For Riley Bullough and the rest of his family, the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry is a longstanding family affair
Michigan State senior linebacker Riley Bullough is a third-generation Spartan football player. But despite growing up on the Banks of the Red Cedar, the Notre Dame fight song doesn't sound too bad to him, either.
"I don't mind it," Bullough said with a laugh on Tuesday.
When No. 12 Michigan State takes on No. 18 Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday, it will mark 50 years since "The Game of the Century" —a bruising contest between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State that ended in a controversial 10–10 tie. The MSU-Notre Dame rivalry dates back to 1897 and has produced a number of notable games, such as the "Little Giants" fake field goal that led to a 34–31 overtime Spartan victory in 2010.
Bullough will have family representing both sides of the rivalry on Saturday. His paternal grandfather, Hank Bullough, was an MSU guard in the early 1950s. His father, Shane, was a Spartan linebacker from 1983–86. His maternal grandfather, Jim Morse, was a running back at Notre Dame from 1954-56. Riley also has a trio of uncles who played college football—Bobby Morse (running back, 1983-86) and Chuck Bullough (linebacker, 1988-91) played for Michigan State, and Jim Morse (cornerback, 1976-77) played for Notre Dame.
The torch is currently being carried by Riley, his older brother Max, who played for the Spartans from 2010-13, and his younger brother Byron, who is a sophomore linebacker at Michigan State. "Growing up, we'd go to Notre Dame games and the next week come to a Michigan State game," Riley said. "So we're always traveling. But it was a great time going to those games."
Riley's mom, LeeAnn, also attended Notre Dame, but she'll be rooting for the Spartans on Saturday, Riley said. His familiar ties to the program give him extra motivation to win, his said. "My grandpa has a huge part over there. My mom went there. My uncle played there. So to be able to go down there and get a win against them in that environment, it means so much to the team. But I think for me it would especially mean a lot."
Hank Bullough was an assistant coach at Michigan State during the historic 1966 game. On Tuesday, head coach Mark Dantonio spoke of connecting to that era of football on Saturday. It won't be hard for Riley and his brother Byron to do so.
"I think it means a lot especially to me, my grandpa being part of that game," Riley said. "But the guys now understand what kind of program Notre Dame is. They have tough players, tough coaches. Like I said earlier, they pride themselves on the same things that we do. So we know it's going to be a battle down there. But we feel like our guys are going to be ready to play and we're all excited for the opportunity.
The 1966 game occurred when Dantonio was 10 years old. He said that he's grateful to coach in an era where there is an overtime rule. Is the rivalry bitter, or respectful? We'll find out after this weekend, he said.
"I think there are things that happened in this rivalry that led to the emergence of Michigan State being a major football player in the country," Dantonio said. "And that's because people got together, whether it was (former MSU president) John Hannah and people at Notre Dame got together and they made it happen. So from that point of view, I think there will always be a respect from the people of Michigan State in place because of that aspect, I would think."