Sunday, October 18, 2015

Veni, Vidi, Vici; The Curse of Sparty Came, Saw, and Conquered Michigan

Veni, Vidi Vici, “I Came, I saw, I conquered,” Julius Caesar’s famous statement. The Michigan State Spartans came to Ann Arbor yesterday. They came, they saw, and they were conquered for 59 minutes and 50 seconds. They led the whole game in times of possession and yards gained, but the University of Michigan Wolverines led on the scoreboard the entire game, that’s what counts, until the last play in the last ten seconds. Michigan’s defense was a stalwart, the offense did the job, and the special teams were special, for the first season in a decade. Then the curse of Sparty struck. Every first year Michigan coach, beginning with the great Bo Schembechler, has lost his first game to Michigan State. Bo could beat an undefeated returning national champion, Ohio State, that year, but not Sparty. Are you listening Harbaugh? Gary couldn’t do it. Lloyd failed, as did Rich Rod, Brady, and now Jim. They could lose big, they could lose small, they just would lose. Yesterday was different. The Wolverine felt it. Michigan State was undefeated, but winning ugly. It was banged up, missing several stars. Its special teams were bad. The coaches did not even trust their field goal kicker (Rich Rod deja vu) The Wolverines were hot. The defense was playing great. The Michigan family was united, filling Detroit Airport. Even the students filled their section, a rarity in recent years. A sea of khaki filled the Big House. Michigan was back. Jim Harbaugh is the greatest. The talk all week was that Michigan was back. They would beat Sparty and enter the national championship picture. Even game day was in Ann Arbor for the smackdown with most expects picking Michigan. Ticket prices on StubHub were soaring. Someone forgot to tell Michigan State they were the designated losers this week. Mark Dantonio, Sparty's coach, is one of the best in America. Dantonio is the true successor, based on background and coaching style, to Bo. He steels his players in his image – scrappy. His scrappy Spartans are in the Rodney Dangerfield Zone – just can’t get no respect. Both teams played a great game in the bitterly cold weather. Both showed their team strengths and weaknesses. Neither is yet a perfect team. It was standing room only for 111,740 fans because there were 111,740 fans standing the whole game. The fans from both Michigan schools were fraternizing before the game. Of course, they live in the same state and often the same house. It is only a bitter rivalry on the field. Michigan had two obstacles in the game. It had to beat Michigan State on the field, which it was doing with a 2 point lead in the final minutes. The defense held. Michigan also had to beat the officials. I don’t know what the TV commentators were saying, but these jokers, including, and perhaps especially, the replay official in the booth, set a mark of incompetence. But you still have to win on the field. The final score goes into the books. Michigan just could not put scrappy Sparty away. Fourth down punt, 10 seconds to go, Michigan was up by 2. Michigan State could still win by a field goal, but they had no one returning the punt. All 11 were in the box to block the punt. If they failed, the ball would be so deep on their side of the field that a Hail Mary pass would have to go 75 yards against the wind. We felt it; we knew. The curse was broken. And then the totally inexplicable, unfathomable happened. I have never seen a play like this, going back five decades to high school. Blocked punts returned for touchdowns I understand. Auburn has done it twice to Alabama. Blocked punts for safetys I understand. Boggled snaps with the punter falling on the ball I understand. I even understand, back to Auburn and Alabama, that Alabama’s march towards another national title was stopped two years ago when Auburn returned a missed Alabama Field goal from end zone to end zone at the end of the game to pull the upset. I’ve seen it all. Appalachian State blocking two Michigan field goal attempts in the final two minutes eight years ago to pull one of the greatest upsets in college football history. David versus Goliath with David slaying one of the preseason top five teams. I saw it because I was at the game. I was also at the game yesterday with 111,000 of us about to explode in joy and storm the field. The curse would be broken. And then in ten seconds, all we saw was that Michigan State was running in for the winning touchdown as the game clock struck 0.00. It was lights out for Michigan. We saw the punter bobble a low, but handable, snap from center. He could have fallen on the ball, but no, he tried to be heroic. Don’t blame him for the ball flying directly into the hands of a Spartan player. It’s not Blake O’Neill’s fault. The football Gods ordained it. They would not lift the curse of Sparty _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Never forget that football and sports are just games. Life is the person who suffered a heart attack after the traumatic ending.

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