Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bearing A Grudge

Saturday's kickoff will be, down to the minute, exactly 6 years after the one that started the 2001 Michigan-Michigan State game, better known to me and my friends as The Clock Game. No single game rankles more than this this one; not the Notre Dame Phantom Touchdown, not the I Hate The Sun Belt Alamo Bowl fiasco. The only one that comes close is the 1990 Desmond In The Endzone No-Call, but that was 17 years ago and even that pain eventually dulls. This one was special, just a total mess at the end. Officials, players, nobody did anything right.

I woke up early that morning and got on the trumpet bus to East Lansing. It was my first away game with the band, and I didn't know what to expect. Mostly sleeping until we got to East Lansing, then a lot of waiting in traffic. We headed right for the stadium and got ready to disembark in full uniform. On the artificial turf, we did a full rehearsal of our show for the week (A classical show with music from Fantasia – Sorceror's Apprentice, Pines of Rome, Rhapsody In Blue, Berceuse – Finale) and pre-game, then sat around with a boxed lunch. The Jumbotron and PA system were already up and running, vamping through a few segments. One of them had Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" as its backing track, and it played so many times that I went from liking the song to tolerating it to wanting to murder Timbaland with my bare hands.

Finally it was time for pregame. We were probably booed loudly, but I didn't hear anything but the drums and the rest of the band until we were back on the sidelines watching the Spartan Marching Band do that weird hitch thing they have in their entrance. Some doofus with foam muscles came out, and this was somehow inspiring to the Spartan faithful.

On the opening drive, we finally had MSU stopped at 4th and 11 on our 32 and they sent out the punting unit for an Incredibly Surprising Fake Punt. On the ensuing play, Charles Rogers drew a flag for pass interference that we all agreed was complete and total crap (Note: I've never seen a tape of this game). Two plays later, obviously it's Rogers catching a TD.

Michigan moved the ball on its first drive, but stalled out in the zone where I thought we'd be seeing a pooch punt. Instead, Hayden Epstein came on to kick a monster 57-yard field goal.

Taking a break from the action on the field, there is something walking up and down the sidelines calling itself "Willie Wolverine". Nobody knows what's up with this thing. It's a full-body wolverine costume outfitted in pads and a football uniform that looks somewhat unlicensed. The head looks like it might be papier mache. Is this a try-out for a new official mascot? Did someone make it himself? Is it a Spartan plant? I heard later that it was just some guy in a homemade costume who talked his way onto the field (nice security, MSU), but I don't know whether that's true.

Meanwhile, MSU marched back up the field on us, but the defense managed to hold them to a 51-yard Dave Rayner field goal try, which missed. Navarre led off the drive back the other way with a 22-yard pass to Marquis Walker. BJ Askew carried most of the load the for another 31 yards on 6 carries until Navarre again found Walker, this time in the endzone on a 14-yard pass to give us a 10-7 lead.

The Spartans answered with a solid kick return and a 63-yard, 10-play drive. TJ Duckett and Dawan Moss carried the load, gaining 41 on the ground and Duckett scoring on a two-yard TD run. But the key play was a 3rd down on the Michigan 13 where Charles Rogers again drew a PI call on a Michigan defender. I remember this one as marginally less fraudulent, but it was another penalty giving Michigan State extra chances to score.

The Spartans pinned us deep in our own territory to start the next drive, kicking a touchback. But Walker and Navarre hit a big pass of 38 yards to move us across the 50 and connected again on a 32-yard TD pass. The half ended with Michigan staking a somewhat surprising 17-14 lead, given the way Duckett was running.

The halftime show was one of the best of my career in the MMB. I just remember being really nervous, but hitting my marks and knowing the music cold. "Rhapsody In Blue" featured a big, fast follow-the-leader section that we'd worked on a lot. "Berceuse & Finale" was majestic. We were met with mostly indifference, which is as good as you can expect up there.

We got the ball to open the second half, but didn't do anything with it. MSU came pounding down the field the other way. They made it all the way to the 9, and then it looked like TJ Duckett scored the go-ahead TD. Except for the flag on the field. Holding. On the repeated 3rd down, Shantee Orr came in and sacked Smoker for a 7-yard loss. Dave Rayner missed his second field goal of the day, a 44-yard attempt.

But Evil Navarre had come out of the locker room for the second half, and the rest of the offense wasn't making up for him. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Navarre threw a pick near midfield that Duron Bryan returned to our 38. Duckett carried the ball on all six ensuing plays, but MSU had to settle for a 27-yard Rayner chip-shot FG to tie the game.

