Detroit Is East Lansing: The Significance of the Spartans in Motown

Francisco E. VelazquezCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

At the post-game interview following Saturday evening’s Final Four win over Connecticut, Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo said he merely hoped his team’s success was “a ray of sunshine” for the state of Michigan.

Many feel-good stories have been written recently about the Spartans beating the odds in a time where the state of Michigan is against all odds. Numerous accounts tell about the Spartans’ success bringing a warranted distraction to the economic and athletic punches Michigan has taken to the gut.

“We’re not done yet, so hopefully we can continue to make them feel a little better and us feel a lot better,” Izzo said.

But even before the game, anyone who was present near Bresli…er, Ford Field could see that the ray of sunshine over Detroit was clearly green.

For one full day at least, Detroit was East Lansing.

The fact that Michigan State still has the national championship to play surely matters. It matters to a lot of people. But for a few hours after their 82-73 victory over the first-seeded UConn Huskies, it honestly didn’t. The Michigan State Spartans and the state of Michigan had already won. They won the state over and instilled residents with the hopes that this bruised land can overcome the odds...just like the Spartans did.

The euphoria from the sea of green that emptied Ford Field following their semifinal game could only be seen in one other place on earth—East Lansing—and topped only by what the excitement and unity that the Spartan faithful showed from early this Midwestern morning all the way up to tip-off represented.

“It feels great! I am so hyped to be here,” said MSU senior Alejo Sepulveda, who is from Grand Rapids and traveled across the state to support not only his school but Detroit as well. “Michigan’s been hit hard. But right now…that doesn’t matter. All the people showing support and uniting is what it’s about.”

The tailgates that lined Adams Street and Comerica Park’s right field proved that Michigan was alive and running—united in an area ordinarily where rival school University of Michigan has a stronghold. But not this day. And this is precisely what makes this story significant.

This isn’t yet another story about how MSU is slaying Goliaths while metaphorically handing out daggers to Michigan’s laid-off. Heck, we can say North Carolina is doing the same thing. The Tar Heel State isn’t doing too much better.

This is a story about walking down Woodward Avenue yelling out “Go Green” and immediately hearing “Go White” from any particular direction. From Hockeytown Cafe to the lines of people that surrounded Cheli’s Chili Bar, the yells got louder as the aroma of grilled burgers and beer littered the blue sky until it was sunless.

This is a story about how the fans from Michigan’s other son took hold of that day and had the whole family rooting for them.

This is a story about MSU Alumnus Clarissa Birk. Birk, who bought her flight and Final Four tickets with her boyfriend months ago as one of the few committed to the belief that MSU would make it to Detroit, flew in from Washington D.C. to spend her Saturday at Hockeytown before the game.

You see, Hockeytown Cafe was the designated bar for the Connecticut fans. Still, Birk, in her bright green “State” shirt, didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

This is a story about Detroit not being ashamed of what it is, despite the hustlers scalping tickets or selling unregistered paraphernalia and the underprivileged musicians lining Comerica’s outfield signs just to get a buck or any spare change. It’s hard here. But so are we.

This is a story about simply being a Spartan. As loud as it was the entire day, Detroit’s quietest moment was perhaps during the last minute of the game. With all eyes on the flat screens (including those of the homeless peering through numerous bar windows), Michigan State’s army was there with the Spartans.

Tonight, this time for the national championship, they will do the same.

“We weren’t really strangers,” Sepulveda said. “We are Spartans. We are one.”