Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gameday Forecast: Michigan State @ Minnesota

Today's game in Minneapolis won't just end under the lights, it will be a true night game from start to finish. Sunset is expected at 6:02 p.m. Central time, with kickoff starting after 7 p.m Central (8 p.m. Eastern).

Game time temperature will be about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, though it'll feel like 32. Winds will stay around 10 miles per hour all game. There's barely any chance of rain at all.

It's a beautiful day for football!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Final Four Friday: Halloween Costumes for the Minnesota Game

Michigan State will be the first Halloween visitor at Minnesota's new TCF Bank Stadium, and if you're going to go you might want to dress the part. But what Halloween costume to wear? That's where we come in, and that's this week's Final Four Friday.

Eric Decker - Minnesota is generally an hospitable destination for visitors, but this outfit might be pushing your luck. The Golden Gophers' best player, wide receiver Eric Decker, is out of the game with a foot injury. Make the costume with a pair of crutches, and exaggerated plaster cast on your left foot. Problem is, you'd have to wear Gophers colors to pull off the outfit, and it is a bit subtle unless you've got a Decker jersey, and that makes it a very expensive costume indeed.

King Leonidas - It's a typical one for Spartan fans since the movie 300 came out, but King Leonidas is always a popular getup. Roman sandals, a Spartan-style helmet, short shorts, leg and arm shields are mandatory for this one. Most costumes come with a red cape, you'll want a dark green one instead. Be careful because some folks consider a shield a weapon - and every stadium security guard will take issue with a spear.

Mark Dantonio - This is probably the easiest costume on the list. Start with a green MSU sports polo or hoodie and khaki pants. Complete the ensemble by finding an old set of aviator headphones with a mouthpiece (check your local thrift or pawn shop) and removing one of the earpieces.

You'll want to make sure to have a constant scowl on your face, or people won't quite get it. For extra oomph, find a gaudy ring to double as his 2002 Ohio State national championship ring.

Lou Anna Simon - This is one of the best ladies costumes, and very very easy to do. The key is to find a green suit, and again I'd check the thrift stores for that. Put a black turteneck under it and a simple piece of chain jewelery, preferably with an MSU charm on it. Glasses are optional.

The nice thing about the Simon costume is that it's a ladies costume that doesn't have the word "sexy" in front of it. Typically, good costumes are either sexy or funny/creative, with the trend for women going toward sexy at all costs. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but it's nice to have alternatives like this one. However, if you decide to make a sexy President Simon costume, be that on your own conscience.

And the winner is... King Leonidas.

Anyone willing to stand in Minnesota weather in late October wearing little but a Speedo in the name of MSU should get a medal - and a psychological evaluation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Would Publicly Accountable Refs Clean Up Bad Calls?

The Lansing State Journal published an unsigned editorial today calling for Big Ten football officials to attend post-game press conferences as one of a two steps it said could help clean up officiating mistakes in the conference. The other move the Journal is key on is hiring full-time referees to lead the otherwise part-time crews (currently all refs are part timers).

The idea of media (and therefore public) accountability is one that has been traditionally shunned by most sports leagues. No major U.S. sports league has referees make public statements after games. And some European sports leagues - the English Premier League for example - gives stiff fines to any player or manager who dares to harshly criticize the referees who worked their match.

That attitude may be changing, however, and it has started with a league not known for being on the leading edge of progress - Major League Baseball. It started with a terrible call in game four of the American League Championship Series by third base umpire Tim McClelland, when two Yankees were standing off third base, both were tagged out yet only one was called out. McClelland, who has a fairly good reputation among MLB officials, decided to sit down with the media afterwards, take his medicine and explain how he botched the thing.

The Southeastern Conference has begun exposing referees to scrutiny as well, publicly reprimanding and suspending the officials who worked the Arkansas-Florida game this year and missed calls that wound up helping Florida on its winning drive. Such public reprimands are anathema to the Big Ten, which by its internal policy doesn't comment on officiating.

