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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards

Quite some time ago I mentioned that I'd be handing out the First Annual Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards. Unfortunately, life kind of got in the way and I have both neglected this blog and NOT given out the awards. Knowing how much it means to the Big Ten, I am back to hand out these much coveted "virtual trophies."

Most valuable player--Shonn Greene, Iowa

Best Running Back--Shonn Greene, Iowa (Javon Ringer, Evan Royster, and Chris "Beanie" Wells close behind)

Best Quarterback--Daryll Clark, Penn State

Best Wide Receiver--Arrelious Benn, Illinois (not a real standout year for receivers)

Best Kicker--Brett Swenson, Michigan State

Best Defensive Player (sorry, I don't feel like breaking this down by position)--James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

Coach of the Year--Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (sure, call me a homer, but I give Dantonio the nod slightly over Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern. Getting MSU to a 6-2, third place finish in the Big Ten in just his second year, and changing the culture and attitude of the program in the meantime, is enough for me to give this award to Dantonio).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lions make a date with immortality

I've resisted writing about the Detroit Lions for most of this year because there seemed to be very little point. With the success of Michigan State's football team this season, my sporting world this fall was occupied solely by the Spartans. Thankfully, the Lions' disastrous season has been, for me, merely a sideshow. However, now with the very real possibility of the NFL's first ever 0-16 season only one loss away, how could I possibly resist discussing this most pathetic of pro sports franchises.

What's particularly stupendous about the Detroit Lions' ineptitude is that the National Football League does everything in its power to make sure there is parity in the league. But even with profit-sharing, easy schedules for weak teams, and all the other various checks-and-balances put in in place by the NFL to guarantee competitiveness, the Lions have managed to set a new standard in awfulness.

This terrible season is simply the culmination of the disastrous Matt Millen era. The house of cards that Millen spent eight years constructing is finally completely collapsing in the worst way imaginable.

I was going to write about the Detroit News' Rob Parker making the comment about Rod Marinelli's daughter not marrying a smart defensive coordinator (if you're a football fan, you know what I'm referring to--if not, just google "Rob Parker Rod Marinelli"and you'll find out all you need to know), but now that sports talk radio and everyone else has beaten that story to death, there doesn't seem much point in my lame-o Brainsplotch blog beating that dead horse. All I really have to say regarding Rob Parker's comment is that seems to be his modus operandi: say or write something inappropriate or untrue about someone and then spend the next day trying to cover your butt. He did the same thing with the Kirk Cousins fiasco in October, and now with his out-of-line comment about Marinelli's daughter and son-in-law.

Look, I'm not trying to say that Rod Marinelli deserves a group hug or anything. The guy is coaching quite possibly the worst NFL team in history. He should get grilled and deserves to be asked tough questions since it's part of the job when one is a coach at the professional level. I just think that journalists should leave personal attacks out of the equation. Even if Rob Parker meant it as a "joke," it certainly didn't come across as one.

Okay, I have spent way too much time writing about something that, a week from now, nobody will even be talking about or even remember, for that matter.

Count me as one those Lions fans who hopes the Lions lose this Sunday and set the all-time NFL record for futility. The way I see it, the only way anything is likely to change for the better with the Lions is if the organization is humiliated at a national level. William Clay Ford needs to ask himself: Is this the legacy I want to leave behind? He needs to seek help from people who know how to win, people with a proven track record (i.e., front office personnel from the New England Patriots, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and a few others). Unfortunately, based on Mr. Ford's own track record, it's hard to believe that this will ever happen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

You're Gonna Miss Me--Roky Erickson

Friday night, when I woke up at about 1 AM and couldn't get back to sleep, I did what I usually do when I suffer from insomnia and turned on the tube. As fate would have it, the Sundance Channel was just about to air "You're Gonna Miss Me," a documentary on legendary '60s acid casualty Roky Erickson.
In case anyone out there doesn't know, Roky Erickson was singer for the '60s psychedelic rock band The 13th Floor Elevators and also did some great stuff in the seventies, despite being institutionalized for three years from about 1969 to 1972. (My chronology might be off, but I don't feel like checking my facts right now).
The only Roky Erickson I currently have in my music collection is the 13th Floor Elevators' first album, "Psychedelic Sounds of..." It's the CD issue released by Varese Sarabande and, not only is the title misspelled, but the sound quality is abysmal. From what I've read, the original master tapes have been lost or are simply unavailable, so we're stuck with crappy recordings like this.
I once had a great compilation on cassette of Roky Erickson's seventies output with his band, the Aliens (along with some solo stuff). It was called, appropriately, "You're Gonna Miss Me: The Best of Roky Erickson" and I picked it up as a cut-out in the bargain bin of Meijer. (For those readers unfamiliar with the Great Lakes area, Meijer is a large regional supermarket chain). I was extremely proud of that purchase, but unfortunately it was lost in what I now refer to as "The Great Cassette Purge of 2002."

The best way for me to describe Roky's seventies music is this: it sounds a bit like Creedence after a really, really, really bad acid trip. Picture John Fogerty singing about "two-headed dogs" and "creatures with atom brains" and you kind of get the general idea.
I won't go into excessive detail about the documentary--just google the title and you'll find all you need to know. If anyone out there is a fan of Roky Erickson, psychedelic '60s music, or really enjoyed the documentary "Crumb," I'd highly recommend this documentary. At the crux of the film is the "custody battle" for Roky between his youngest brother, Sumner, and his mother Evelyn. But the film is so much more than that, it's a fascinating and at times disturbing view of the life of a mentally disturbed but gentle and still creative man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Facebook obsession

I've got it bad for Facebook, and I don't know if there is a cure.

Around the same time I started this blog, I opened up a Facebook account. My rationale was innocent enough: I found an old college acquaintance of mine who was on Facebook and the only way for me to get back in touch with him was through Facebook.

After a few days, though, I saw all the little things you can do on Facebook--become a fan of so-and-so, upload pictures, continually revise and update your profile (as if anyone really reads that anyway) and, of course, search and search and search for people.

Now it seems I'm on Facebook first thing every morning, and first thing when I get home from work. I've become obsessed with checking my in-box, checking other peoples' updates, checking to see if anyone has commented on my status, etc. It is the worst time-suck ever invented--although, in its defense, I have re-connected with people I have not spoken to or seen in over 15 years.

So, tell me, is there a cure to Facebook obsession?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Read this book: War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and America in a Time of Unrest by Michael Rosenberg

I'm definitely not a fan of the University of Michigan, nor am I a fan of Ohio State University. As a college football fan, though, I can't help but grudgingly respect the success the two schools have had for so many years. The architects of this football success, at least in the last half of the twentieth century, were Woody Hayes at Ohio State and Bo Schembechler at Michigan.

As a died-in-the-wool Spartan, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I picked up this book (and for any Spartan fans out there who think I've completely lost my mind, I assure you that I checked the book out of the library and did not purchase it--so no Green-and-White money was exchanged for a Maize-and-Blue/Scarlet-and-Grey book). I had heard enough good buzz about the book from reliable sources, and had listened to an interview with Michael Rosenberg on the "Huge" radio show out of Grand Rapids. This, of course, meant that I had to suffer through Bill "Huge" Simonson, but Rosenberg was quite interesting.

Without further adieu, Was As They Knew It is one of the best sports-related books I have read in years. It's compulsively readable, and extremely well-written. To prove my point, I actually stayed up until 4:00 AM Friday and 1:30 AM Saturday because I didn't want to put it down. The book is much more than simply the story of the Bo/Woody rivalry, it's really a social history of the American Midwest from the late sixties through the late seventies. Of particular interest is the portrait of the radical leftist Ann Arbor of the late sixties, and how football at U of M had become an afterthought. There were far more important events occurring in the world, namely the Vietnam War. Some Michigan football players actually didn't wear their letter jackets on campus for fear of the mockery they'd receive from fellow students. Michigan Stadium was lucky to get over 60,000 people for home games. The situation was so dire that athletic director Don Canham heavily advertised the '69 Michigan/Ohio State game in the state of Ohio, resulting in most of the spectators wearing Scarlet and Grey (and witnessing the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes in what was then dubbed as the "Upset of the Century").

Rosenberg does a great job fleshing out the complex personality of Woody Hayes. I have not changed my mind that the guy was a sore loser and a bit of a nutcase. Rosenberg argues that Woody's diabetic condition, which often resulted in a blood/sugar imbalance, may have been the cause of his most famous tirades, but I'm not completely sold. Still, despite his potty-mouth language (a character flaw of which Hayes was aware and not proud), his crazy temper tantrums, and right-wing political bent, the man was an outstanding football coach. I was not aware that he was quite a student of history, and a voracious reader of history books. In fact, his office at OSU was lined with historical tomes. Hayes was also a great admirer of Emerson, and lived an incredibly frugal life. He continually turned down salary raises and left many uncashed checks from various speaking engagements. This side of Woody Hayes was completely unknown to me, and I certainly respect his more admirable qualities. (One of the clever things Rosenberg does in the book is sprinkle various Emerson quotes throughout. Each quote highlighting or reinforcing some aspect of Woody's character or personality).

