On January 10, 2012, the members of MSU's Izzone received an email from their leader, Coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans were riding a 14-game winning streak and were preparing to face Iowa for their first Big Ten game at home with the Izzone back at the Breslin. The Student Section at Michigan State University is revered as one of the best student sections in the entire nation. Even the Badger Herald at Wisconsin gives the section props:
If you have ever been to the Breslin Center, you know how rowdy the Izzone gets. But the intensity has been down this season, along with the attendance, and the Izzone in general has not been the same as it's been in the past. In his email, Coach Izzo told the members of this sacred student section that they were critically important to the team and that quite simply they had not brought the intensity and fire that they are known for. If you have never been to the Breslin Center and witnessed the Izzone, check it out on this clip:
"It has come to my attention from the media, other fans at the games and my own observations," wrote the coach, "that our group is not at the championship level of support that has helped earn it the national reputation that we have enjoyed." (All quotes by Coach Izzo come directly from the email that he sent to the students on January 10 prior to the game against Iowa.)
Izzo then challenged the students who attend MSU games to bring back the championship level of support that got the team recognized and made the Breslin a fearsome place.
"Our lack of gameday atmosphere was reinforced on Dec. 28 vs. Indiana," Coach Izzo wrote, "when over 1200 Izzone alumni from across the world packed the Breslin Center to form the best environment in college basketball. They were early, rowdy and committed. They were excited about being part of the program that they helped build. They definitely took ownership and deservedly so," Izzo noted. "Now we are looking to you to take that same ownership. Over the last 3 years, the team has won 2 Big Ten Championships and advanced to 2 Final Fours, but I believe the Izzone has not been up to the standards it created for itself. Without you, we’re a good program. With you, we’re an ELITE program," the coach emphasized. "I’m hoping this letter directly from me, not written by somebody else, will help you understand how important you are to our program. Great college environments are created by the students. We ask everyone that touches our program to leave a mark behind for others to follow. That’s what tradition is all about. Tonight and through the rest of the Big Ten season," Coach Izzo concluded, "I’m asking you to leave your mark. Forget the texting for a few hours and focus on our Spartans. Let’s create an atmosphere that Dick Vitale will be talking about again."
This email was sent by Coach Izzo to all students who have tickets to basketball games. As you read his comments, you can tell that Izzo's point was not to ridicule or condemn the students, but to motivate them to bring the same intensity that has been there throughout the life of the Izzone.
This message from Coach Izzo was received loud and clear by the students. Last night, the Spartans faced off against the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the Izzone and the entire Breslin Center was out of control. The Izzone showed up to the game early and ready for a W. Students wore their Izzone shirts proudly all day long, and many came to the Breslin in costumes meant to distract the Hawkeyes. Along with the costumes, the Izzone featured new tactics to throw off the opposition. During the Hawkeyes' free throw attempts, the students would sign a different song, such as "If You're Happy and You Know It," "The Wheels on the Bus," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," to name a few. Some say that it worked better than the usual screaming because it made the players think about the song. Regardless, last night the Izzone displayed the crazy antics and fiery intensity that it has become known for.
I would like to highlight a group of students who attend games in some of the best recent costumes to be seen at the Breslin Center. Calling themselves "The Mullet Crew," they have started wearing fake mullets, hats, and sunglasses to all home Spartan basketball games. These young men, all juniors at MSU, are Ryan Ohle, Mark Holzhauer, Logan Matthews, Thomas Gartner, Adam Crane, Eric Martz, and yours truly, Kyle Howard. We will be continuing this trend for the rest of our careers, after which we hope to pass on the tradition to a younger group of Izzone members. As you watch Michigan State home games for the rest of the year, make sure to look out for me and the rest of The Mullet Crew as we try to entertain you and cheer on the Spartans.
Follow me on Twitter @RealKyleHoward