Could such scrutiny help clean up officiating? Perhaps. But it certainly won't help MSU after the fact when it gets hammered by a non-existent personal foul call and a non-review of a clear fumble. No one is going to go back and change the result and Sparty doesn't get a do-over of the whole Iowa game.

I'd love to see penalties be reviewable under the current replay system, particularly if they are large, drive-sustaining ones late in the game. Subjecting officials to post-game press conferences does nothing to change egregious errors on the field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Confirmed: U2 to Play Spartan Stadium

It's official. Bono, the Edge and the rest of U2 will play Spartan Stadium on June 30, 2010.

The band is planning to use a central stage, which would allow for the use of all the seats, plus the possible addition of floor seats. U2 is the first rock supergroup to play Spartan Stadium since the Rolling Stones did so in 1994.

The best news for MSU football fans in all this: Playing in late June should give the turf time to recover - or give MSU officials time enough to install new grass - before the first game of football season in late August.

An Actual Terrorist Threat on Campus

Those MSU fans who attended a game before 9/11 will recall the vast difference in security procedures before and after the terrorist attacks. The thought at the time was that terrorists might target dense groups of people like those at football stadiums in their next attack.

To this day, there have been no credible terrorist threats on campus, until now. A 17-year-old freshman was arrested last week for making a terrorist threat. That student is now no longer enrolled at MSU, university spokesman Terry Denbow told the State News.

So far there's no information as to what threat was made, or how close to execution it was. That information is critical before adjusting any security protocol at sporting events.

But rest assured that there will be an increase in security at on-campus sports events. There always are after these sorts of scares. We'll be tracking this case as it continues, as well as any event security changes that may be made as a result of it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gameday Forecast: Iowa @ Michigan State

Today will best be described as damp in East Lansing as the cold air will turn colder and wetter throughout the day. Expect the morning and early afternoon hours to be high 40's and cloudy, but mid afternoon should see a drizzle start as the temperature drops.

By game time, expect temperatures in the low 40's and that cold drizzle to continue into the second half. Winds should be moderate, between 10 and 20 MPH. Look on the bright side: Rain always looks cool under the lights!

It's a beautiful day for football!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tickets Available for Tomorrow!

If you are interested in seeing MSU's only home night game this season, in what may end up being the biggest game of the season, tickets are still available here.

This is such a big game that I find it very surprising that any tickets are still available. This game needs to be a sellout.

One other note: MSU has closed Munn Field for parking tomorrow due to weather. This is probably a good thing since this is one of the worst places to tailgate anyway...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

MSU-Iowa, UFC in Bar TV Fight

If you're outside East Lansing and planning to head to a sports bar to watch MSU-Iowa you might be out of luck - not just to find a TV with the game on but also to find a seat at the bar.

The reason for that is an unfortunate match up with the most popular sports bar destination programming today, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC 104, featuring a Light Heavyweight title fight between Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

Typically UFC events start at 10 p.m., which one wouldn't think would be an issue going up against a first kick in the MSU-Iowa tilt at just after 8 p.m. There are two problems with that logic, however.

First, the UFC event is on pay per view, meaning that if any bar is showing it they're paying a cover fee against the estimated total capacity of their venue. Since they're literally on the hook for you watching the UFC anyways, many sports bars refuse to change even one television to alternate programming. Second, in order to up their buy rate, the UFC broadcasts some preliminary bouts free on Spike TV at 9 p.m. Before they did that, most bars showing the fights were full at 8:45. Now, you're lucky if you can get a seat by 8.

For some Spartan bars, like the Capitol Lounge in Washington, D.C., this won't be an issue. The basement of the bar is packed to the gills for any MSU football game, and the crowd goes from "standing room only" to "packed like sardines" for the bigger games.