Throughout the portrayal of Woody Hayes, I detected an underlying current, not explicitly stated, of class consciousness in Woody's immense dislike of the University of Michigan. Woody's roots were in rural Ohio, and he ruled the roost at the school I sometimes refer to as "the cow college with pretensions"--Ohio State. OSU (although it did have some student unrest in 1970) reflected Woody's conservatism and football fanaticism. It's obvious that Hayes couldn't stand Michigan's liberal attitudes and was probably irked by what he viewed as U of M's elitism.

As far as Bo goes, his personality was not nearly as complex or volatile as Woody's. He was one of those men who lived and breathed football. When Bo was coach at Michigan, I personally couldn't stand the guy. I'll always picture him on the sideline with that damned blue "M" cap perched on his lantern-jawed noggin, wearing those dark aviator sunglasses. I'm sure most of my hatred was due to the fact that he beat MSU almost every damned year. My favorite memory of Bo is watching him blow his stack several times during Michigan's 17-11 loss to MSU in 1987. As the years have gone by, however, I've grown to respect the man's integrity and outstanding coaching ability (and I'm sure Michigan fans will long for the Bo era much more if they continue to suffer under Rich Rodriguez).

As I stated earlier, the book is much more than a sports book. Rosenberg does a brilliant job of placing Bo, Woody, Don Canham, and football in the context of the times. There's lots about such disparate characters as Bill Ayers (had no idea that the future Weather Underground radical had tried out for the Michigan football team), John Sinclair, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and many others.
One area I'd wished Rosenberg had explored a little further (but understand that it was not really the thrust of the book) was how it felt to be on the "Little Eight" side of the "Big Two, Little Eight" 1970s Big Ten paradigm. How did these football programs deal with the fact that, year-in and year-out, they essentially had no chance at winning the Big Ten title? How did they view Bo and Woody? Did it make them angry? Jealous? Let's face it, for anyone who is/was a fan of any Big Ten school besides Michigan or Ohio State, the period from 1969-1978 was one of the most Godawful boring ever.

As a Spartan fan, I wish that Rosenberg had given some props to Darryl Rogers for, first of all, becoming the only Big Ten coach not named Bo or Woody to win a share of the Big Ten title between '69 and '78 and for, secondly, introducing the passing game to the Big Ten. In 1978, the year the Spartans shared the Big Ten crown with That School in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had no idea how to stop MSU's passing attack in State's 24-15 win. I have no doubt that, had the Spartans played the Buckeyes that year, MSU would have shredded OSU's secondary even worse than it did Michigan's...but I digress.

Anyway, quibbling aside, I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of Big Ten football and/or 1960s/1970s social history. If you lived in Michigan or Ohio in the late during this time period, and have any interest in college football, you'll find the book a wonderfully enjoyable and informative read.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The real Thanksgiving turkeys are wearing Honolulu blue and silver

I've heard rumblings that the NFL should no longer allow the Detroit Lions to have a monopoly on the Thanksgiving day football game and should rotate it amongst all the league's teams. As much as I realize how much of a drag it must be for the rest of the country to suffer through the Lions every Turkey Day, as a born and bred Michiganian, I'd really miss this tradition. From a purely objective standpoint, it makes perfect sense to rotate the game, but my heart says "No! Leave the poor Lions alone!"

Some of my most permanent Thanksgiving memories have to do with the Lions. There was the 1980 game against Chicago when the Bears' David Wiliams ran back the kickoff in overtime to beat the "Lie-downs." I can vividly remember sitting in front of my grandma's TV, the rest of the family watching with a combination of horror and humor, as the Lions let another one go in typically inimitable Lions fashion. There was the game against the Steelers a few years later in 1983 when The Lions crushed Pittsburgh, 45-3. I believe that was Terry Bradshaw's last season in the NFL. Then, of course, there was the infamous "coin-flip" game of 1998, when the Lions beat the Steelers 19-16.

If nothing else, the Lions give us guys something to talk about on Thanksgiving Day. If you can't find any other common ground, your average Michiganian male can commiserate about the Lions. We can talk about what a terrible owner William Clay Ford is, how the organization is poorly run and how the Lions consistently make horrible draft picks. Back when Barry Sanders was starring for the Lions, we could guess at how many yards he'd rush for, and marvel as the juked and squirmed his way around defenders.

So please NFL, let the Lions continue to play on Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Penn State 49, Michigan State 18

This shot of Glenn Winston getting gang tackled by Penn State's outstanding defense tells you everything you need to know about this game. So much for that 1997 magic I was hoping for!
I intended on writing about this game much sooner after the fact, but am just getting to it now. Saturday night I spent watching Oklahoma's massacre of Texas Tech, Sunday I was busy doing other things, and yesterday I was both coming down with a cold and helping my son finish up a school project. So here I am at home trying to recover from my first bout of the winter cruds.
At this point, I don't have much to add to what has already been said or written about MSU's loss to the Nittany Lions. It's pretty simple that the better team won. Penn State is a team that, if not for losing control of their game against Iowa (a game the Lions dominated), would be undefeated and possibly playing for a national championship. Michigan State has the misfortune, every other year, of having to conclude the season at Beaver Stadium. State College, PA is arguably the most difficult place to play in the Big Ten. MSU, a program that usually doesn't have the personnel to line up against PSU, has to play the Lions every single year and when the game is in Happy Valley, on PSU's senior day, in front of a rabid crowd and consistently terrible weather, you're looking at, for all intents and purposes, a guaranteed loss. MSU has done themselves no favors in making Penn State one of their two protected rivalries.

It was a successful year for Michigan State football. Mark Dantonio and his staff got as much out of this team as could ever be expected. One could make a valid argument that, man for man, this year's Spartan team is not as talented as last year's 7-6 team. Certainly from an offensive standpoint, MSU lost an extra dimension with Devin Thomas' departure to the NFL and were unable to find another runningback to fill the shoes of Jehuu Caulcrick. Perhaps the single biggest disappointment of this season was that none of the backup runningbacks were able to step up and give Javon Ringer some relief.

Here are a few more random observations:

I liked what I saw of Kirk Cousins in the waning moments of the game. Sure, it was "garbage time," but the kid showed good presence on the field and really has some zip on his passes. It should be quite a battle next year for the starting quarterback spot between Cousins and Keith Nichol.

Is Glenn Winston the man to beat for starting running back next year? Anderson, Leggett, and Jimmerson all had shaky seasons and never really stood out. Incoming freshman Edwin Baker is highly touted. Will he and Winston be battling out?

Was it really necessary for Penn State to be going for the homerun ball with a 42-7 lead? I realize you want to give your backups a chance to play and have fun, but throwing a deep ball when the game is already in the bag seemed like rubbing it in. I liked Dantonio's gamesmanship at the end, calling consecutive timeouts near the end of the game. Hopefully, the Spartans will remember the sour taste in their mouths after this game and let it serve as motivation for next year.
Having said that, congratulations to Penn State on winning the Big Ten title and going to the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions are a worthy champion and I hope they clobber whatever team represents the Pac 10.
Congratulations to Javon Ringer, Greg Jones, and Otis Wiley for their selection as first team all-Big Ten. I was also happy to see Brett Swenson make second team all-Big Ten and former walk-on Blair White make honorable mention. Blair White's emergence at receiver was one of the best stories on this MSU football season.

I have had lots of fun following MSU football this fall, and it's been a blast sharing my thoughts about the games in this blog. I'm not a football expert by any means, but I am an enthusiastic fan. I hope that if there are still any people out there checking out this blog, you've have an enjoyable time following this season as well.

I future posts, I may give an overview of the Big Ten football season that was, and perhaps give out the first annual Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pictures from the 1997 Michigan State-Penn State game

I went through my personal archives of newspaper clippings and came across the Lansing State Journal sports section from November 30, 1997. Here are some post game photos from the newspaper. I hope the Lansing State Journal doesn't stumble on this blog and decide to sue me.
I remember that day as being cold, drizzly and very gray (in other words, a typical November day in Michigan). It's great to see these photos and have my memories confirmed.
By the way, Ike Reese is one of my all-time favorite Spartan athletes. What he may have lacked in sheer athletic ability he more than made up for in grit, determination, and character. He parlayed that into a nine-year NFL career. I hear that he is now hosting a sports radio show in Pennsylvania, and will be the Spartans' honorary captain when they take on the Nittany Lions.

My Spartan Memories, Volume 3: November 29, 1997

With Michigan State facing Penn State today for a shot at the Big Ten title, I can't help buy recall the best, and certainly most amazing, game I ever witnessed at Spartan Stadium. The date was November 29, 1997 (the Saturday after Thanksgiving). The beaten and bruised Spartans thrashed the #4 Nittany Lions, 49-14.

