How Huckleberry Finn Can Help Explain Why Michigan vs. Michigan State is Not a Rivalry. It’s a Feud.

by K.M. Zahrt


Michigan and Michigan State football teams both won this past weekend. Great, right? Only until someone inevitably says, “Our win was better than yours.” After that, it’s all over. In my lifetime, I’ve been around the argument that will ensue between Michigan and Michigan State fans more times than the Lions have won games. When we start qualifying the wins, we’re in real trouble. Ask the BCS how easy it is to sort that out.

The worst part of the conversation occurs when–and I know you all know what I’m talking about, but only half of you will admit it–a fan from one side claims that this conflict doesn’t really exist. Seems crazy, right? Not nearly as crazy as when they go on to claim a lame team from south of our border as more worthy of it. Then it turns into non-sense.

This all reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. In this scene, Huck gets stuck in the middle of a regional conflict between two feuding families, one of which is the family of his newest friend, Buck. Here’s an excerpt:

Soon as I could get Buck down by the corn-cribs under the trees by ourselves, I says:  “Did you want to kill him, Buck?”

“Well I bet I did.”

“What did he do to you?”

“Him? He never done nothing to me.”

“Well then, what did you want to kill him for?”

“Why nothing–only it’s on account of the feud.”

“What’s a feud?”

“Why where was you raised? Don’t you know what a feud is?”

“Never heard of it before–tell me about it.”

“Well,” says Buck, “a feud is this way. A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in–and by and by everybody’s killed off, and their ain’t no more feud. But it’s kind of slow and takes a long time” (Twain, p. 146).

This is what is so great about Twain; he takes a basic flaw of human nature and magnifies it to such an extreme that we (1) can’t help but laugh and (2) can’t ignore that we can relate. I certainly can. Shoot, my wife would give you 10 examples straightaway. I sometimes (often, my wife would argue) set myself in conflict with other men for no good reason. I call these men my “nemesi.” It’s a running joke we have. But this is where I would argue with my wife that I have a rivalry with my “nemesi,” not a feud. Rivalry, as I’ll define it here, is a good-natured, spirited competition without negative consequences. Some of my “nemesi” may even be close friends; most, I hope, have no clue they’re “nemesi.” However, the feud, as described by Buck above, has real negative consequences without any reasonable purpose.

According to those definitions, the conflict between Michigan and Michigan State fans is a feud. It’s spoiled the game. It’s going beyond good-natured, spirited competition, and it’s taken a trip to negative town without any reasonable purpose. Let’s take it back to a rivalry, Michiganders! Let’s not let this go on until all the fans are killed off. Let’s root like hell for our team to win when they play each other, but then let’s root for all Michigan-based teams to crush all teams from south of our border. Then, on Sundays, let’s all head to the bar for a Michigan-brewed beer and to root for our Lions. They need our support. I think we can all agree on that.


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