However, if it's just a small group of Spartan fans attending, you likely won't be that lucky. Don't make the mistake of showing up to watch a game that won't be broadcast. Call ahead to make sure, and be sure to speak with a manager who has control of the televisions to make a reservation and arrange which TV will show the Spartan game.

By the way, there are two MSU alums who fight in the UFC - former Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans and lightweight contender Gray Maynard. Neither are fighting at UFC 104, so you won't have to worry about missing a Spartan in action.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Broadcasting at the Breslin Center

I don't need to tell any Michigan State fan just how magical a venue the Jack Breslin Student Events Center can be. The banners in the rafters attest to the iconic players and teams that have graced its floors. And for broadcasters, calling a match at the Breslin Center is as sure a sign as any that you've officially made it.

The MSU volleyball team will take to the hallowed floor of the Breslin Center tonight at 7 p.m. when they face arch-rival Michigan. It's likely to be the largest home crowd volleyball crowd this year - and no wonder since anyone with an MSUFCU membership or credit/debit card gets in free, while the first 500 fans get a free "Bust Breslin" shirt.

With all that in mind, we asked the nation's best volleyball broadcaster, MSU's own John Kreger, what it's like to call a game at the Breslin Center, and what it means to be doing so for a game involving the always-hated Wolverines. His remarks are reprinted below.


I'm very excited to get the chance to broadcast another match at the Breslin Center. As someone who has a great respect for the traditions at MSU, to be able to call matches from a building that has seen so much success makes the Michigan-Michigan State match mean even more. I'm also at the scorers table, as opposed to in the upper deck at Jenison, so I'm right on top of the action, and I feed off of that. It makes for a fun night.
The Michigan-Michigan State matches are the highlight of my broadcast year. This will be my 17th State Pride match (The annual competition between the two schools) and the energy I get from being a part of these matches is unlike any other. I think, however, that's because I get to enjoy them as a fan. When I've asked the two coaches I've worked for about their feelings on the match, they've told me that playing Michigan presents unique challenges. It's important to do well against your rival, and understand the tradition that goes with competition between the two schools. That said, they do their best to keep the routine as normal as possible. Athletes sometimes rely on routine to get them ready for a match, and so they keep things relatively static no matter who is on the other side of the net.
Last year's UM-MSU match was one of the top 5 matches of my nine years behind the Spartan microphone. When you factor in the fact that MSU had just lost Jenilee Rathje for the season with an ACL the night before, the heart showed by Cathy's team as they won in four sets ranks as one of the all-time grittiest performances I've ever seen.
The crowd at the Breslin will be key. Last year a school record 5200 plus fans packed Breslin, and believe me, they had an impact. You could see the players being lifted by the crowd all night. The student presence was HUGE, and we need that again this year.
What does Michigan State-Michigan mean to me personally? When it comes to sports, If I could only watch two teams play against each other, in any sport, for the rest of my life, I'd choose Michigan State-Michigan. I have been on both sides of this rivalry. One of the reasons I got in to broadcasting was listening to longtime Michigan football play-by-play man Bob Ufer. My Grandfather on Mom's side lived and died with the Wolverines, and my mother has three Michigan degrees. On my dad's side, eight members of our family, including my father and myself, over three generations, have called MSU home. To have the rivalry I hold most dear also be a part of my profession is a true blessing.
Michigan brings the #11 team in the nation into Breslin tonight. They are the second of three straight ranked teams we'll play, and they present a stern challenge. The Wolverines were within 3 points of ending Penn State's 80 plus match win streak this past weekend, and are the only school to take the Nittany Lions to 5 sets this year. They say though, that when these two teams meet none of that matters, so the only thing I'm sure of is that both sides will leave everything on the floor.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things a Mascot Should Never Do

Mascots exist to help rile up a crowd, pose for pictures with little kids and, during games, lightly piss off the other team's players. Minnesota's Goldy Gopher, it seems, took that a step too far.