One aspect of journal keeping that is wonderful is that I can often go back and see what I wrote about particular events in my life. Here are my observations of the game the day after:

"...I saw the greatest college football game ever played in Spartan Stadium. I realize that sounds like grand hyperbole, but I swear it's true! I have never witnessed, in person, a better game at Spartan Stadium...Michigan State rushed for over 400 yards, with Marc Renaud and Sedrick Irvin gaining over 200 yards each. An absolutely unexpected and awesome display, the likes of which I may never see again...Michigan State took out all the anger and frustration from the season and directed it squarely at Penn State. I've described the game as similar to the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie beats the hell out Scut Farkus, the bully who has terrorized him all school year."

Now for some perspective on the 1997 season. In Nick Saban's third season, the Spartans began the campaign 5-0 and things looked promising. However, after that charmed beginning, everything unraveled. A missed fieldgoal in the waning moments against Northwestern resulted in a 19-17 loss and State fell to 5-1. The Spartans limped back to Spartan Stadium for a showdown against undefeated (and eventual co-national champion) Michigan. It was a game that lost most of its luster after MSU's disappointing loss to Northwestern. The Wolverines won 23-7, in the game that featured Charles Woodson's famous one-handed interception. Then MSU was trounced by Ohio State 37-13. That wasn't the worst of it, though. The next Saturday, the Spartans blew a 21-10 lead with about two minutes and change remaining against Purdue, losing 22-21. That truly terrible game, in which MSU head coach Nick Saban reportedly told his assistant coaches he'd kill himself if Purdue came back to win, deserves its own blog entry. (To make matters even worse, later that day I ventured to Ann Arbor to see a Ray Davies concert at the Michigan Theater. Before the show, I was forced to watch Michigan beat Penn State in a restaurant full of Wolverine fans). Following the Purdue debacle, the Spartans salvaged a win against woeful Illinois.

I recall that Michigan State had a bye week between the Illinois game and the Penn State game. That gave me two weeks to churn over how disappointing the season had been. I had bought the tickets several weeks earlier, when the season had gotten off to such a promising start, but as the game approached I was becoming as disenchanted as I'd ever been about MSU football (at least until the 2002 and 2006 seasons, that is).

On game day, my expectations were extremely low. After all, Penn State entered the game with only one loss, and in the two weeks prior to the MSU game had demolished both Purdue and Wisconsin. Historically, Penn State had been a huge thorn in MSU's backside, anyway. Since the Nittany Lions had joined the Big Ten, they'd beaten the Spartans four consecutive times from 1993 to 1996. Three of those four losses were particularly heartbreaking, with the final score not decided until the last few minutes. (The only one of of those losses that wasn't close was a 59-31 beatdown in '94, when PSU went undefeated). There was absolutely no reason to believe that MSU's luck would change on this slate grey, freezing cold, late November Saturday.

As the game began, I fully expected the Spartans to just lay down. I remember shouting several sarcastic comments throughout the first half (something I rarely do), even though the Spartans got off to a 7-0 lead and took a modest 14-7 lead into halftime. I think I was probably upset that the Spartans missed two field goals in the half that would have made ths score 20-7.

I have no idea what happened to the Spartans in the 20 minutes between the first and second halves, what Saban told them or what magic pills they ingested, but the second half of that game was truly amazing. Irvin and Renaud ran all over the Lions, and MSU outscored Penn State 35-7 to win 49-14. (The Spartans actually scored the last 35 points of the game). I literally had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't all a dream. I left Spartan Stadium on a high that I never expected 3 1/2 hours earlier. (The only real downer was that I had to go to work that night from 6 to 10 PM. Those were the days when I was a bookstore assistant manager and had terrible hours. I was in no mood to work that night and would have much preferred celebrating the football win). This game still ranks as the Spartan football game I ever saw in person.

I don't know if this year's Spartans will be able to duplicate the magic of that 1997 game. Having to play in State College instead of East Lansing will be a difficult obstacle to overcome. However, I do trust Dantonio to have the guys ready, and stranger things have happened, just ask Sedrick Irvin, Marc Renaud, and yours truly.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just go the distance

It's funny to me that the creation of this blog coincided with the start of the football season. When I started writing this thing, I had no idea what form it would take. It was my intention to just let it flow naturally and write about whatever I deemed important or interesting at the time. However, as Michigan State's season unfolded, I became more and more excited about the direction the team was taking and eventually Brainsplotch became, for all intents and purposes, a football fan blog. I even considered renaming it something like "Dispatches from Sparta" or some such goofy Spartan-themed moniker, but have decided to keep it's current name. (I'd hate for all zero of my fans out there to not be able to find this wonderful blog and, once they did find it, have to reset their favorites list--that could get messy). Once the football season is over, I'll write about other things unless, of course, I become obsessed with college basketball.

As I stated in my previous post, it's been one odd and exhilarating year in college football, particularly in Big Ten country. Regardless of what happens in tomorrow's Penn State game, it's been a wonderful year for Michigan State. They have already exceeded any reasonable expectations and will be headed to a nice warm-weather bowl game.

As far as tomorrow's MSU/PSU game goes, I really don't expect the Spartans to win. To use another Rocky analogy, I just want the Spartans to "go the distance." (As fans of that movie will remember, all Rocky Balboa wanted to do was make it all fifteen rounds against the heavily- favored champion Apollo Creed). I'd be satisfied if the Spartans hung with the Nittany Lions and made them sweat until the final gun. I don't mean to say that I don't want MSU to win (of course I do), but let's face it, the cards are really stacked against them in this game. (Okay, that is one of the world's most overused cliches. I apologize for using it). They haven't won in State College since Duffy was coach and Lyndon Johnson was President. But, hey, this has been a year when a slew of long-standing streaks have ended (Michigan's bowl streak and MSU's Ann Arbor losing streak to name a few), so who knows?

I have always believed that Michigan State was a sleeping giant in football. There is absolutely no reason why, with the advantages and facilities MSU has, that the school should not be a consistent power in the Big Ten. I don't expect the Spartans to be winning Big Ten titles every year, but it's not unrealistic to believe that MSU can consistently finish in the upper half of the Big Ten and occasionally take a conference crown. MSU has finally found a coach who looks like he'll fulfill this promise.

Allow me to comment on the Michigan Wolverines football situation. Like many others, I'm astounded at how far Michigan has fallen this year. I know that the Wolverines lost several star players who are now on NFL rosters (Henne, Hart, Long, and Manningham in particular--and it must also be noted that Ryan Mallett transferred), but how is it possible that Michigan is so devoid of talent that they can't even win more than 3 measly games? I googled "Michigan Wolverines 2005 recruiting class ranking" (since those players would be seniors this year) and found that Sports Illustrated ranked Michigan's class #2 in the nation. For those who are interested, here's the link:

Of those signees, two big ones (Mario Manningham and Kevin Grady) are out of the mix. Manningham, of course, is in the NFL and Grady has had both legal and injury problems limiting his playing time. The other players mentioned by SI, I must admit, I've never even heard of--so all you Michigan fans out there tell me how much they're contributing this year.

Oh, by the way, Michigan State's 2005 recruiting class isn't anywhere in the Top 25 (big surprise, eh), but includes big 2008 contributors like Javon Ringer, Otis Wiley, Deon Curry, and Kendall Davis-Clark to name a few. It makes you wonder if these recruiting rankings are based more on perception than reality.

Well, this post has become excessively long (and I probably still haven't touched on everything I wanted to discuss) so I'll wrap it up now. If I'm not too tired tonight, I'll do another installment of "My Spartan Memories," as I know everyone is dying to read more of my blathering about MSU football.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One quick thought

I've been meaning to write an extended entry for some time, but have had the hardest time finding the time. Here's one quick thought: Who would have ever guessed that this year's Ohio State/Michigan game would be the third most important game in the state this week. Michigan State and Penn State are playing for the Big Ten title this Saturday, and tonight Ball State takes on Central Michigan in a game with both MAC title and BCS implications (Ball State is trying to stay undefeated and get a shot at a BCS bowl game, CMU is undefeated in the MAC and, along with Ball State, vying for the MAC title). It's been one odd, but exhilarating, year in college football.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Happy Senior Day (Michigan State 21, Purdue 7)

The Spartans knocked off Purdue today in what was not a pretty game, but as the expression goes: I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty.

Here are some random thoughts about today's game and MSU football in general:

Is Michigan State a great team? No. Are they a good team? Most definitely. Are they a very good team? If the definition of a "very good" team is one that never gives up, always plays hard, makes the big play, and gets the most out of its talent, then the answer is certainly "yes." Depending on how the Penn State game goes, and how the Spartans play in their bowl game, it's still possible that they could be remembered as a great team, but I'm not too concerned about that. I want to just appreciate what this team has already accomplished this year.

