Michigan Football vs Michigan State — Looking Back — 1954


The first installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us back to 1954. The nation was enjoying postwar prosperity, fueled largely by the automobile industry, which was headquartered in Michigan. The season before, a trophy was introduced into the rivalry. Michigan State won the Paul Bunyan Trophy in the first game involving the trophy, but Michigan had dominated the rivalry for the most part until 1953. In 1954, the Wolverines were ready to re-establish control of the rivalry.

In terms of the game, sadly, few details remain, other than Michigan’s victorious 33-7 score. Arguably the most noteworthy event of the whole game was how Michigan treated the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Unlike recent victories, the 1954 team showed a disdain for the trophy, and that’s been the pervasive attitude for decades. Unlike the Little Brown Jug, which is treasured by everyone with maize & blue in their DNA, the Paul Bunyan Trophy has long been regarded as more of locker room trophy, the logic being that Michigan should always beat the Spartans.

If anything, the most important thing to come out of the 1954 game was that the Paul Bunyan Trophy breathed new life into a rivalry that had been one-sided for decades. Michigan State’s win in 1953 marked only the 10th time that the Spartans had defeated Michigan in a series that dated back to 1898. Suddenly, some of Michigan’s hubris was replaced by animosity, and football fans in Michigan benefited, whether they wore maize & blue or green & white.

But make no mistake, in 1954, Michigan proved that the best team in the state resided in Ann Arbor, trophy or no trophy.

About Jeff Cummins

Jeff Cummins has written about football since 1998, including nine years with The Record of Hackensack, N.J. He frequently contributes feature stories to Touchdown Illustrated, an insert in the national college football game program, published by University Sports Publications, and he has also written the official pregame stories for the game programs of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game. He has written the preview story for the official program for the NHL Winter Classic at MIchigan Stadium, and numerous college basketball feature stories for College Hoops Illustrated, another game program insert published by University Sports Publications. In addition, he has written stories about theater, music, physical therapy, and newsletter marketing. He’s an avid Michigan football fan and long-time New York Jets season ticket holder, and he can be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.