In the clip, Goldy is mimicking a Penn State player while holding his nose. No one really has a problem with that. Then the Penn State player takes a knee and begins a pre-game prayer. Goldy mimics him throughout the prayer and gets up to again hold his nose at the player. Not cool.

There are just some things that are off limits for mascots to poke fun at. Generally, racial stereotypes are the biggest no-no. Disability is high up there too and I think religion has to be as well.

Unfortunately, MSU is sitting in a bit of a glass house on this one as I'm sure many universities with mascots are. Back in 2003, Sparty did a "blind ref" sketch video for a mascot competition that the Council for Students with Disabilities found out about (because he happened to stumble into a CSD event at the Union while wearing a ref jersey and using a cane). Full disclosure, while at school I was a member of CSD and, while I wasn't there for this incident, fully supported their condemnation.

On balance, however, the Sparty program is one of the university's biggest successes. Multiple national championships and even a video game cover have been awarded to the most recognizable college mascot in the world. Negative incidents are, thankfully, rare.

However, when they do happen the folks in charge of the Sparty program promptly apologize and change their behavior. The folks running the Goldy Gopher program at Minnesota would be wise to do the same.

Update: The University of Minnesota has issued an apology, which is reprinted in full here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sorry Folks, No College GameDay for Iowa Game

After beating Northwestern, some Spartan fans took to the blogosphere wondering if MSU might have a shot at landing its fifth College GameDay broadcast.

As Lee Corso might say, not so fast my friends.

GameDay will originate live from the "Battle of the Believers" in Provo, Utah, where #10 Texas Christian takes on #16 Brigham Young. I call it that not just because it's going to be the highest-ranking clash between two faith-based schools this year, but because the winner of this game will still have faith it can crash the BCS.

Michigan State has hosted the football version of GameDay four times, in 1997 and 1999 against Michigan, in 2004 against Notre Dame and in 2005 against Penn State. MSU is 1-3 in those games, the only win coming in 1999 against Michigan.

MSU's last shot at hosting GameDay this year will be the November 21 tilt against Penn State which, if both teams win out from here, will be played for a Big Ten title and an almost guaranteed shot at a Rose Bowl bid.

Here's hoping.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gameday Forecast: Northwestern @ Michigan State

Spartan football in October ought to be contested on a clear, crisp autumn day. It just feels right with that nip in the air, the hot chocolate vendors flogging their drinks in souvenir mugs and folks starting to bundle up in their green coats, scarves and earmuffs.

So it will be today, as an overnight low of 34 degrees warms to just 47 in the afternoon under partly sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids. Winds will be consistent but not strong, between seven and 13 miles per hour.

It's a beautiful day for football!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Breslin Hits Capacity for Midnight Madness

Midnight Madness has officially attracted a capacity crowd for the first time in MSU history!

The Detroit News reported that a crowd of 14,759 jammed the Breslin Center, which they said was full by 10:30 p.m. The LSJ said the lower bowl was filled minutes after the doors opened at 9:30 p.m. Way to support your team Spartan fans!

Any Chance of a Capacity Crowd Tonight?

Tom Izzo wants a capacity crowd for Midnight Madness and he's got a good argument for getting it this year. The men's basketball team is ranked by almost everyone in the top two or three heading into the 2009/10 year, while the women are a consensus preseason top ten.

Tonight is your the first chance to see a bulked-up Tom Herzog and a slimmed-down Derrick Nix in action. It's also your chance to see what crazy costume Izzo will don this year (my favorite remains his Leonidas from 300 getup a few years back).

But despite capacity crowds being a near certainty at most big-time basketball schools tonight (Kentucky and Kansas, for example), MSU has never had a sellout for midnight madness. Its a streak that shouldn't exist, given the rich basketball tradition at Michigan State.

This year, there's even more to do. In addition to Izzo's usual theatrics, the 2009 Final Four banner will be raised to the rafters before the event begins. If you're planning to get to East Lansing earlier, women's swimming takes on Illinois at 5 p.m., the homecoming parade begins at 6 and women's volleyball takes on the always dangerous Ohio State at 6:30.