Let's put this season into perspective. Two years ago, in John L. Smith's last (brutal) season as coach, the team completely imploded after the awful loss to Notre Dame. With the possible exception of Bobby Williams' awful 2002 season, the 2006 season was about as dark and dismal as it's been for Spartan football, and we're talking about a program that has had LOTS of peaks and valleys. In only two years, Mark Dantonio has taken this program and completely changed the attitude and culture from top to bottom. One can argue all they want that the Big Ten is down, and perhaps they're right, but that still doesn't change the fact that Michigan State has played with a desire, toughness, attitude, mental discipline, and flat-out consistency that we as Spartan fans have not seen since at least Nick Saban's 1999 squad. I'm as encouraged by this development as I have ever been in my 31 years of following this program. I'm amazed that in Dantonio's second year as head coach, we are uttering the words "Spartan football" and "Big Ten title contenders" in the same breath.

I continue to be flabbergasted by the Detroit media's hostility towards MSU's football season. Not every Detroit sports journalist has been nasty, but some (like the Free Press' perpetually negative Drew Sharp) continue to pooh-pooh MSU football every single week. I know that I shouldn't care what these people write, but it's still extremely annoying. I don't expect the media to be cheerleaders for any program, but a little positive spin once in a while wouldn't be asking too much.

Having just ripped on the Detroit media, I'd like to thank the Free Press' Michael Rosenberg for his classy article about the Spartans. For anyone interested, here's the link:
Back to the game: Purdue's offense looked AWFUL! Maybe that was just as a result of Pat Narduzzi having a great game plan against the spread (and MSU's defense playing really well--too bad they couldn't hang on to the shutout) but I couldn't believe this was the same Boilermaker team that tagged Michigan for 48 points and over 500 yards total offense. It further proves how wacky college football, and the Big Ten in particular, can be and how each game needs to be judged independently.

Johnny Adams' interception for a touchdown late in the second half was a HUGE play. One of the defining characteristics of this team is their uncanny ability to make big plays when they need them the most.
The bye week is coming at a great time for Michigan State. They sorely need it (pun intended). They're banged up and need rest before the Penn State game. Win or lose in Happy Valley, it's been a great season for Spartan football. Let's not forget how much they've exceeded our expectations.
College football is still the greatest sport in the world. Today saw Iowa upset Penn State on a last second field goal, and Alabama beat LSU in overtime in a thriller in Baton Rouge. I had the good fortune of listening to the LSU radio broadcast on my car radio as the Tigers blocked 'Bama's game-winning field goal try in regulation. Those guys were going completely bonkers--unfortunate for them that LSU couldn't win it in OT.
I'm keeping tabs on the Cal/USC game. I'd love it if Cal beat the Trojans (however as I write this, USC has a 10-3 lead deep into the second quarter).
That's all for now, I'm going to go back to watching "iCarly Goes to Japan" with my son!

Postscript: Texas Tech looks like the best team in college football. That offense is absolutely amazing and if I could vote for the Heisman, I'd go with their quarterback Graham Harrell. (Having just written that, watch them lose next week! That's what happens when I make statements like that).

President-elect Barack Obama (that sure has a nice ring to it!)

Election night I drifted in and out of sleep plopped in front of the TV, but snapped immediately awake when i heard someone on NBC's coverage, at 11:00 PM, declare Obama the winner. It was one of the few moments in my life when I truly felt like I was witnessing history I was definitely teary-eyed when, at midnight, Obama delivered his acceptance speech in front of that amazing sea of people in Chicago. I'm not afraid to admit I was misty--the election of our first African-American President is a monumental achievement for this country. Obama also brings the promise of a new direction for the United States.

I'm not naive enough to believe that one man alone can correct all that ills the country. This is an incredibly difficult time for anyone to become President. One thing is certain however--as of right now, world opinion of the U.S. just went up exponentially upon Obama's election. That's definitely a step in the right direction.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Maybe outplayed, but definitely not out-toughed: Michigan State 25, Wisconsin 24

I just returned from Spartan Stadium. I don't have much time to write, but I will be adding to this later. The first three hours of the game were "ho hum," but the last half- hour or so was the best half-hour (certainly the most surreal half-hour) I've ever spent at an MSU football game. Wow!

I'm finally returning to this post, and all I have to say is that there is truly something special going on with this Michigan State football team. They may not be the most talented team in the Big Ten, but they are certainly the guttiest and most determined.
As I wrote earlier, I was actually at Spartan Stadium for this game. Through most of it I was thinking that, as usual, I had selected the wrong game to attend. Wisconsin's beefy offensive line was blowing our defense off the line of scrimmage, and the Badger's outstanding tandem of tailbacks, P.J. Hill and John Clay, were running all over the field. Little did I know that the Badgers' (and their head coach's) lack of discipline, coupled with the Spartans' resiliency, would lead to the most dramatic finish I've ever witnessed at Spartan Stadium.
Here's an interesting side note to the game:
Our seats were in the west upper deck. Seated directly behind us were, as my wife referred to them, the "Brady Bunch": a mom and dad and their two sons (one who was probably 15 and the other about 11) who were clearly witnessing their first MSU football game. They were four of the most relentlessly cheery, guileless people I'd ever encountered (particularly the mom and dad). As it turns out, their eldest child, a daughter, is a freshman at State and they had come to East Lansing for the weekend to pay her a visit (and attend a football game). It was so funny to hear these MSU football "virgins" react to what was going on during the game. When the Spartan Marching Band took the field for their pre-game show, the mom and dad were beside themselves with joy and amazement, "Oh wow!!! Look at that! They're so precise! How do they do that? They must have to try out for this band!" I wish I'd written down everything they said during the game, because their comments were priceless. The mom made the cardinal sin of calling Michigan State "Michigan," the youngest son wanted to know why the smokestack next to the Stadium had the letters "M.S.C." (someone behind them explained the history of the school). Anyway, I'd like to think that this naive foursome brought some magic with them into the stadium!

The week in MSU football, rebuilding the Blue Wall, plus: Coming up, Wisconsin

I've meant to write in this blog earlier this week, but am just now getting around to it.

What a strange week it was for MSU football. Immediately following the Spartans win over Michigan, the "Blue Wall" was being reconstructed. Ancient Detroit sportswriter Jerry Green rose from his crypt and treated us to this column:

(The following URL is no longer valid. If you want to read this column--I don't know why you would, but if you do--find the Detroit News microform in a library).

Then, fellow Detroit News scribe Rob Parker stated on Detroit TV that MSU backup quarterback Kirk Cousins was involved in a fight involving Spartan football and hockey players. His information was bogus, and he apologized in the middle of the week for getting the story completely wrong. (I will give Mr. Parker credit for at least apologizing for his mistake).

On Monday, I made the egregious error of listening to Grand Rapids sports talk show host Huge (aka Bill Simonson) while he went on a diatribe about how MSU still "hasn't beaten anybody" and ripped MSU and its fans for getting overly excited about beating a bad Michigan team. Ugh! I really wanted to get on here and write after listening to that nonsense. Let's just say that Huge showed us his true (maize and blue) colors.

On the subject of the Michigan game, I must admit that I did not actually start watching the game live until the Spartans went for it on 4th down late in the 4th quarter--and even then I thought I'd have a heart attack if State didn't convert. I'm sorry, fellow Spartan fans, I was a WIMP. I did, however, watch the replay in its entirety on ESPN 360, and I gotta tell you it's probably for the better that I didn't watch the game live because I definitely would have had a heart attack. Pylon Pete's phantom touchdown call, combined with Hoyer's questionable fumble (resulting in another Weasel TD) and MSU's unfathomable placekicking woes would have certainly put me over the edge. I'm glad we at least had the highlight reel of Blair White and Javon Ringer to fall back on.

By the way, I view the Spartans win over Michigan more as relief than triumph.

Today, the Spartans are taking on Wisconsin and I will be at the game. Folks, I have not witnessed a Spartan win in person since 2002, so I sure hope my luck changes NOW. The Badgers should give State all they can handle, but I'm hopeful for a Spartan victory this afternoon--finally putting to rest all that "Same Old Spartan" talk.

