GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Saturday marks the 116th meeting between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans on the football field.
The Wolverines are coming off a 29-7 victory over the Spartans in 2022 to regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy after Michigan State held onto it for the previous two seasons. Michigan looks to remain undefeated this season and expand their rivalry record to 73-38-5.
One of the longest-played rivalries in the country has produced an unprecedented amount of incredible moments for fans of both teams, including some games that are celebrating anniversaries this year.
News 8 took a look back at the games spanning the rivalry between the two programs.
1898: First matchup is played
It’s been 125 years since the first rivalry game was played between the two schools. Michigan State was known as Michigan Agricultural College at the time and was no match for Michigan, who would go on to win 39-0.
A Detroit Free Press reporter would go on to call the game “essentially a practice game” for the Wolverines, who would finish the season 10-0.
The game also featured the first field goal ever made in UM history by Leo J. Keena. Keena would go on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and South Africa under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
For the next three matchups, Michigan would send its freshman team to play in the game.
1913: ‘MSU’ wins first rivalry meeting
Still known as the Michigan Agricultural College Aggies, the team had not yet managed to defeat the mighty Wolverines. Their rivalry record currently stood at 0-6-1. That tie came in 1908 and finished with a score of 0-0.
The crowd was said to have gone wild for the Aggies after that tie game, but the cheers quickly turned to jeers after the 1912 game, when Michigan won 55-7. In the first seven games, MAC was outscored 280-13.
The luck would change on that fateful October day when fullback “Carp” Julian managed to score two touchdowns for the Aggies and the defense kept the Wolverines out of the endzone until the fourth quarter when it was too late.
MAC would go on to have an undefeated season, and UM’s only loss of the year was to the Aggies.
The teams would split the next two meetings before Michigan went back to its winning ways, going undefeated over the next 18 years.
1943: Game canceled due to WWII
The U.S. involvement in World War II led to the last break in the rivalry. The game had been played between the Spartans and Wolverines every year since 1910, and MSU had actually planned on heading to Ann Arbor in 1943.
The problem was that the U.S. War Department had created a military training program called the Army Specialized Training Program that demanded soldiers and junior officers from schools to join. Michigan State was one of the schools selected in 1942.
In the summer of 1943, around 50% of the college’s total enrollment was made of military students, according to the university. Under the rules of the ASTP, students enrolled in the program were not allowed to participate in intercollegiate athletics, forcing the team to cancel the season.
A year later, then-President John Hannah announced that the football team would return to competition in 1944, but they would not face Michigan again until 1945. Ever since then, the game has taken place every fall.
1953: Paul Bunyan Trophy introduced
In 1953, the Spartans were admitted to the Big Ten conference after being named the national champions in 1953. They were now alongside the Wolverines, and the rivalry took on even more importance — so much so that former Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams decided to provide a trophy to the winner of the game.
Thus came the Paul Bunyan — Governor of Michigan Trophy, a 4-foot-tall wooden statue that features the lumberjack standing on the state of Michigan. The two teams have spent the better part of 70 years since then trading the trophy.
At the time the trophy was introduced, the Wolverines held a 33-9-3 record in the series. They had dominated the rivalry so much that UM Athletic Director Fritz Crisler said that Michigan would not accept it if they won again. It wouldn’t matter as the Spartans claimed the win and Paul Bunyan.
The Wolverines would then win in 1954 and 1955 to have ownership of the trophy before the Spartans retained it the next eight seasons.
Former Wolverine Head Coach Lloyd Carr once called the Paul Bunyan Trophy “the ugliest in college football.” But he also said, “When you don’t have him, you miss him.”
2013: Wolverines end day with -48 rushing yards
It’s been 10 years since one of the most dominant defensive performances by the Spartans in the series.
Not only did then-No. 22 MSU win 29-6 over then-No. 21 Michigan, but the Wolverines were held to the fewest rushing yards in the team’s history at -48. Quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked seven times during the game as the Spartans dominated the line of scrimmage.
The Spartans avenged the 2012 defeat to the Wolverines after MSU won the previous four meetings, including another dominant win in 2011. Former Spartan linebacker Denicos Allen said after the game, “Two years ago was nothing. It was a lot worse today and I think they felt it.”
This would mark a turning point for both teams. Michigan would go on to lose four of their next five games while MSU would win their remaining five games, including a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
2022: Tussle in the Tunnel
Last year, one of the darkest moments in the rivalry took place after Michigan’s 29-7 victory.
A fight broke out in one of the tunnels of Michigan Stadium that resulted in two Wolverine players sustaining injuries. Video of the fight showed several Spartan players fighting with the Michigan players.
When it was all said and done, MSU was fined $100,000 and eight players were suspended by the team. Defensive back Khary Crump was suspended for the first eight games of 2023 and faced criminal charges for swinging a helmet during the altercation.
It was one of the few times the rivalry took a very serious turn.
The Wolverines are currently 24-point favorites over the Spartans, but if history serves as any indicator of what’s to come, we could be in for a great game in East Lansing on Saturday night.
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on WOOD TV8.