For Midnight Madness, doors open at 9:30 p.m. to an autograph and picture session in the Breslin Center concourse. The program begins at 10:30 p.m. and the men's team takes the floor around midnight.

If you're in or around East Lansing tonight, be sure to be there. You'd make Tom Izzo very happy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Could the Big Ten Leave Detroit?

Earlier this week it looked like a done deal that Detroit's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl) would continue to be affiliated with the Big Ten Conference, albeit as the eighth choice rather than the seventh.

However, the Big Ten's official bowl announcement for 2010-13 came and went with no mention of a Detroit game. At that point, the guess was that it just wasn't officially signed but would be worked out quickly.

Perhaps it's not that simple. The latest word out of Detroit, according to the Associated Press, is that a decision could come sometime next week. However, lost in the story is a little nugget of information that the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is in talks with the Big East to step in and face a top team from the Mid-American Conference should a deal not work out with the Big Ten.

Detroit is the capital city of the Mid-American Conference, as evidenced by the conference's championship game being played at Ford Field and the sheer number of MAC schools located within 3-4 hours of Detroit. However, it's also a huge city for the Big Ten (arguably the second most prominent city in the conference, behind Chicago). Every team but Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State is within a six hour drive.

Perhaps a bigger blow to the bowl's leaders like MSU Trustee and former coach George Perles and former Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, losing the Big Ten affiliation would likely kill the founding dream of the bowl game, that being a contest featuring Michigan or Michigan State.

What a turnaround from a few years ago when folks in Detroit seriously talked about moving up to fourth in the Big Ten pecking order when the Alamo Bowl contract expired en route to possibly crashing the BCS someday. Now, they're in danger of losing a regional tie-in, replacing schools within driving distance with those a flight away. That would likely mean fewer fans and less revenue for a bowl game already not in a traditionally "desirable" destination.

As Perles said, we should know by next week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some Buckeye Love for Sparty

ORANJESTAD, Aruba - My recent trip to the Caribbean has convinced me that MSU and Ohio State, no matter what ever happens in the future of both football programs, will never be serious rivals. We both hate Michigan too much.

Those of you who know me know that about half of my wardrobe is made up of green or white Michigan State shirts. If you just consider t-shirts and other "warm weather attire" that number jumps to about 2/3 or 3/4. Ergo, it should be no surprise that I was walking around Aruba last Tuesday wearing a Spartan Final Four souvenir shirt.

That green shirt may as well have been a scarlet sweater vest because of the way it attracted Ohio State fans. "Hey Sparty!" one yelled out as I left a duty free store in Oranjestad, "Nice win!"

The guy was a Buckeye alum who just couldn't get enough of how we stuck Michigan with their first loss. "Well, just take care of them when you play them," I said, thinking that would be the end of it. Boy, was I wrong. That exchange repeated itself twice more in Aruba, again in Curacao the next day and even more in St. Thomas on Saturday.

The thing that struck me wasn't just that the Bucks wanted Michigan to lose. It was that they were positively giddy that MSU had done it. I got the impression that these folks weren't just rooting against Michigan, they were actually rooting FOR Michigan State. I guess it's the old axiom of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," but taken to a whole new level.

The feeling is mutual. I mean, have you ever seriously found yourself rooting against Ohio State in football? They own their rivalry with Michigan, which is a good thing. We rarely compete with the Buckeyes for bowl games, but they routinely help Sparty out by knocking off folks we're competing with for good destinations. Once you get to the bowl games, you're rooting for them to win and make the conference look good. Frankly, the biggest problem with OSU I have is that they don't win more often against big-name competition.