Evil Navarre wasn't yet finished with us. He threw another pick to Bryan, this time well inside our own territory. Bryan returned this one to the 29, and things were looking bad, but the defense rose up. I didn't realize how bad it was at the time, but Smoker was getting absolutely hammered all day by the pass rush. He was sacked for the tenth (10th!) time as the Spartan drive went backwards out of FG range.

The offense couldn't get any traction, and Michigan State kept moving the ball on a defense that must have been a little tired by now, and the pass rush couldn't crush everything. Smoker hooked up with Rogers for 29 yards, and Duckett had a 27-yard run on another Spartan drive that went deep into Michigan territory, but again they had to settle for a FG from Rayner, this time from 26 yards out.

But eventually that pass rush had to come up with something, and Smoker finally put the football on the ground. Grant Bowman picked it up at the MSU 38, giving Navarre and Co. a short field to work with. There were only two significant plays on the drive, but Calvin Bell took a reverse for 21 yards to move us a lot closer. Then, on 3rd and 13, we went 5-wide and Jermaine Gonzales hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Navarre to put us up 24-20 with 4:44 left to play. It was completely insane, and it worked. Marquise Walker probably had about 7 guys on him, because nobody else was catching anything all day, but our backup QB was open for one huge reception.

We almost gave it all back immediately. Herb Haygood took the kickoff and ran it out to midfield. But the defense was good enough to force a punt, which Marquise Walker was dumb enough to field inside our own 5 instead of hoping for the touchback. He made it to the 7. We of course ran it into the line three times, if memory serves, and punted it away with 2:28 left. Epstein did his best, but MSU came up with it on our 44.

Immediately Smoker was sacked again by Shantee Orr. Another two incompletions, and it was 4th and 16. The pass fell incomplete. But Jeremy LeSueuer had committed an obvious and blindingly stupid illegal hands to the face penalty, giving MSU a fresh set of downs. MSU then converted another 3rd down pass to save their drive.

Michigan responded with another huge sack of Smoker with 0:36 left in the ballgame. But then a flag came in for illegal participation.

On the field, I assumed that we'd just been dumb enough to play with 12 men and I was furious about that. But look at the video. I only count 11 at first, just like Brandstatter. If you let it go a little bit, there's a guy way in the backfield that could either be a Michigan player or a ref, it's too grainy for me to tell. I'd like to rip them a new one, but it might be legit. At any rate, we had to play on. LeSueuer broke up a 3rd down pass in the endzone, but Duckett reeled in the 4th down try to give State a first down on our 3. Smoker successfully executed the spike and we called a timeout.

On the next play, Smoker rolled the pocket right, then pulled down the football and ran. I thought I felt the earth open up under me. I saw the hole and I saw the game end and...then Marlin Jackson and Jon Shaw tackled him. I didn't know if it was in time, I kept looking for the officials to signal a touchdown, but it never came. There were 7 seconds left on the clock and MSU was frantically trying to get lined up for the spike. 4...3...2...1...0. WE WIN! Wait. Where's zero? Where the hell is zero? That clock should've run out, there is no way that clock didn't run out. That ball did NOT hit the ground with any time left in the game. This is BULLSHIT. Oh, Jesus. They have one more play. Christ, we're going to lose. Smoker drops back, Duckett's waving his arms around, wide open, I can see an egregious uncalled hold on Larry Stevens from 90 YARDS AWAY and where is the damn flag this time? but there goes the football and Duckett has it. This is such bullshit. Robert Flagg, of Carol City, FL, recognizable by his gold-plated grill, comes over to spit at our band.

We're supposed to play a postgame concert with the SMB, but we're hustled out of there before there's a chance for an incident. Jeering awaits us on the other side of the tunnel, but we make it back to their band hall without any real trouble. Most of the SMB members adopt the attitude of "This was completely sketchy, but you will pry this win from our cold, dead fingers," which isn't too galling to take. We got back on our buses and headed back to Ann Arbor, filled with a hate that would linger.

In 2002 we won 49-3 and Bobby Williams was fired.


Geoff said...

I couldn't find any place to work this in, but the crowd noise at Spartan Stadium was massive and consistent and it only got louder as the game went later. I went to the 2002 Michigan-OSU game and left unimpressed with the Horseshoe after experiencing Spartan Stadium in a game like that.

Sources:, Wikipedia.

jeffsl said...

