Eat, sleep, football, repeat. For millions of college football fans across the country, from September to early January, this is everything and more. Twelve Christmases, twelve chances at something much larger than individual achievements, and a shot at immortality. This is my story about how one season for my beloved Michigan State Spartans, changed my perception of what’s possible.
First, let’s wind the clock back to January 1st, 2015. The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic is one of the six premiere bowl games played each year, aptly dubbed as “The New Year’s Six”. Another opportunity to watch some football up in Chicago with the fam.
This day would feature a first time matchup between two high-powered offenses with Bryce Petty and the Baylor Bears, versus Connor Cook and the Spartans. For both teams, this was something of a consolation game for being left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament to decide the national champion. Nevertheless, the stage was set for what would be an epic shootout between two elite programs.
For three quarters, it appeared as though Baylor would emerge with a breezy victory. MSU’s secondary defense had given up too many big plays. At one point, my nephew Luke asked if he could change into a Baylor shirt. I encouraged him not to because me, ever the optimist, suggested the game wasn’t over until the clock went to all zeroes. On the strength of a tremendous performance by junior quarterback Connor Cook, and some phenomenal clutch plays, MSU would go on to upset the Baylor Bears. which leads us to…
In any blood sample I’ve ever given, green and white have never shown up, but I’m sure they’re present. Despite the illustrious resume head coach Mark Dantonio has built in 9 full years at Michigan State, no season has ever held higher expectations than the 2015 campaign. “Reach Higher” would be the battle cry and mantra of a team that in a five year span, accrued more wins than any other team in school history. Turn on the local radio station. Playoff or bust. That was it. And I had to do my part.
College football is steeped in tradition, and for this particular season, I started what I think are some fun, to a point superstitious new rituals. From the very first game in the season, up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the formula was: hip hop music and Daft Punk, Irish Coffee, pizza, and football. Any deviation from this algorithm certainly would be looked to as the reason for a potential loss. After all, you have to go with what works. For the really big games, I’d go to the sports bar Ale House with my friends. On Saturday, October 17th, 2015, one such outing became legendary.
Entertaining my college buddy Matt on a day of “getting hype”, the two of us looked on in horror as the final seconds began to tick off the clock. In what was sure to be a narrow win for the Michigan Wolverines, and for Jim Harbaugh, the first time in forever a Michigan head coach had beaten the Spartans in his first year.
Then, the unthinkable happened. MSU brought all eleven of their players up to the line of scrimmage for a last ditch attempt to obtain the ball and run it back for a game-winning touchdown. And with a little assistance from Aussie born Michigan punter Blake Oneil, that’s exactly what happened. Jalen Watts-Jackson became a household name in the blink of an eye, and as I ran up and down the isles of an Orlando brewery my voice hoarse as Sean McDonough, I realized this was going to be a year I’ll never forget.
As it turned out, I got to do that a few more times, each time calling my parents late at night to belt the Michigan State fight song for the whole world to hear. This season meant everything, and it changed everything too. Make no mistake about it, I’m not trying to be hyperbolic or tell you how cool my year was, the message I’m trying to send is about belief.
Overcoming adversity just means you have invest in a little more contemplation. Knowing where to move the next chess piece. If you don’t believe it, just look to the 2015 Michigan State University football team, and learn how the difference between agony and ecstasy, can be a chain gang inch. The team has room yet to reach even higher as it still was unable to get past the ceiling.
That ceiling being the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the CFP Semifinal. Alabama carried that day due to a balanced and disciplined attack on both sides of the football. A national title is necessary for the Spartans to cement their place in history, but we’re close. Uncommon success only comes from the belief that you’re never out of it. I’ll leave you with some of the sights from the season that was. Sparty On.