So to all the Buckeye fans on vacation last week, thanks for the thanks, I guess. Just make sure you get it done when you play Michigan and we'll continue to get on just fine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Bowl Lineup Not Good News for Fans

The new bowl lineups for the Big Ten for 2010-2014 have been reported, and the first insta-analysis is that they might be better for the Big Ten teams on the field. However, if the conference was looking for a better fan experience, or for more fans to travel for that matter, then I think they missed the mark.

The upshot of the changes are thus: The Alamo Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl depart, replaced by the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, the Texas Bowl in Houston and a new game in Dallas as a sort-of sub-Cotton Bowl (like the Champs Sports is a sub-Citrus/Capital One Bowl). All other tie-ins would remain.

For those scoring at home, that's eight guaranteed slots for an 11-team conference. But since the bowl system is all about fan experience and subsequent cash flow from said fans to the bowls and participating schools, it's worth taking a look at what we're giving up and what we're getting.

The Alamo Bowl was always an underrated venue, primarily because the experience of attending the game was so amazing. San Antonio rolled out the red carpet to traveling fans and media, all of whom spent considerable amounts of time on the city's famed RiverWalk. Great margaritas, great Mexican food, great weather, great all around. Oh, and it's consistently one of the most-watched bowl games all year.

The Champs Sports Bowl was cool for two reasons. One, it got you to Orlando between Christmas and New Years. Two, because it was tied in with the Capital One Bowl, attending fans got to experience a big bowl atmosphere with a smaller-tiered game.

Of the new ones, the Gator Bowl is the only one I'm really excited for. It'll be a New Year's game in Florida, which is nice, but there's a significant downside - it's in Jacksonville. All in all, that's a nice enough town, but is it really a major tourist destination? Not really. Would you ever choose to vacation there over other Florida cities like Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale or Key West? Probably not.

The jury is out on the two Texas bowls for me. The destinations are good - Houston and Dallas - but I don't know how many fans are going to want to head to Dallas to watch their team play some random C-USA team. For me, I'd rather MSU go to Detroit and play a good MAC team - it's cheaper for everyone involved.

The biggest problem is the elevation of the Insight Bowl from 6th in the pecking order to 4th or 5th. That's a terrible idea. Some Big Ten schools might be big in Phoenix/Tempe - Ohio State for example - but not many are, and Michigan State surely isn't. Remember two years ago when MSU almost went to that bowl game (but we were saved by the Champs Sports and the Insight's daft idea to take Indiana over anyone else)? The entire Spartan fan base basically said they'd go to Orlando or Detroit, but not Phoenix. That should tell you something.

Now, if these new bowls can provide the same fan experience as the Alamo or Champs Sports bowls, I'll revisit this posting. For now, however, I'll keep up hope that MSU qualifies top three in the Big Ten, so Spartan fans don't have to be the guinea pigs for the new bowl affiliations.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gameday Forecast: MSU @ Illinois

Early tailgaters today had better bundle up, as temperatures will remain in the 30's until around 9:00 A.M. Central Time.

By game time, fans can expect the temperature at Memorial Stadium to reach 50 degrees, and for it to remain sunny throughout the game. A light wind will still feel pretty crisp with today's high of 57. Anyone remaining in Champaign tonight for the post-game celebration should take note of a Freeze Warning expected for tonight, meaning temperatures are expected to drop into the 20's, the lowest since last winter.

It's a beautiful day for football!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Destination: Urbana-Champaign

If you are heading down to the University of Illinois this weekend, we wanted to give you some tips on places to go from an actual Fighting Illini. Luckily, this is where living in Chicago comes in handy. Here were some suggestions:

Campus Bar: Murphy's

Murphy's Pub is a typical Irish bar located on Green Street (Think Grand River.) While it's "pretty popular for your middle of the road good time," you may encounter some youngsters, as many bars here allow 18 and 19 year olds inside. You'll find food, darts and pool here, and the vibe seems similar to The Riv.

