Over the past five years or so, MSU football fans have had far too many “here we go again” gut-busters to suffer through, far too many of those painful to watch “what were they thinking” disasters, far too many shoulda-coulda-woulda efforts.[1again]
In short, far too much heartache.
There was last year’s painful to watch fourth quarter debacle against the evil empire in Ann Arbor which made every fan across Spartan nation feel as if they had been punched in the stomach by each and every one of those 111,609 fans in attendance. It felt like your significant other telling you he or she wants to see other people and would rather just be friends.
Then there was the pathetic showing against an atrocious Penn State team that same season a week after completely dominating a highly ranked Wisconsin team, a meltdown that could make Chernobyl employees blush.
And that was only last season.
Then you have the numbers: no Big Ten titles since 1990, no Rose Bowl appearances since 1987-88, three losing seasons in the past five years and countless dashed hopes and borderline emotional breakdowns throughout the East Lansing area.
Being a football fan in East Lansing hasn’t exactly been a cake walk over the years especially with the immense success of Tom Izzo and recent final four appearances from both the men and women’s basketball squads. Leaving football fans to ask, why not football? It has no doubt become a common theme that most of the excitement with football Saturday’s has been focused on tailgating festivities and partying afterward rather than the game on the field.
No preference sophomore Tim Gurevich was in the stands at Michigan Stadium that dreary day last October. He sat and watched his beloved Spartans as they built a 17-point lead late in the fourth quarter on the road in enemy territory. Gurevich was so confident in a Spartan victory that day that he even bet $50 with his uncle before the game. And as every student knows, $50 is about as valuable as finding clean air and drinking water.
Good fortune turned to panic-stricken horror however as then Michigan standout Braylon Edwards took the game over by shredding the helpless Spartan defense quicker than students fleeing from an economics exam with two touchdown catches late in the fourth quarter and the game winner in overtime.
He stole the game, and with that he also stole Gurevich’s precious pizza and gas money for the next month or so. “I was just crushed,” Gurevich said. “I just sat there in the stands and couldn’t believe what was happening out there.”
MSU football teams have certainly had a knack for toying with fans emotions more than if every liquor store in the greater Lansing area were to put up “Free Alcohol” signs before each weekend, only to take them down once everyone crowded outside.
They seem to all have the same generic excuses behind their abysmal seasons and disastrous collapses. Not enough leadership at the quarterback position, a patchy defense, lack of coaching motivation, the injury bug, players in legal trouble and maybe even the possibility that a worldwide conspiracy looms over Spartan Stadium.
Michael Mckenzie, a fifth year communications senior at MSU, is another one of those long suffering taunted fans. Mckenzie has had season tickets for each of his five years at MSU and has seen it all in that time.
“I can remember a few years back when Bobby Williams was coaching, they really stunk,” Mckenzie said. “I thought there was a lot of talent on those teams with [Jeff] Smoker and Charlie [Charles Rogers] but they ended with wasted chances.”
Mckenzie painfully reminisced about another sad time in Spartan history, yet another disappointing bout with arch rival Michigan.
[2]There he sat in Spartan Stadium in November of 2003 and watched a highly ranked MSU team get manhandled as then Michigan running back Chris Perry ran for 221 yards on an astronomical 51 carries.
Another one of those games where everything was supposed to turn around. A game where the Spartans would finally put their stamp on the national football scene for good.
Another wasted chance.
Mckenzie also recalled the disgust and pain after watching a jubilant Perry run over to the MSU student section and sing Michigan’s fight song.
But with an impressive start to the 2005 season, Spartan football lovers may finally be getting a chance to be cheering for an actual contender in late November instead of busting out their basketball shoes and getting those “Izzone” tee shirts ready a month early…
“It makes all this much more gratifying now,” said Mckenzie of the Spartans fresh start and new- found winning ways. “It has been pretty rare when an opponent comes into East Lansing scared, except for basketball season.”
The rekindled enthusiasm has even brought in fans that really never paid much attention to football on campus.
Aaron Pahl, an MSU accounting junior, said until this year he has only been a casual fan of MSU football and never really had a reason to get fired up about a game. He preferred to watch a game or two at his own leisure in front of the television rather than in the stadium with the Spartan faithful screaming in his ear. In fact he was initially an Ohio State fan before getting swept up by the school spirit here as a freshman.
“When I got here as a freshman the team was going through the whole Jeff Smoker thing [Smoker’s off the field issues],” Pahl said. “So it was pretty disappointing at first.”
But Pahl said he has definitely taken notice after the quick start this year and looks forward to watching more Spartan victories.
Just the thought of a possible Big Ten championship, which was last captured by the Spartans when most MSU students spent their Saturdays watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Tturtles with a bowl of Lucky Charms, rather than screaming their lungs out in Spartan Stadium. The thought has Pahl, a fan who really didn’t care too much before thise season, thinking of a rather large football investment.
“That would be pretty amazing,” Pahl said. “I would probably even buy tickets for next year then.”
Medical technician senior Meagan Hipchen is another fan who never really got that much into football before this season. “Since I’ve been here I’ve always followed football,” Hipchen said. “But I would not have considered myself a die hard fan.”
However with the recent change in Spartan performance on the field, Hipchen, a former MSU cheerleader, said she has definitely converted from an on again off again game watcher to a full fledged die hard and could see her self basking in the sun of a warm weather bowl game come January.
“Oh yeah I’d be there,” Hipchen said. “I think we’re going all the way.”
The recent excitement boost has not only helped increase the possible number of season ticket holders, but it also adds to East Lansing business profits on football Saturdays and not to mention the overall atmosphere on campus.
“The more they win the more excited people get, especially after the Notre Dame game, people went crazy,” said Mark Sata, manager and part owner of Spartan Sports Den located on Grand River Avenue. “As long as they keep on winning then all the excitement and enthusiasm should last.”
Perhaps a testament to the loyalty of football fans on campus could be how they show up rooting for their Spartans even if the season is a classic Spartan train wreck.[3]
“We usually have good business in here on football Saturdays,” Sata said. “But the winning always helps out.”
Mckenzie agrees the winning obviously helps morale and keeps the interest level high.
“I really enjoy tailgating and going to the games and it is much easier to go home happy after a win rather than going home after a loss,” Mckenzie said.
There is no doubt about how tough it has been to be a Spartan football fan in the recent past, but by the same token there is no doubt how excited fans are getting over the prospect of becoming a national power and more than just a “basketball school.”
Even though anyone reading this should now be rushing for the nearest wooden object to give it a good luck knock, the mere notion of a major bowl bid or a Big Ten title seems to have consumed fans from Hubbard to Wilson Halls.
“I would love to end my college career on a high note like that,” Mckenzie said. “That would be unreal.”
So in the meantime Spartan football fans will go on fighting through those tense moments that will surely come. They will cheer themselves hoarse and slather on that green and white face paint like it was their job. They will go on sitting on the edge of their seats as excited as a Peanut Barrel patron on a Thursday night with hopes of being part of Spartan football glory.
And this time they might actually get it.

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