I have gone to at least one MSU football game every year for the last 16 seasons, and I'm really looking forward to today's game, not just for the contest on the field, but the whole spectacle and atmosphere of college football. I love the Spartan Marching Band, and hope I'm able to see them march from Adams Field, past "Sparty" and to the stadium. I'm also excited to witness the football team take the field, because I know they'll receive a wildly enthusiastic welcome from our fans.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Michigan State 35, Michigan 21

A pictures tells a 1000 words. Not much for me to add, except that I'm one happy MSU alumnus right now!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Could Michigan really be that AWFUL and other pre-game thoughts

Tomorrow's the big game between MSU and Michigan and I have continually mulled the game over in my head for the last week:

My entire adult life, forty years and change total, the Michigan Wolverines have fielded a generally strong football team, usually contending for a Big Ten title. I can think of only one season in which they were truly mediocre: 1984. That was the year that quarterback Jim Harbaugh broke his arm in the MSU game and was out the rest of the year (see my post, "Spartan Memories Volume 2" below). The Wolvies finished 6-6 that season. Based on Michigan's incredible run of consistent excellence going all the way back to Bump Elliott's last year in '68, it's hard for me to fathom that they are so seemingly AWFUL this year. I continue to be nervous about State's chances in tomorrow's game, but then I remind myself that Michigan lost to a bad MAC team (Toledo) AT HOME! (To put Toledo's mediocrity in perspective, the Rockets have a record of 2-5. The week after defeating the Maize and Blue at the Big House, the Rockets were thrashed at Northern Illinois, 38-7. One might argue that the Rockets, still sky-high after their upset of Michigan, were not focused for the Huskies. Keep in mind, however, that Northern Illinois is only 4-3--a good if not great team). It's absolutely amazing to me that Michigan has only two wins this year: a lackluster 16-6 win over Miami of Ohio (who are 2-5 so far) and a come from behind 2-point win over Wisconsin (which, at the time, looked like a big victory over a top 10 team. Wisconsin, however, is now winless in the Big Ten and has an overall record of 3-4).

If Michigan continues to struggle this season, we may finally see how many self-proclaimed "die-hard Michigan fans" are truly "die-hard." The Michigan football followers have no idea how good they have had it for such an astoundingly long period. No other major college football program has had such long-standing success. USC, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Nebraska--to name a few established football powers--have all had lean periods. Nebraska and Notre Dame continue to struggle. Perhaps Rich Rodriguez will get Michigan up and running by next year, but it's certainly also possible that Michigan could face a rough stretch. With Lloyd Carr's retirement, the "Michigan Men" have all been swept away. It's RichRod's show now, and it'll be interesting to see if he really is the guy to lead Michigan to national championship contention, or if he's just a snake oil salesman.

As far as tomorrow's game goes, I won't even bother to make a prediction. When Michigan State is involved, I can't be expected to go with anything but my heart. All I know is that Mark Dantonio is well aware of this game's importance. I just hope that MSU's players can play a smart, methodical game and not get the "deer caught in headlights" problem we've seen too often in the past with MSU teams. The keys to the game will be, as they usually are, eliminating turnovers, smart special teams play, and getting a decent passing game together to open up holes for Ringer. Hoyer needs to play smart. I hope MSU's defense can get pressure on Threet/Sheridan and get those guy(s) to make bad decisions. I'm a little concerned about Minor and McGuffie. If State's defense can at least contain these guys (if not completely stop them), then they should be okay.

Still, I worry. I worry that State should have caught these guys earlier in the year. I worry that Michigan will have finally worked the kinks out. I worry that our past history against the Wolvies will continue to haunt us. But, gosh darnit, all of that has to come to an end eventually, doesn't it? The losing streak in Ann Arbor can't last forever, and today seems to be the perfect day to put it to an end.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm not nearly as confident of a Spartan victory as a lot of other people. First of all, the game is in Ann Arbor: secondly, I have a feeling MSU is getting a little tired; third, the Spartans never seem to do well when good things are expected of them. For the first time in forty years, they are favored to win this game, and that alone scares me. My fourth and final point is that Michigan knows full well they have no shot against Ohio State this year--a win over Michigan State is much more realistic. The MSU game is their season at this point.

Honestly, I don't even know if I can bring myself to watch the game today. I suffered through the 45-37 overtime loss in 2004, suffered through the 34-31 overtime loss in 2005, didn't even watch the 2006 game because everyone knew what the outcome would be (and the Detroit Tigers were in the playoffs), and then suffered through last year's 28-24 heartbreaker. I may get some yardwork done Saturday afternoon (I have lots of leaves that need to be removed and a lawn that should be mowed before the snow comes). If the Spartans win the game, I'll watch the condensed version next week on the Big Ten Network and actually be able to enjoy it. If they lose, I've saved myself lots of potential heartache and 3 1/2 wasted hours watching the Arrogant Asses celebrate once again at the expense of my Spartans. Call me what you will, but the bottom line is that I love Michigan State too much to watch this game (kind of like how Adrian couldn't bring herself to watch Rocky's fight against Apollo in the first Rocky movie).

Okay, I'm done for now. After all that verbal vomit, I have two words left...Go State!

I never intended this to be an MSU football blog, but... it is for now. I do actually have a life outside of MSU football, and if the Spartans die against Michigan this Saturday (and their season goes south--which, let's face it, very well could happen) I will spend more time writing about other subjects. I tend to become obsessed with things for short periods of time, and then move on to other areas. As for now, I am all about MSU football. As I've written before, it has thus far proven to be excellect escapism.

I watched Brian Matthews interview with McCain and Palin on the NBC Nightly News. They spent most of the interview talking about Bill Ayers. Is that all they have? Hasn't it pretty much been established that America as a whole doesn't give a hoot about Obama's relationship with Ayers. The way McCain and Palin talked about him, you'd think they were running against Ayers and not Obama. I'm so ready for this election to be over!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Spartan Memories, Volume 2: October 6, 1984

On October 6, 1984, Michigan State defeated Michigan 19-7 in Ann Arbor, thus ending a six-game losing streak to the Wolverines. At the time, I was a 16 year-old 11th grader living in Michigan's Thumb amongst hordes of what are, these days, known as "WalMart Wolverines". To say the least, I was ecstatic after MSU's win. (Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the game on TV because I was working that day--in order to make money to attend MSU two years later. In those days, MSU's public televison station WKAR showed replays of Spartan football games late Saturday night, so I'm pretty sure I was at least able to see the game that way).

When I was in eleventh grade, my English teacher required us all to keep a journal for the entire school year. At the time, I considered it a pain and a nuisance, but I thank her now because I have so much fun going back and reading the stuff I wrote back then. I thought it might be fun to share my journal entry for October 6, 1984--the day the Spartans knocked off the Wolverines. Beside the Detroit Tigers winning the World Series that season, MSU beating Michigan pretty much made my year, and I think it definitely shows in this journal entry (where I use some colorful language that I hope my English teacher didn't read):

Saturday, October 6, 1984

Final score: MSU 19, Michigan 7

I repeat: MSU 19, Michigan 7

Yes, it's been six long dreary years, but finally we good guys at MSU have beaten those arrogant asses at U of M. We did it in front of 105,000 people at Michigan Stadium. We pulled down their pants in front of their hometown a**holes. Everything was right, [Dave] Yarema had a hell of a day, Keith Gates, Carl Butler, Bobby Morse, and Aaron Roberts led the offense. The defensive line was incredible. They held Michigan down. U of M couldn't get anything going on the ground. This Michigan team is terribly overrated and now that Harbaugh is out for the season, they're going absolutely nowhere.

This win over Michigan is probably the biggest football win for State in six years. It avenges that terrible loss of a year ago [UM 42, MSU 0]. Hopefully, the Spartans can take it on from here and have a good season. I think State is headed in the right direction. I'd be happy if they could win six or even seven games this year. Next week is Homecoming. They should be fired up. I can guarantee that all of the long-suffering MSU fans (especially the old codgers) are gonna go nuts.

Finally, it's the way it should be: the good guys victorious over the bad guys. Final score, Good guys 19, bad guys 7.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Words of wisdom from Duffy

Late last week, I started reading Duffy Daugherty's autobiography, published in 1974, entitled simply, Duffy. After reading some some typically insane, irate comments from MSU "fans" angry as hell over the Ohio State loss, I came across something in Duffy's book that can be applied to these fans. Duffy actually wrote this in regard to unrealistic expectations of media, but it also accurately describes many fans. Here's what Duffy said, "Quite often, a writer or broadcaster will want you to win so badly that he'll expect you to, even when you're saddled with a mediocre team. Then, when you don't do as well as he expected, he'll rip your guts out because of his own disappointment."
Spartan fans, I know you're disappointed that the team didn't beat Ohio State (and, did not even make it a game). Sometimes, you bump into a team that's just flat out better than your team. That's life. Now, I wouldn't necessarily classify this year's Spartans as "mediocre," but they do have some deficiencies that we all knew about before the season even started. We all need to take a deep breath and appreciate what this team has done so far this season. I still say that if the team wins eight regular season games, they will have exceeded expectations.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ouch! (Ohio State 45, Michigan State 7)