Sit down meal near campus: Papa Del's

If you're looking for more of a sit down dinner, walk one block north of Green Street to Papa Del's for some pizza. I'm told to start with the cheesy garlic bread, and then move on to the stuffed Chicago style pizza.

Sit down meal away from campus: Radio Maria

Located in downtown Champaign, Radio Maria's menu is described as a "more eclectic" choice. Here you can get Spanish influenced dishes, and they also have a tapas bar.

Be sure to see: The Campus Quad

You haven't seen campus until you walk around the Quad. Start near this statue, wander south through the Union, and keep going until you reach the Undergraduate Library (hint: a lot of it is underground!) From there, it's just a short jaunt south west to Memorial Stadium.

If you lose a bet: The Illini Inn

If you make some wagers and happen to lose, the Illini Inn is a good place to end up. Described as a "Total dive" bar, you can win back some respect by attempting to join "The Mug Club." You don't wanna know too much, just be prepared to chug a beer. And you may get a card to go in the wallet for your trouble...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Elation, Anguish in Paradise

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The difficulty with flying from Baltimore to San Juan is that the best flight option leaves at 8:15 a.m. It's a four-hour flight and wouldn't you know we found out on arrival that Puerto Rico isn't exactly Big Ten Network country. Ergo, my wife and I saw precisely none of the Michigan-Michigan State football game.

Thank goodness for internet-capable cell phones, and for a certain couple we met Saturday afternoon on the streets of Old San Juan.

She was dressed as a typical tourist, a sun dress with a hat and sunglasses far too big for her face. He was indistinguishable from every other cargo short-and-cap American but for a big blue shirt with maize letters spelling "MICHIGAN" stitched on. So I did the only thing I could do.

"Hey, do you happen to know who won the game today?"

His wife smiled broadly, he winced in pain and started the story. "Well, you see, Michigan tied it up in the 4th quarter..."

"... and MSU won 26-20," his wife interrupted.

At that, my wife went ecstatic. I'm trying to play it cool with a composed look, she's almost jumping out of her teva sandals. So Michigan fan recants the loss, blow by blow, and we reminice about painful losses on both sides to try and make him feel a bit better about having just delivered wonderful news to a pair of now-deliriously happy Spartans.

His wife explained that she's a Spartan too, as is their only child. He, despite going to Western, is a life-long Wolverine fan. I almost felt bad for the guy, surrounded by Spartans and wounded by a final score that would haunt him for the next 365 days. I'm fairly sure that the rum Puerto Rico is so famous for will help him soothe the pain.

I went for some of that rum too. A toast to victory was in order.

Spartan Marching Band on Spartan Radio

Yesterday morning, before MSU's big win over Michigan, John Madden and the Spartan Marching Band joined the Spartan Sports Network pregame broadcast with a quick concert in the North Parking Lot of Spartan Stadium. It was added to YouTube, and is worth a full watch. In addition to the great performance, you can see many of the other guests that were featured on yesterday's broadcast, including Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo, President Lou Anna Simon, and Athletic Director Mark Hollis. Watch to the end for a special treat... Derek will tell you that this is just another reason that the North Stadium Lot is the best place to tailgate...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gameday Forecast: Michigan @ Michigan State

The temperature today should not even reach 50 degrees by kickoff, and it is already a wet one in East Lansing as rain has been coming down since well before tailgating began.

Today's high of 53 degrees at Spartan Stadium isn't much better, and fans in East Lansing should expect steady showers to continue throughout the game. Stronger than normal winds at 10-20 MPH should make today's game even more interesting.

It's a beautiful day for football!

Gameday: Memories of Michigan

Well, now that it's gameday against Michigan, the memories of past games are at their strongest.

Al from Waterloo, IA wrote in with two memories:

1984. I was new to the area working in Ann Arbor (O' joy!) for a nameless business at the time. the Spartans where coming into the game as underdogs @ 1-3 (Record sound familiar) I had stated firmly and directly on that Monday, that the Spartans were going to win. Period. Straight up, no points.

