I can remember it like it was yesterday: 1994 at Spartan Stadium versus the Eagles of Boston College.
24-21 Michigan State
My first college football game. The chill in the air, the car ride to East Lansing as a 10 year old with my friend Ryan, his Dad, and uncles. The procession of cars on I-96, the small nondescript sign with the block "S" with the word, "stadium" and a simple arrow.
I had grown up in a Maize and Blue household. I had rooted for Michigan like my father, I knew nothing else. I was unaware of Duffy, and Jud, Lorenzo, Bubba, and Kirk. I was never told of the Game of the Century, 6 National Championships, of Magic vs. Bird, of Ron Mason, or Sparty. I grew up with the Fab 5 and Michigan Football.
That trip to East Lansing would forever put my father and I at odds. I was hooked. The band, the game, the smell of the stadium, and most importantly the victory I witnessed that day. I was pulled in; I had been infected by some illness that I cannot find, nor do I wish to, the cure for.
Each June it stirs more fervently than the year before, an aching in my bones for the new seasons that await. I was heartbroken when Nick Saban abandoned our boys after the most successful season since 1990, taking his moxie and promise with him. I was equally heartbroken in the 2002 season when our Spartans imploded on the field and off, and I was at the Big House down the road to witness the 49-3 drubbing inflicted by our Big Brothers to the south.
I was overjoyed by the success of our basketball program lead by Cleaves, Peterson, Bell, Granger, and Richardson. I could only hope that the stability our basketball team carried and enjoyed would someday have to spill over to the football team.
In 2003, I like many other Spartan faithful, was hopeful that John L. Smith would bring that stability and the high-offense from Louisville. 8-4 in the first season with minimal talent and hope was overflowing. Yet 3 years later, one bowl game loss and three losing seasons, and the well of hope had seemingly run dry. "Same Old Spartans" had become the moniker.
Win the first four, collapse in ourselves like a dying star in the rest of the games. It simply wasn't enjoyable to be a State fan. The June anticipation turned to angst, wondering when it would be our turn to rise from the ashes of the Big Ten and reclaim our glory.
Perhaps hope shined favorably on East Lansing after our coaching search left us with former Ohio State Defensive Coordinator and Cincinnatti Head Coach Mark Dantonio. Armed with grit, toughness, determination and more substance than style the mindset in East Lansing has changed for the better. Who is to say that this too will not come to pass? That the Sparty of old will rear its horrible head and crush us all again. There is just something about the program now that leads many to feel that things are different this time around.
The fervor has returned again, though it never really left. Consecutive bowls, consecutive winning seasons, solid recruiting classes, and increasing respect around the Big Ten and the national picture has been renewing hope for this Spartan devotee. Even if respect from that other college town down the road is hard to come by, I know that every Saturday I can gather with my familiar strangers and celebrate the passion we share for all things green and all things white.
Here's to hope.