This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
I'm giving Pete a break from baring his Spartan soul today by writing about the most memorable moments in recent Spartan football history. Pete already touched on some of those moments in the post on his favorite MSU football teams. To provide a slightly different angle, I'm going to restrict the moments on my list to games I saw first-hand, and I'm going to rank the moments based more on the pure exhilaration of the moment than on the ultimate importance of the moment in the grand scheme of things (not that those two things aren't often interrelated). Given that my attendance at MSU football games has been fairly sporadic over the last decade, this will give the rest of you plenty of opportunity to chime in with your own most memorable moments.
Without further ado, my top 5 MSU football moments:
5. Chris L. Rucker seals the deal. 2008: MSU 35, Michigan 21.
The only game I've ever attended in the Big House (or at a road venue, for that matter). The first-half pylon TD for Michigan (Go, Big Ten replay official!) was a bad omen. But MSU held steady. Javon Ringer ran straight into the teeth of the Michigan defense and came out with 194 yards to show for it. Rucker's interception of Steven Threet, though, was arguably the clinching play, setting up MSU final touchdown in their first win in Ann Arbor since 1990.
4. Smoker to Duckett (with an assist from the timekeeper). 2001: MSU 26, Michigan 24.
The most-discussed play in modern MSU football history, I'd dare say. That final second probably didn't belong on the clock. On the other hand, Michigan should have put the game away by that point. I was sitting in the opposite endzone from the TD catch with my wife and our close friends of the UM-alumni variety. Needless to say, we had a happier walk out of the stadium than they did. (The radio call by the always-aggrieved Michigan announcers makes this Youtube clip extra fun.)
3. The kick to beat the Gators in their own backyard. 2000 Citrus Bowl: MSU 37, Florida 34.
The second biggest MSU bowl win of the last, what, 50 years? And I was fortunate enough to be there for it. Plaxico Burress was huge, scoring 3 TDs in the game. And freshman T.J. Duckett had 77 yards on the ground. But it was the less-well-remembered Lloyd Clemons who set up the winning field goal by Paul Edinger (which went from right to left from where we were sitting in the second deck) with 4 rushes for 28 yards on the final possession.
2. Tony Banks marches them down the field. 1995: MSU 28, Michigan 25.
This game was as cold as any I've ever been to at Spartan Stadium. But we didn't care a lick about the temperature in those final couple minutes, as Banks smoothly (but narrowly) led the team down the field to beat the Wolverines. (We were sitting in the opposite endzone for this one, too.) I still regret getting rid of the Derrick Mason replica jersey I once owned in a moment of poor sports-apparel-related judgment.
1. Haygood's 4th-down dash. 2000: MSU 27, Notre Dame 21.
MSU was down to its final snap of the ball. 4th and 10 from well on its own side of midfield. My family's seats were perfectly placed for this play--in the (south) endzone looking straight at the MSU offense coming toward us. Haygood ran a slant into an open space as his defender blitzed Jeff Smoker. As soon as he caught the ball, it was clear he was going all the way. 50 yards of pure elation.
(Honorable mention #1: Larry Caper game-ending touchdown run in last year's win over Michigan. This turned out to be a critical play for both teams, as the win by MSU was the difference between the Spartans and the Wolverines going to a bowl game. I didn't really feel too exhilarated at the time, though--just relieved to have avoided a meltdown-level loss at home to our struggling in-state rivals.
Honorable mention #2: The comeback win over Penn State in 2007. As recapped in the previous post, it was as key a win as any in the football program's current mini-renaissance. Well worth sitting out in the freezing cold for 3+ hours to witness first-hand. But it's all too much of a blur in my head to pick out one great moment. A commenter pointed to the Jehuu Caulcrick fake field goal run.
Final note: If I were really going by the pure exhilaration of the moment, this play would have to be on the list. It's not, though, as I am not yet ready to concede that that particular game was ever, in fact, played.)
There you go. Let's hear from the rest of you. What Spartan gridiron moments stand out most in your mind?