Well, for me 1990 hurts slightly worse b/c I was there (soph year). We were ranked #1 (despite our then-annual season opening loss to Notre Dame). When Desmond Howard got mugged on that two point conversion, every Michigan fan in the stadium seemed to do the (penalty) "flag" gesture, but to no avail. The stadium walls were only 3 feet high back then, so the Sparty fans had no trouble rushing the field.

Sparty's band rushed the field as well, and played the most chaotic, impromptu rendition of their stupid fight song every heard, as the band was all intermingled with the fans on the field. And apparantly, the SMB has some rank move they only do when they beat Michigan. It's rarely seen, but I got to see as they marched back to Revelli Hall after the game. Uggh.

The hangover from that loss is what led us to lose to Iowa the following week. Had we won, I have little doubt that we would have won the national title. On the plus side, however, the Gator Bowl trip was f*****g awesome, so there's that, I suppose.

I f*****g hate Sparty.

I will say this about The Clock game -- I think I was closer to having a heart attack watching that one. The '90 game left me in a Colorado-esque state of shock, but I was pure rage watching Spartan Bob's antics.

jeffsl said...

One personal favorite memory vs. Sparty. In '91, we went up to East Lansing and kicked their tails in. Desmond Howard had like 3 TD's, include one amazing horizontal catch. We played a great halftime shoe (Bernstein/Copland: "West Side Story" Medley, "Slava", "Hoe-Down", and "Shaker Hymn."

But the best part was watching the SMB pre-game. As they were kick-stepping in (yeah, that's what they call it (my HS band director was an MSU grad)), one of their snare drummers took a massive tumble. Motherf****r fell right on his drum and rolled sideways over it. It was awesome. I give him credit, though. Dude got right back up and back into his spot in a hurry.

Anonymous said...

Willy the Wolverine was an 80s attempt by some non-native Michigander students to foist a mascot upon the school, since we were somehow illegit without one. There were petitions, there was incident where Willy was not let into the stadium despite having a ticket, etc. There were even Willy the Wolverine coupon books. Fortunately, it went away. I didn't know about it's apparent 2001 short-live rebirth.

nicolle said...

i must object to this post being labelled as a "thing too long to read." :)

Aram said...

Willy the Wolverine also made an appearance at the 2003 game- they had him in a box or something, Sparty rode on on his chariot, kicked his ass, then put him back in the box.

As for the MMB and the MSU game... Why does it seem like we do the same damn show every year for MSU? Same old generic jazz/broadway/classical thing. Every. Year.

Anonymous said...

That's funny, because a SMB snare biffed it during their kickstep at this year's game, too! He fell straight forward, and his drum fell off his carrier. He jumped up and ran forward, desperately trying to put his snare back on his now VERY bent carrier. He got it on, but it was funny to see a line of snares where all of the drum heads were horizontal except for that one, which had a noticably 30-degree slant to it.

bestonline323 said...

Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr would not be specific when he said of his players: ''They deserve better. They deserve better.''

What probably irked him was a play before the touchdown that allowed the Spartans a final chance. After Smoker ran for a yard on a play that began with 17 seconds left, the Spartans lined up again as the clock clicked down through single digits. Smoker took the snap and spiked the ball to stop the clock with a second left. Perhaps the Wolverines thought time had expired or that the Spartans had not lined up properly or that the officials helped them by hurrying the placement of the ball to start the play.

''The referee has a job to do,'' Carr said. ''And whether he did it will be reviewed.''

Or maybe the Wolverines were miffed that two penalties -- one for a personal foul, another for having an extra man on the field -- allowed the Spartans to complete their winning drive of 44 yards in 15 plays. The drive began after a meek 28-yard punt by Michigan's Hayden Epstein.

it seemed as if the Wolverines had won despite being bested in offensive plays (90 to 57), time of possession (36:57 to 23:03) and total net yards (352 to 316). They took their third lead of the day with 4:44 left on a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Navarre to Jermaine Gonzales, a redshirt freshman quarterback who lined up as a receiver. That made the score 24-20.

Earlier, Epstein had kicked a 57-yard field goal for a school record. Walker's scoring plays went for 14 and 32 yards. The second catch gave Michigan a 17-14 lead after the first half, but the Spartans took a 20-17 lead on two field goals by Dave Raner, the first in the third quarter from 27 yards, the second in the fourth quarter from 26.

Michigan State Coach Bobby Williams seemed weary afterward and sighed when he said he still had work to do. High school recruits were in town. Many are considering Michigan, which leads this series by 61-28-5. They have to be swayed. But Williams seemed to brighten up at the thought.

''It's going to be a lot of fun selling this program tonight,'' Williams said. ''That's for sure.''

small ball bearing