First the good news, it was a lovely, sunny day in the Lansing area today.
Now the bad news, Ohio State kicked MSU's tail today. This was one ugly game. So ugly that I pretty much turned it off at halftime and only tuned in sporadically in the second half to see how bad the carnage was.
Wow, I feel a little foolish to have ever doubted Ohio State. How in heaven's name did they ever lose 35-3 to USC? (Yeah, I know, unsettled quarterback situation, Beanie Wells hurt, etc. But still, is USC that good to have hammered OSU that badly? How the heck did USC then lose to a mediocre Oregon State team? I'll have to save that for a different discussion).
As the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode wrote, it was a "reality check" for MSU. Yes, they have improved, but they are not yet close to being in Ohio State's league. Perhaps if the Spartans had caught the Buckeyes earlier in the year, they could have won this game, but Ohio State has had some time to work out the bugs, Beanie Wells is close to 100 percent healthy, and Terrelle Pryor has arrived in a big way. The guy is really, really good--and he's only a freshman. It's absolutely scary to think how outstanding this kid will be in the next few years. Lucky for MSU that the Buckeyes are off the schedule for a few years.
I just hope that the team can rebound from this disappointment and take care of business against Michigan next week. I want to beat Michigan in the worst way this year. I'm trying not to obsess over the Michigan game, but despite my better judgment, I obsess.
Let's face it, based on previous Spartan late season meltdowns, this could be a make or break game for the season. I hate to be so pessimistic after one game, but if State loses to Michigan, I could very well see MSU being flat for the next game, against Wisconsin. (Ugh, enough with the "sky is falling" talk!). I've got to believe that the attitude is different under Mark Dantonio. I imagine he's telling the players, "Guys, we just lost to maybe the best team we'll see all year. Let's forget about it and move on. There's a lot left to play for."
I'll try and focus on work this week, maybe even try to avoid the Detroit news media (I'm sure they'll be all over MSU once again), and try not to obsess over a stupid football game. I seriously doubt that it will work, though!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cast your vote for Obama

Allow me to take a break from football for a second and get on my political soapbox.

On Wednesday, Barack Obama and John McCain had their third and final debate. Perhaps I'm a tad biased, since I'm an unapologetic liberal, but I continue to be impressed by the stately and, well, presidential, demeanor of Barack Obama. I have also been consistently struck by how angry John McCain always seems to be: angry at Obama (whom he treats like a wayward adolescent) and angry with any nation or leader who dares disagree with the United States. Do we really need or want an angry President?

I will be casting my vote for Obama for one basic reason: I agree with his beliefs and do not agree with those of McCain. That is why I have voted for Dukakis (lost), Clinton (won twice), Gore (lost), and Kerry (lost). (As you can see by that record, being a Democratic supporter is not too much different from being a Spartan football fan).

If you're reading this post, and you're still undecided about who to vote for, let me put it to you this way: The administration of George W. Bush has been pretty much a dismal failure. This country has gone from being loved by the world (in the aftermath of 9/11) to being essentially loathed by the rest of the world a mere seven years later. I happen to believe that our standing with the rest of the world matters. I also want to see a presidential administration that believes diplomacy is a better way to solve problems than going to war. And, while we're on the subject of war, I am tired of the Iraq War and want our brave soldiers to come home to their families. So, in conclusion, if you are actually happy with the Bush administration, than go ahead and vote for McCain--but if you're like me and believe that we simply cannot take four more years of failed Republican policies, then please cast your vote for Barack Obama.

Ohio State is looming

As much as I've tried not to, I have been obsessing over tomorrow's MSU/OSU game since... well, since about a half hour after the MSU/Northwestern game.
The Spartans have a legitimate shot in this game, and let's face it--a victory over the Buckeyes would be huge for this program.
I am trying not to get my hopes up. As a longtime Spartan football fan, I have been conditioned to keep my expectations as low as possible so that when the inevitable disappointment occurs, it doesn't hurt as bad.
Still, I am greatly encouraged by the progress of this football program under Dantonio. I have no doubt that the guys will be ready to play tomorrow. If State can contain Beanie Wells and force Terrelle Pryor into bad decisions, while maintaining the excellent special teams play we've gotten so far this year, it could be a very happy day for the folks in green and white.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Michigan State 37, Northwestern 20

I am getting excited about this MSU football season, and this feeling is both exhilarating and a little scary. I, like many other Spartan fans, have been burned too many times before--but something seems different about this year. (Am I crazy to feel this way?) The Spartans have been mentally prepared for every game they've played, and have consistently made the big and important plays exactly when they've needed them.

As far as the Northwestern game goes, the Spartans set the tone immediately by jumping all over the Wildcats in the first quarter. By the time Northwestern woke up, they were down by 17 and could never get back in the game.

But what is particularly impressive about Michigan State is the way they consistently responded to every score Northwestern made. When the Wildcats finally got on the scoreboard to make it a 17-7 game, State immediately marched dowfield, scored a touchdown, and went into intermission up 24-7. Then, when Northwestern took the second half kickoff and quickly scored again to cut the deficit to 24-14 (and looked for all the world like they'd stolen momentum), the Spartans did not go into panic mode like, ahem, the Bobby Williams or John L. Smith teams of the past--instead, they foiled the 'Cat's onside kick attempt and then stuck it to the Wildcats again, upping their lead to 31-14. It was that sequence of events (NU TD, failed onside kick, MSU TD) that I believe sucked all of the air out of Northwestern.

Cudos to the Spartans for their outstanding special teams play and for the brilliant placekicking of Brett Swenson. This young man is the best kicker MSU has had since Paul Edinger (he really reminds me of Edinger, too. Not only does he physically resemble him, but he has icewater in his veins just like Edinger had). With one more year left in his college career, Swenson has a chance to become one of MSU's all-time great kickers. One more thing, when a team can consistently win the field position battle and force turnovers, that team will almost always come out victorious.

In conclusion, there just seems to be something very special about this team. They may not be the most talented team in the Big Ten, and their defense may give up its fair share of yardage, but they are tough, resilient and confident. They are becoming a reflection of their head coach, Mark Dantonio. I think that good things may be on the horizon. Only time will tell.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Spartan Memories, Volume 1: November 12, 1977

In keeping with the Michigan State football theme that I seemed to have established thus far with this blog, I might as well keep the ball rolling, so to speak. I never consciously aimed to make this a "Spartan football blog," but with our nation's economy in utter shambles, and the election year increasing in intensity and nastiness, my mind really craves escapism lately. For the moment, MSU football is providing that escapism. So why not escape along with me?

I have been mulling this idea around in my head for awhile, and was actually going to start it prior to the Indiana game. However, it wasn't until now that I have finally got around to doing a little feature that I will call "My Spartan Memories." I hope all of my one or two readers out there in cyberspace enjoy it.

