Nebraska football fans strolling through the Michigan State campus for this weekend’s game might see a familiar figure: a bas-relief sculpture by Lee Lawrie at the base of the Beaumont Tower, installed for the bell tower’s 1929 dedication.
Less than a year later, Lawrie’s “The Sower” statue took its place atop Nebraska’s Capitol dome, becoming one of the Cornhusker state’s most recognizable symbols.
From his vantage point, the Nebraska Sower can check out the progress of the Huskers in Memorial Stadium just to the north. And on a quiet day, the MSU Sower’s bells can be heard from Spartan Stadium just across the Red Cedar River.
Rededicated and renovated in 1996, the tower’s bells “serve as a source of inspiration and unity to the MSU community for generations to come,” according to a plaque near Lawrie’s artwork.
That’s a connection between Lincoln and East Lansing that any Nebraskan can enjoy. And for a person with a family history steeped in Michigan State tradition and history, there are many more.
Although I moved to Nebraska in 1962 — the same year Bob Devaney arrived and NU started its football sellout streak — I grew up with Michigan State College, later Michigan State University.
Both my parents, both of their brothers and both of my brothers are MSU graduates, and if the school had offered a journalism degree, I probably would be, too.
As a result, the fight songs of the old Big Ten schools are familiar, and the rivalries are clear, too.
For example, you wouldn’t confuse Virginia with West Virginia, would you? Or Iowa with Iowa State? Or Kansas with Kansas State?
Yet people around here sometimes say that Nebraska is playing “Michigan,” when the opponent is really Michigan State. In the Great Lakes region, that’s an important distinction not only in sports but also in everyday life. Michiganders have been known to hire (and maybe fire) people because their favorite color is green or blue.
Mixed marriages? Bar fights? Neighborhood competitions? They’re all wrapped up on an in-state rivalry with an intensity that Nebraskans don’t experience, even during the occasional Nebraska-Creighton volleyball, baseball or basketball game.
Given close family connection like mine, how could you not enjoy visiting a campus where your parents met when your father, fresh off a farm 20 miles to the south, struck up a conversation with a pretty, smart dormitory telephone operator who was trying to lose her West Virginia accent?
How could you not be fascinated by visiting that same dormitory, 60 years later, where your mother and the other girls gathered in the lounge to hear President Roosevelt deliver his “day of infamy” speech in 1941, signaling America’s entry into World War II and changing all of their lives?
How could you not be thrilled when Omaha supermarkets began carrying Vernors, the ginger ale with the gnome mascot which originated in Michigan and brings a nostalgic flavor to any occasion?
How could you not be joyful in East Lansing when your little brother graduated from college and began a career? When your big brother graduated and then returned to town with a law degree?
One thing about that big brother: You might not want to meet him this weekend. He’s a judge, and sometimes participants in postgame festivities end up in his courtroom on Monday mornings.
From a trip to Nebraska’s 1995 game against Michigan State, we know Munn Field is a huge, grassy, “alcohol-free” tailgating area and is open for visitors of both teams as long as there haven’t been heavy rains. If you’re needing tickets to the game, that’s the likely place to go.
Here’s another thing to remember: The MSU team is the Spartans, not “Sparty.” Sparty is the puffy, steroid-enhanced warrior with the oversized head.
This weekend’s green-wearers will be friendly, as long as you don’t say how much you admire “Michigan’s sports traditions.”
That’s Michigan STATE, if you please.
Steve Jordon is a reporter for the Money section of The World-Herald covering, among other things, Berkshire Hathaway, banking and insurance. He attended school through second grade in Ann Arbor, Mich., graduated from Bellevue High School and attended nine other schools in between while his father served in the Air Force. He’s a University of Nebraska graduate and marching band alumnus.
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402-444-1080, email@example.com; twitter.com/buffettOWH