The Michigan State Spartans are not any good at football. But sometimes being mediocre, and all the little emotions and happenings that go into an off-year, are more interesting than just another damn 12 win year.
I end up behind the visitors bench at Spartan Stadium - I've witnessed one loss sitting in these seats since 2011, the ridiculous Iowa-MSU game of 2012, a 19-16 rain-soaked debacle. I can still feel the lack of feeling in my hands during that freezing day. But yes - lots of wins sitting in these seats. Close ones, blowouts, Michigan-MSU games where the Spartans were always obviously the better team.
This 2016 Spartan season looks like a "normal" year. The stadium is packed, the tailgate bloody marys are spot on, the cheerleaders are polished and backflipping all over the place. A closer look at the pre-game and an ear to the ground will tell a different story. Talk about making a bowl game (probably not). The lack of stadium tension.
Northwestern's squad sprawls out in front of my vision. When you're sitting 10 feet from these players, you sometimes forget about the tribal nature of these games and remember that these are just large sized individual young men, playing a sport they (probably) love. #67 looks like he could eat a car. I wonder what he's studying? Does he like college or does he feel like he's missing the experience because all of his time is taken up by football?
In a shallower vein, the purple really pops, not just of the player jerseys, but of the fans. Looks great. Style points 9/10. The Kansas State-esque wildcat helmets are really not doing it for me though. Looks like scribbled lines. The little kids sitting by me think it looks like a walrus.
The game begins. MSU pick sixes early and right in front of me. Fan excitement level, off the charts. 17-7! Could be a sign of a---
Nope, it isn't. Northwestern shreds MSU's secondary with sideline out routes all day, followed by slashing delayed handoffs. MSU doesn't help its cause, running the ball on first down ineffectively. Fan in the stands turns to me and says: "Off-tackle run, first down, every time...ughhh." HEY HE SAID OUR BLOGS NAME.
When the MSU offense is on third down, a NW assistant/coach runskips down the sideline, screaming and pointing three fingers in the air. Reminds me of some of those doubles teams we played in high school tennis that celebrated just a bit too loud and too long after good shots, like they missed the basic social cues on how not to be a douche.
So the MSU Spartans lost and lost badly. Copeland misses tackles like he was bought off by a mysterious booster who is longconning on getting the coaching staff fired. (These are the thoughts that surface when your row clears out.) There's a QB controversy that will feed blog content PUT IN MESSIAH. Under some weird universal contract that's been signed, all kids must dab when featured on the scoreboard cam. Life goes on. The team is no good. It stuffs the crowds energy, it makes you think twice about your night ("hey we won by 21 and we're ranked #10 in the nation let's go to Sigma Epsilon for that toga party" sounds a lot different than "Oh, 500 yards given up to Northwestern, three straight losses and probably no bowl game, mmmm Dublin sucks let's go make paninis and sit on the porch I'm depressed.")
A big question hangs over the Michigan State Spartan program, a big obvious unanswerable question: Is this a blip, borne of injuries and veteran departures? Or is this the beginning of a trek back to the middle of the B1G pack to live below UM and OSU?
On a packed MAC avenue afterwards, traffic slowed to a crawl. A fraternity brother, departing his house on a skateboard, pulled up behind a pick-up and nonchalantly grabbed the tailgate, attempting to hitch a ride Marty Mcfly-style down the street. The driver turned around and stared at the fraternity brother incredulously. He wasn't moving. The frat brother exclaimed in the chill and disappointed tone that frat brothers manage so well -"BRO"- and skated off. So I don't know, but it somehow seemed like an apt metaphor for this disappointing Spartans season that isn't going anywhere soon.