In what started out as a friendly wager, became almost violent with Michigan fans coming to my office from everywhere to see if it was true. That someone would actually take the Spartans.
Man did they love me. It was like they never found anyone in all their years of living in Ann Arbor, willing say such a thing, let alone bet on it.

Well, as we all know, Sparty won that game fair and square. Kicking the Blue Boys right in the teeth, 19 - 7. The next Monday, I never saw so many dead pan faces in my life!

1995. Why so many people skip over this game is beyond me.
It had everything. Spartan Stadium under lights (I love night games the best anyway!). Cold. (Real football weather.) We even had snow.

Before 2001 "this" was "the drive" game. Banks, Carter, Mason, Green. All of them making plays when needed. And having the game end on a great defensive stand to finish it, 28 - 25.
Two talent laden teams on the field. With most going on to NFL careers.

For whatever reason, Tony Banks and company have always been one of my all time favorite era's of Spartan football.


For what it's worth, MSU was 1-3 (like Al reminded us) before that 1984 game, and was 4-3-1 before that 1995 game. We ended '84 in the Cherry Bowl, and '95 in the Independence Bowl. I also have fond memories of that 1995 game, sitting under the lights in the upper deck watching the snow come down as MSU drove for the victory. Thanks for the memories Al!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Final Four Friday: Biggest Football Rivalry

It's Michigan week, universally regarded as the biggest weekend for Spartan football each and every year. Or is it?

Michigan State plays a total of four trophy games in football, so using those as a jumping off point, here is the final four of MSU football rivalries:


Everyone loves a winner, right? Well, the Old Brass Spittoon is the only trophy game MSU has won more times than it has lost. In fact, MSU holds a 40-12-1 series edge over the Hoosiers, including wins in the last two. The three biggest things holding back this game? 1) Indiana is usually terrible. 2) Indiana, while close to East Lansing, is arguably 11th on the list of Big Ten must-visit venues, and a good away experience is critical for developing rivalries. 3) The game almost never matters in the context of big-time bowl games.


But for a few exceptions, Michigan has owned this series, both historically and recently. Sure, we had a good run under Nick Saban, and Bobby Williams won in 2001 (thanks in large part to Jeff Smoker, T.J. Duckett and - if Michigan fans are to be believed - Spartan Bob). Since then, however, we've only won one - last year's contest in Ann Arbor.

That said, Spartan fans don't get up for any game like they do for Michigan. It's a singular story line that dominates entire seasons. Last year, despite the run to the Capital One Bowl, was all about whether MSU would get back at Michigan after Mike Hart's "Little Brother" comments. Bobby Williams got fired following a blowout loss. It's the only game on the schedule that carries that kind of weight.

Notre Dame

This one comes close, however. And, it has the added benefit of actually being an annually competitive series.

Notre Dame has always been a big game, but it seems like the rivalry has managed to grow in recent years. The planting of the Spartan flag at Notre Dame Stadium, Charlie Weis' "guarantee", the phantom punch that Weis whined about, all of it. And that's just the last few years. Add in the Game of the Century and you've got a great rivalry tradition that's as good now as it ever was.

Penn State

The Land Grant Trophy is the largest of all of MSU's contested trophies, a metaphorical sign of how big the two schools hope the rivalry becomes. There was some talk last year that this end-of-season game might supplant Michigan-Ohio State as the premier closing game, however MSU has never really held up its end of the bargain by being good enough on a consistent basis.

As is, this is a rivalry most marked by how polite it is. I mean, Penn State fans gave M. Peter McPherson a standing ovation at Beaver Stadium when he retired as MSU's president. Penn State doesn't hate MSU, if anything they barely care. Sure, there's that whole "who was the first land grant university" thing, but it's hard to get really energized about a timing question from 1855.

And the winner is... Michigan.

Notre Dame is a huge rivalry, but nothing comes close to Michigan. Nothing.