Michigan State will be playing the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston tomorrow, so this is a perfect opportunity to reflect back on the very first MSU football game I ever attended. The date was November 12, 1977 and the place was, naturally, Spartan Stadium. I was a nine year-old fourth grader. The game program pictured above is the actual program that I begged my parents to purchase for me at the game. Look closely at the pant legs of the Northwestern quarterback, and one can see the actual stain from the hot chocolate I accidentally spilled on the cover. (Although the photo shows two MSU players about to deliver a bone-crunching sandwich hit on the QB, giving one the impression of Spartan domination, I suspect that this photo was taken during the '76 game in which the Spartans were drilled 42-21).
Allow me to provide a little background. I was literally born a Spartan fan. Both of my parents graduated from Michigan State, and were students during the last period of truly great MSU football in the mid-sixties. My parents were on the sidelines at the 1966 "Game of the Century" between State and Notre Dame. (My father was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Traditionally, DU brings a large bell to every home game and rings the bell for every point MSU scores. So if the Spartans score a touchdown and extra point, the bell is rung seven times). I grew up on stories of Duffy Daugherty and Bubba Smith. (I may share some of these stories in future posts).
Although as a child I was raised a Spartan, it wasn't until I reached nine-years-old that a light switch went on and I became an actual football fan. I had a rivalry of sorts going on with the kid who lived next door to me, who was a Michigan fan. (At the time, we lived on the northwest side of Detroit, a city dominated by the University of Michigan. Spartan Nation, if you think a "blue wall" exists in the Detroit area now, it was really bad in the '70s.). The neighbor kid had gone with his parents to see the Wolverines squeek by Navy, 14-7, earlier in the '77 season. I remember him showing me the football program he'd aquired at the game. I decided that I wanted to see an MSU game, and I'm sure I pestered by parents about going to a game throughout that season (my memory on that particular point is a little hazy).
On November 12, 1977 my wish was fulfilled and I drove up to East Lansing with my mom and dad to watch the Spartans take on the Wildcats. My memories of the day and the game are fragmented now, so just today I researched the game by reading the account of it published in the November 13, 1977 Lansing State Journal. I work at a library in downtown Lansing, so it was easy for me to take some time during my lunch break to investigate the microfilm.
Prior to reading the newspaper account, here are my memories of that game: I'm pretty sure we parked on the south end of campus. I distinctly remember taking a shuttle bus to Spartan Stadium. It was extremely cold that day, but it was at least partly sunny. I received a free MSU raincoat/windbreaker (with a prominent Arby's logo on it). I loved that thing and wore it until it fell apart. As far as the actual game goes, all I remember is that State absolutely hammered Northwestern that day, and the final score was 44-3. I couldn't remember precisely who scored for the Spartans, but had a vague recollection of Kirk Gibson catching a touchdown pass. I remember all of us shivering on the old wooden bleachers of the north endzone, and briefly warming up with hot chocolate. We left a few minutes before the end of the game (on the way out of the stadium my parents bought me the game program pictured above), and I recall, in the warmth of our '75 Valiant, listening to the radio play-by-play announcers describe the [inebriated?] students tearing down the goalposts in jubilation. (Ah, the seventies!).
Here is how reality meshes with my perception (and in some ways contradicts my memories): the State Journal reported that it was indeed extremely cold that day (even by the standards of November in Michigan) with temperatures in the low 30s and a northerly wind of 15 miles per hour. I was also correct in recalling the Spartans' total domination of Northwestern that day, but had no idea of the extent of that domination. The Spartans racked up an astounding 607 total yards (275 rushing and 332 passing). After Northwestern took an early 3-0 lead on a Sam Poulos 37-yard fieldgoal, State struck back with 31 consecutive points. Kirk Gibson did indeed take a pass from Eddie Smith into the endzone for a score. (Gibby crossed the goal line with 29 seconds left in the first half to give MSU a 31-3 lead at intermission). Here's where the memory is a little faulty: I swear that the reason Michigan State couldn't convert their final PAT of the game was because the students were already in the process of "goalpost removal." However, the State Journal makes no mention of this (and, in fact, doesn't mention the goal posts being torn down) so perhaps I'm wrong on this point. (Can anyone out there clarify this?).
The Northwestern team that Michigan State faces tomorrow is undefeated. The Wildcats have won four of the last six meetings between the two schools and easily have had more gridiron success of late than MSU. Since MSU's last Big Ten title in 1990, Northwestern has won three (1995, 1996, 2000). However, when these teams met in '77, Northwestern was an absolutely terrible team. They entered the game winless (and finished the season 0-11). According to the State Journal, the day before the '77 game against the Spartans, a newspaper article was published in Omaha, Nebraska suggesting that Northwestern was on the verge of being removed from the Big Ten. They were to be replaced by the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Northwestern coach Jon Pont was incensed by the rumor and quickly squashed it. (My dad used to talk about Northwestern being so inept that they were going to be forced out of the Big Ten, but I was always a bit skeptical. Funny to see that such rumors were actually published and discussed in '77).
The 1977 Spartans were a good football team. After starting the season a bit shaky, they finished strong and placed third in the Big Ten with a 6-1-1 conference record (7-3-1 overall). The following season, with senior quarterback Eddie Smith and senior flanker Kirk Gibson (not to mention an underrated defense), MSU won the Big Ten title. Unfortunately, due to an extremely harsh NCAA probation, the Spartans were never on television and were barred from representing the Big Ten in the 1979 Rose Bowl. (I don't know if MSU football has ever fully recovered from those NCAA sanctions, but that's something to be explored in a later post).
My first Spartan football game was a fantastic experience, and is at least partly responsible for making me the MSU fan I am today (for better or for worse). Let me end this post with some stats from that 1977 Northwestern game:
Attendance: 61, 228 (I do remember there being quite a few empty seats that frigid November Saturday)
Northwestern 3 0 0 0 -- 3
Michigan State 10 21 7 6 -- 44
Eddie Smith: 24 attempts and 15 completions for 286 yards passing, 3 TDs (2 passing, 1 rushing).
Mark Brammer (TE): 7 catches for 108 yards, 1 TD
Kirk Gibson (FL): 3 catches for 103 yards, 1 TD
Jim Earley: 7 carries for 83 yards
Steve Smith: 63 yards rushing and 2 TDs (and no, he's not the same Steve Smith who led the MSU basketball team to the 1990 Big Ten title!)
Bruce Reeves: 62 yards rushing
Dan Bass: 15 solo tackles
Mel Land: 13 solo tackles

(If you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, this blog post--please check out my other blog devoted entirely to MSU sports at

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Disgraceful Detroit Lions

Right now, I'm cleaning out my garage and listening to the Detroit Lions game on the radio. Why put myself through the torture you ask? I am finding it incredibly entertaining to hear the Lions' broadcast crew of Dan Miller and Jim Brandstatter describe the massacre against the Bears. First of all, you'd think the Lions were playing in the Super Bowl the way these guys describe the action. Plus, it's always fun to hear Brandy get indignant over the officials' "bad calls." Dan Miller is probably the Lions' biggest cheerleader, but even he is being critical of the Lions' horrendous play.
It's a little bit later in the day now, and the Lions lost 34-7 to the Bears at Ford Field. I think this franchise has officially hit rock bottom (which is saying a lot when you consider how godawful they have been for so many years) . Not only are they losing every game, but they aren't even competitive. It's so sad and pathetic that I, as a fan, have resorted to viewing the team as comic relief.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Homecoming Parade

I am a graduate of Michigan State University (if you have not already guessed) and have lived in the greater Lansing area for the better part of 27 years. In all that time, I had never once attended the MSU Homecoming Parade...until this Friday, that is. I really had a good time (except for the parts where I had to make sure my kids didn't get by a car trying to get from our car to the parade, and the parts where I had to temper my kids' ravenous appetite for the candy being thrown from the paraders).

A few weeks ago, while watching an episode of the childrens show "Oswald" with my younger son, Oswald and his friends attend (and maybe even become part of--I don't remember precisely) a parade. My son immediately decided that he wanted to see a parade. My mind raced through a list of potential parades and, lo and behold, struck upon the Homecoming parade. "There's a parade next month, and we can go to that one," I said to my son. Later, I told my wife that "we should take the kids to the Homecoming parade." (I should probably include myself as one of "the kids").

We seem to have a habit in our family of saying that we're going to do something, but not actually following through with it when the time comes. I particularly have a hard time of doing family outings on Friday nights. I find that I'm so tired from the work week that I don't feel like fighting crowds and would prefer to stay at home. This time, however, we followed through on our plan. It was all dependent on what mood the kids were in when we picked them up from my in-laws (who, bless them, are our childcare providers when my wife and I are at work). The kids were in reasonably non-cranky moods, the sun was out, the temperature was a crisp 50 degrees or so, and we decided to head into East Lansing for the parade.

We found a place to park on Charles Street, just south of Burcham, and made the three-block trek to Abbott Road. With two rambunctious boys, even the seemingly routine task of walking a few blocks can be an adventure, but I'm happy to report that we made it to the parade route with everyone intact. We found a spot in front of the Lutheran Church on Abbott Road. This was a good location, because my younger son had to go to the bathroom twice. Thankfully the church was open and were generous in allowing us to use their facilities. My son even received a free hot dog after his second trip to the loo).

The parade lasted much longer than I expected, about one hour and fifteen minutes. The Spartan Marching Band was outstanding as usual (I always get a chill down my spine when I see them perform), the floats were amateurish but generally cute and occasionally clever, and the Muskegon High School Marching Band is probably the best high school band I've ever seen. Those kids have got some soul! Our kids scored more candy than they'll probably receive on Halloween, and the vibe in the air was extremely friendly and festive. If I have anything to do with it, we'll definitely be going to next year's Homecoming parade. (Oh yeah, we also saw my niece in the parade with her Girl Scout troop). For a city the size of East Lansing (40,000 and change), there is truly a small town feel that I have grown to appreciate more as I've gotten older.

Afterwards, we got Chinese takeout at my favorite local Chinese joint, Lucky House in Okemos, so it was a great topper to a fun Friday evening (and I hope I haven't bored everyone to tears!).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Creedence reissues

Okay, prepare yourselves for a non-football post!
Just last week, I read somewhere online that the first six Creedence Clearwater Revival albums will be reissued on September 30 in deluxe packages with bonus tracks. These reissues will include liner notes by such rock critic luminaries as Robert Christgau and Ben Fong-Torres. I was ecstatic upon hearing the news.

I love Creedence. I grew up listening to Creedence. Some of my earliest hazy childhood memories are of me in the living room of my parents little apartment in Holt, Michigan in about 1972, with my dad playing Green River or Cosmo's Factory on the old Motorola console stereo. Of course, at the time I had no idea what the name of the albums were or even the name of the performer. To this day, though, I can remember being really scared by the long instense instrumental in the middle of "Ramble Tamble."

