Has Little Brother Grown Up?

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Mark Dantonio has responded to Mike Hart's little brother quote and UM fans now look at the MSU rivarly in a new way.  Photo courtesy of NY Times.

Mark Dantonio has responded to Mike Hart's little brother quote and UM fans now look at the MSU rivarly in a new way. Photo courtesy of NY Times.

It’s been nearly three years since then-Michigan running back Mike Hart uttered a phrase that will forever live in infamy among Michigan State fans.

Michigan State had a two-score lead over the Wolverines, its bitter rival, but Chad Henne’s late fourth-quarter touchdown toss on 3rd and 12 to Mario Manningham thwarted the Spartans’ chance of a home triumph over Michigan.

The Wolverines escaped East Lansing with a 28-24 victory, and Hart was far from a gracious victor.

“I was just laughing,” Hart said to media members Nov. 3, 2007 after Michigan's come-from-behind win. “I thought it was funny. They got excited, it’s good. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball and stuff, let them get the lead, and you just come back and take it back.”

Hart had the media in stitches, and he soaked it up with a mile-wide grin on his face.

Oh, Mr. Hart, if you only knew the fire you lit inside your “little brother.”

Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio has never been one to add fuel to a fire. His humble, yet stern leadership has molded Michigan State into a legitimate Big Ten contender.

But even Dantonio couldn’t lay off that one.

“Does Hart have a little brother, or is he the little brother?” Dantonio told media members during the post-game press conference when asked if he heard Hart's comment.

“I don’t know," said Dantonio, as he motioned his hands to indicate the 5-foot-9 Hart's lack of height. "He's about that tall."

And reporters erupted in laughter.

Since Hart’s departure from Ann Arbor, no other Michigan athlete has taken such a jab at Michigan State.

And maybe that’s for the wiser, considering the Wolverines are enduring a three-year winless drought (in two sports) against the Spartans.

Maybe Hart was right. Maybe the Spartans were the Wolverines’ “little brother.”

If you’ve ever had a younger sibling, you probably noticed, that one day, he or she eventually beat you at your own game. I can’t say that’s true for me — my younger brother could care less about competition, but you likely know an athlete whose younger counterpart grew to be bigger, stronger, better and faster than its elder.

Enter the 2010 Spartan football team. It looks like "little brother" just hit a growth spurt.

I’ve often tried to think from a Michigan fan’s perspective for the sake of seeing things from both points of view. I know it’s easy for them to poke and prod those who adore the green and white and they continue to do so — why is beyond me.

In reality, many of them wish Hart would have kept his joke to himself.

Would three victories in a row, accompanied by consecutive bowl appearances, seasons free of sanctions and superior recruiting classes finally zip the lips of those who still cling to Hart’s words?

Do Wolverine supporters finally realize that Rich Rodriguez, who has gone 8-16 in his two years at Michigan and won just three Big Ten games, has their beloved program going south?

I respect Michigan’s grid iron tradition. Anyone knowledgeable of college football can’t deny the Wolverines' historical significance, let alone, their impressive 60-37-5 all-time record over the Spartans.

But times are changing. Rodriguez will be fortunate to see a fourth season guiding the winged-helmets if he fails to put his team’s “little brother” in its place. Or any team, for that matter.

I agree with Hart — toying with your “little brother” can be amusing.

Until he fights back.

“As I said earlier, it’s not over,” Dantonio told reporters during the same post-Michigan game presser. “I’m going to be head coach here for a long time. It’s just starting.”