Between now and kickoff of the 2018 season, SpartansWire will publish a special series that will celebrate the greatest games in the history of the program.
We’ll examine each decade and chronicle what SpartansWire sees as the Top 5 games within that decade.
The series launches here as we kick off with the 1950s.
1950s Game #5
1950 – Biggie’s Boys Usher In New Era
Michigan State @ Michigan
September 30th, 1950
The 1950s was a crucial decade for Michigan State as the school worked hard to achieve monumental progress as an institution.
The school transitioned from Michigan State College (MSC) to Michigan State University (MSU).
And, despite aggressive and consistent efforts on the part of the University of Michigan to deny Michigan State entry, MSC was accepted into and, indeed, joined the Big Ten Conference, as an academic institution (1950) and athletic member (1953).
The decade also saw the Spartan football program rise from a marginal Midwest team to a national powerhouse, winning multiple national championships under two legendary coaches – Clarence “Biggie” Munn and Duffy Daugherty – who helped break the color barrier in college athletics while bringing respect and prestige to a university that had been working hard to achieve both ever since its founding as the nation’s premiere Land Grant university in 1855.
Over the course of the first half of the 20th century, Michigan State College competed against the University of Michigan in football 24 times.
Out of those 24 contests, 23 were played on Michigan’s home field in Ann Arbor as the Wolverines fought hard to maintain an advantage over the upstart school from East Lansing in as many ways as possible.
1950 would be no exception to that rule as the Spartans faced the #3 ranked, and two-touchdown favorite, Wolverines in the season’s opening game.
Heading into the game, Michigan State had lost the previous ten contests between the two schools with all but one of the games having been played in Ann Arbor.
Scores over the previous ten games looked like this:
1938 – Michigan 14, Michigan State 0
1939 – Michigan 26, Michigan State 13
1940 – Michigan 21, Michigan State 14
1941 – Michigan 19, Michigan State 7
1942 – Michigan 20, Michigan State 0
1945 – Michigan 40, Michigan State 0
1946 – Michigan 55, Michigan State 7
1947 – Michigan 55, Michigan State 0
1948 – Michigan 13, Michigan State 7
1949 – Michigan 7, Michigan State 3
While there were some hard fought battles in there, there were also some pastings that sent Michigan State back to East Lansing humbled and hurting.
But, in his fourth season as Michigan State’s charismatic and energetic leader, Biggie Munn was starting to get things rolling for his Spartans – and 1950 would be the year when he would put the program on the map.
Dating back to the days of Fielding Yost, Michigan had a penchant for soft scheduling to start the season. The Wolverines hadn’t lost an opener in the previous 12 years and Bennie Oosterbaan’s team considered the 1950 opener against Michigan State to be a game that could be and would be won relatively easily.
But the Spartans weren’t eager to play patsy and when they knocked Michigan’s top player, Chuck Ortmann, from the game in the first quarter, it was clear that the afternoon would feature a hard-fought battle on the field.
After trading touchdowns and with the score 7-7 for much of the game, the ebb and flow was dictated by field position as neither team could move the ball.
Midway through the 4th quarter, the Spartans started to take control after a deep punt pinned the Wolverines back inside of its own five-yard line.
Three plays later, UMAA had to punt out of its own end zone.
The Spartans returned it to the Wolverine 19-yard line and, moments later, fullback Leroy Crane pounded the ball in from the seven to give Michigan State a 14-7 lead.
As the game wound down, UMAA was able to drive all the way to the Spartan 10-yard line before Biggie’s Boys picked off a pass to seal the game.
With the 14-7 victory, State ended that ten-game losing streak to the Wolverines and the win would start a four-game winning streak against Michigan in the series for the Spartans.
Michigan State would finish the season 8-1 and ranked #8 nationally, one spot ahead of Michigan (the Wolverines ended the season ranked #9 in the AP poll).
But the 14-7 victory over UMAA in 1950 did much more than end a losing streak and start a winning streak against Michigan State’s rivals from Ann Arbor.
The win ushered in a whole new era for the Spartan football program and for Michigan State’s overall profile as a university.
Biggie Munn would lead the Spartans to consecutive undefeated seasons in 1951 and 1952 with the 1952 Spartans earning the program its first AP national championship, one that remains respected and recognized by Spartans everywhere all these years later.
The 1950 win over Michigan was also a part of what would be a 28-game winning streak for Biggie’s program that included something no other coach was ever able to do achieve – three straight victories over Notre Dame and the legendary head coach of the Fighting Irish, Frank Leahy.
And of course, Biggie’s Boys laid the groundwork for the Duffy Daugherty Era.
It’s not a stretch to say that the 1950 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor is what set in motion an all-important period of success for Michigan State as a football program, as an athletic department, and as an institution.
Next up, Game #4 from the 1950s……