As a junior high and high schooler, other (generally much crappier) music took prominence for me. By the time I got to college, Creedence was definitely not cool. I was getting into "college rock" such as the Smiths, R.E.M., the Replacements, etc. As far as classic rock, everyone in college listened to such bands as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles--nobody I knew listened to Creedence. It wasn't until I was 22, when I absconded with my parent's three Creedence albums (along with several other choice ones that were collecting dust in a closet) that I rediscovered how good those guys were.
Besides the fact that John Fogerty was one of the best songwriters of the sixties, and the band rocked as hard as any band before or since, there's a definite underdog charm to CCR. Even in their own time, they weren't really considered cool. Heck, even in the San Francisco Bay area where they were from, they weren't considered nearly as hip as Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead. They really looked like four regular, blue collar guys from the neighborhood. Fogerty wore the exact same plaid shirt on all their album photos (if you don't believe me, check for yourself), and Stu, Doug, and Tom definitely cared not a hoot about fashion. Also, as has been mentioned many times before, Creedence defiantly played tightly arranged, 3-minute songs at a time when stretching out and jamming was the cool thing to do. However, if you compare Creedence's music to contemporaries like the Airplane or the Dead, CCR's music has aged much better.
Suffice it to say that I'm pretty giddy about these reissues, particularly since CCR has to have about the most neglected and abused back catalog of any sixties band. I definitely intend on snagging "Green River," and will have a hard time resisting "Willy and the Poor Boys" or "Cosmos' Factory."

Michigan State 42, Indiana 29: Postgame thoughts

Just finished watching the Spartans wear down the Hoosiers and get out of Bloomington with a win. Not pretty by any stretch, but I'll take it. Very nice to start off the Big Ten season at 1-0. MSU's next opponent is Iowa on Homecoming in East Lansing. The Hawkeyes lost at home to Northwestern, so next week's game for the Spartans is definitely winnable. (Having said that, Northwestern looks like they will be a tough team to contend with this year. They are still undefeated. With the parity in college football, which became particularly evident this weekend, that's saying something regardless of the competition the Wildcats have faced).
Back to MSU/Indiana: First of all, I could not believe the number of empty seats at Memorial Stadium. Is Indiana that indifferent towards football? (The answer must be a resounding "yes." I suppose the Hoosier faithful are too busy counting down the days until basketball season). If I didn't have responsibilities at home (or have to take my son to his soccer game this morning) I'd have hopped in the car bright and early, driven down to Bloomington, and bought a ticket at the stadium. (These are the kinds of things I wish I'd done when I was young and single with virtually no responsibilities and lots of time on my hands).
As far as the actual game goes, it was way more of a nail-biter than I'd have liked. Years of following Spartan football have made me uncomfortable with any lead that is less than two touchdowns. I thought Indiana hung in there pretty well, but dropped passes, too many penalties, and a little too much Javon Ringer was just enough to keep them from making this a closer ball game.
Some random thoughts:
Extremely rough game for Otis Wiley, but he redeemed himself somewhat by falling on that fumble.
Another good game for Ringer, but I sure wish the play calling was a bit more imaginative. I worry about what will happen when State plays better competition.
Our backup tailbacks have got to get more touches. Ringer is not going to be able to carry the load the entire season.
That's all I have for now. Gotta catch some of that Michigan/Wisconsin game now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 7: Postgame thoughts

As I write this post, I am relishing my "victory beer," a very smooth Indian Pale Ale from the Michigan Brewing Company. It's tasting pretty darned good right now.

Nice, solid win for the Spartans today. I knew that Dantonio would have the boys ready today, and MSU as a team were about as good as I have seen them in quite some time. I felt that for any Heisman talk regarding Javon Ringer to be truly justified, he'd have to bring it against big-name competition. Yes, I know Notre Dame is not a great team, but they have improved from last year and they are still NOTRE DAME. That name is nationally recognized and if you can light them up, you can guarantee that the national pundits will take a shine to you.

Having said that, the long Big Ten season is still in front of us, and the test for the Spartans will be if they can stay healthy enough to finish with a winning record. I am still maintaining relatively low expectations until proven otherwise.

I know that many of the MSU sports chat rooms and blogs will rip Brian Hoyer from here to Grand Rapids for this performance today, but he really was not that bad. Sure, he wasn't great, but he didn't make any mistakes that hurt the team. In fairness to Hoyer, there were some dropped passes that should have been caught. I was happy that when he didn't have an open receiver, he threw the ball away. Jimmy Clausen, who has a great arm and will be a solid quarterback for the Irish, made some mistakes that really hurt his team (particularly the throw into double coverage that Otis Wiley picked off in the endzone). The bottom line with Hoyer is that he's what you'd call a solid "program player," a little like former Spartan quarterbacks Bill Burke and Dan Enos. Some people expect him to be Tim Tebow, and that's just not going to happen. I still believe that Hoyer can have a solid year (have I used the word "solid" too much?). Let's not forget that, although he did have a bad game against Boston College in last year's Champs Sports Bowl, he did play a brilliant second half in last year's comeback win against Penn State.

After giving love to Hoyer, I have to admit that if anything bad happens to Ringer, MSU's football season is in serious jeopardy.

During the game, I was thinking that this may have been the best performance by an MSU defense since the Nick Saban era. Otis Wiley is a stud (and if he continues to play as well as he has--will be a high NFL draft pick) , Adam Decker is one tough hombre at linebacker (although does seem to be a bit of a hothead--he needs to temper some of that aggression), and Greg Jones will be playing on Sundays. Fortener had one of the game's most important plays breaking up a sure touchdown pass late in the game.

Overall, a good, tough, hard-hitting game (as would be expected in this rivalry) and a great win for the Spartans. I continue to be impressed with the way Dantonio consistently has this team ready to play, ever since his first game on the job. Bring on Indiana!

(By the way, I changed the settings on this blog so it should be easier for anyone who wants to post a comment. Please bear with me, I'm still getting the hang of this blog thing!).

What, another football post?!

I am still awake when I should be sleeping, but hey, it's Friday night (actually Saturday morning) and I don't feel like going to bed.

Now, let me gab for awhile about an important issue: college football. Later today, at 3:30 PM, Michigan State and Notre Dame will kickoff at Spartan Stadium. I have never seen as much confidence in a Spartan blowout as I have seen on various MSU sports chat rooms and blogs. Why so much confidence? How long have these people been State fans, I wonder? Yes, it's true that Notre Dame struggled against a weak San Diego State team and Michigan virtually gift wrapped last week's Irish victory (and, at least for now, Michigan is not a good team) but what exactly has Michigan State done? The Spartans lost to a decent, but not great, Cal team on the road, manhandled the predictably woeful Eastern Michigan Eagles, and then escaped the drizzly, rainy slopfest last week against Florida Atlantic. The bottom line is that it's way too early to judge how good any of these teams are, MSU and Notre Dame included. Add to that my reluctance to predict a Michigan State drubbing of the Irish based on my 30+ years of getting my hopes and dreams dashed by the Spartans. I've just gotten too cynical and pessimistic to get the least bit cocky about any Michigan State football game.

We will get a much clearer picture of how good Michigan State and Notre Dame are after today's game. I know that isn't a particularly original statement, but it's true. My hope is that Mark Dantonio's toughminded approach will have the Spartans ready to play, and hopefully come away with a solid victory. So far, I like what I've seen of Dantonio as a coach. He consistently has had MSU ready to play every game since he took over the job, that's a hell of a lot more than I can say for his immediate predecessors, John L. Smith and Bobby Williams.

I'm not a Michigan fan, but as one who has lived in this state his entire life I can't help but to have followed U of M football to a certain extent. Michigan football is pretty much ubiquitous around these parts--you can't really avoid it even if you try. Reports of Michigan's football demise seem a little premature to me--I'll believe it when I see it. It seems to me that Rich Rodriguez's new offensive schemes will make more sense to their players as the season goes on, and their offense will improve. (It is certainly strange to see Michigan running a spread offense, though. To me, Michigan is all about the power running game with the occasional long bomb to one of their long line of great receivers: Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, Amani Toomer, Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston, etc. I also recall Bo Schembechler running the option on virtually every play back in the late '70s. I have wondered about why a team that gets such a bumper crop of 5-star recruits year after year needs to implement a spread offense. I generally associate that type of offense with teams that need to use trickery to compete with the big boys, like Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan State in the John L. era. Am I off-base here?).

Here's another thing I don't understand. If Michigan gets a top-5 national recruiting class every year and is allegedly stocked with great athletes, why have I heard endless whining about RichRod not having the right players to run his system? This is Michigan football, folks! The winged-helmet, the Big House, and Hail to the Victors! Shouldn't the Wolverines have a stable of blue-chippers to run the spread? A veritable cornucopia of gridiron studs to run the new scheme like a fine-oiled machine? Not to drag MSU into this, but I don't recall John L. Smith saying he didn't have the right players to run the spread back in his first year at MSU. Yes, it is true that John L. inherited a senior quarterback in 2003, but it's not as if Jeff Smoker was the ideal spread quarterback. Still, John L. had his most successful year in '03: 8-5 record and Big Ten Coach of the Year. (Wow, I actually wrote something nice about John L. Smith!).

I don't profess to be a football expert, although I am a big fan of the game. If anyone thinks I'm off-base with these opinions and wishes to set me straight, please comment.

I know that no living humans are reading this blog, so for my pretend make-believe readers out there who are depairing of all the football talk, I assure you that I will at some point write extensively and intelligently about subjects other than football.