be a veterinarian or a journalist you can go to State and get a great education (and that is not to say that in other majors you won't) but to say that you'd choose MSU Engineering (I don't even think it's in the top 25) over UM (which is in the top 10) pretty much shows exactly why you chose MSU.


September 30th, 2009 at 9:04 PM ^

I think that's a pretty fair take on what goes on for a lot of Michigan families with 18 year olds. College acceptance and rejection is a big thing at that point, and for a large bloc of academically inclined kids in this state, they will ultimately fall in that large area between Michigan acceptance, Michigan waiting list, and Michigan denial. Every State person I know personally fell in the latter two. We went through that process four times in my family, and each time it was a trying experience.

And you should note that I bracketed that section with twice saying that it's not as big of a deal as we imagined at the time. In fact, that was kind of the point: that moment creates a dissonance that echoes across our state for years after it stopped being truly relevant. You may not have gone through it but I know 40 of your schoolmates who did, and as many of my schoolmates too. That teenage moment can leave a mark of arrogance or inadequacy depending on how that moment falls.

The rivalry plays this out for us again, making us face that moment again with fresh eyes that can help see it for less of a deal than we originally made it out to be.

If that doesn't apply to you, fine. But a lot of us did go through it, enough that it defines this football rivalry.


September 30th, 2009 at 8:35 PM ^

Unless your a transfer student I doubt it. Why would ever join a rival teams blog? And if you really are a nuclear physics major how do you have time to get in a blog argument? I root for Michigan and have since i was 5 because my whole family went there. I watched Dreisbach hurl up a prayer and fail, I watched Charles Woodson run all over the NCAA on his way to a Heisman and a national championship and I watched 3-9. I could never root against the boys in blue. I don't root for my degree I love Michigan because it is all I know and wouldn't have it any other way. State was just the best school I got into.
Worm, Don't be a dick. I hope i see you walking down Gr. River crying while I'm singing Hail To The Victors.


September 30th, 2009 at 6:36 PM ^

Don't mean to sound like an a-hole, but it seems to me like people should support the school they attend. Nothing wrong with loving/supporting UM as well, but there is something wrong to me about rooting against the school you actually go to.

Also, why is Dr. Worm bragging about making such a stupid decision? (I'm assuming he isn't majoring in Bovine Impregnation, in which case State is the school for him)

STW P. Brabbs

October 1st, 2009 at 8:41 AM ^

But I distinctly remember seeing the following sign in East Lansing when I went to visit my friend at State:

"Sheep Research and Teaching Institute"

There are two conclusions to be drawn, as far as I can tell: 1) The education department shares space with the ovine research program; 2) They are teaching the sheep.

I favor the latter.


September 30th, 2009 at 8:02 PM ^

Thanks Frock!

I, for one, am very happy to have you aboard.

Peoples' choices of team to root for come from all sorts of things. I think no matter where I ended up, that kid who watched Desmond Howard tear Indiana apart would always be inside me, and would never have let me root for anyone but the Wolverines. I went to Michigan, though, so I'll never have to face that.

I admire your courage to hold to your team!


September 30th, 2009 at 7:35 PM ^

i think the little brother meme is insensitive to those of us whose parents stopped at one kid. to rub in my face some sort of familial bond i shall never understand in my heart is both hurtful and counter to the message of acceptance our great school stands for. the phrase should now be "little family member with which we spent time playing sports with outside the house during family reunions while daddys got drunk and mommies rolled eyes and took keys from daddy."


September 30th, 2009 at 10:47 PM ^

I was born in Ann Arbor, lived there until I was 8. The last couple of years my home was in the old westside, about 7 blocks from Michigan Stadium. I went to lots of games (in the 70's you could get in free after halftime). It seeped into me; if you're a fan at 8, you're a fan for life.

We moved out of state, and I grew up in Indiana and attended IU. I rooted hard for the Hoosiers (this was the late 80's, when they won a lot of games and were actually fun to watch), every game but one. I took some grief for that.

Fast forward to 2000. I was finishing my PhD, and I had an opportunity to get a great tenure track position at a Big Ten research university. Of course I jumped at that... and since then I've lived right smack in the middle of East Lansing, Advancing Knowledge and Transforming Lives. I go to a couple of MSU games a year. It's lots of fun. Tailgating is right on campus and terrific. Green is a good color (beats crimson - not many people look good in crimson). The band is good, the gameday atmosphere is fine, Sparty lasers excepted... and I have little emotional attachment to the team, so it doesn't bother me to watch a spectacular choke, like Notre Dame 2006.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. The people that go to games in stadiums across Michigan and Indiana are mostly my kind of people. Some wear blue, some wear green, some wear crimson. It's all kind of feudal - the colors, the pennants, the bands playing their song our guys vs your guys - but you should just enjoy it and not take that too seriously. And, of course, the action on the field. Your team vs. my team, but you know, my coach recruited some of your team's kids, and vice versa, and some of them could have committed either way, and frankly the kids on the field, whether they wear blue or green or crimson, all have a lot more in common with each other than they do with most of the people in the stands. And all of us in the stadium have a lot more in common than we do with most people on this planet. Enjoy football - I sure as hell do - but don't lose perspective. That could be you in the inflatable Sparty helmet and the white chest paint. And that guy in the funky old green sweatshirt with the block M cap skimming the roster from the newspaper, that could be me.