INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Jared McGaha #75 of the Michigan State Spartans sits alone on the bench dejected after they lost 42-39 against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I've think I've recovered enough where I can recap this game. Let's start from my decision to go to the Big Ten Championship Game.
FRIDAY NIGHT, 9 PM, PETE'S APARTMENT.
My decision is final -- I'm going. I start e-mailing friends to get tickets, and am checking hotels around the area. Surprisingly, there's a Super 8 about 12 miles away from Lucas Oil that has room. That sounds good enough for me.
FRIDAY NIGHT, 10:30 PM.
My friend Jim calls. He has an extra ticket in the MSU section plus a hotel that's only five miles away from Lucas Oil. RAWK, and I cancel the previous reservation.
SATURDAY, 11 AM.
Jim picks me up, and we head down from Lansing to Indianapolis. The four-hour drive is punctuated by banter that sounds similar in hundreds of other cars traveling down I-69: MSU's defense has to be better with Gholston and with Peter Konz possibly out, right? How hard can it be to beat a team twice (SPOILER ALERT: difficult)?
SATURDAY, 3:15 PM -- THE WYNDHAM WEST HOTEL, INDIANAPOLIS
We're here! We throw our crap in our room, and grab the first shuttle to downtown Indy.
SATURDAY, 4:00 PM -- CORNER OF SOUTH AND WEST, INDIANAPOLIS
We're downtown! We're dropped off by Lucas Oil and head a couple blocks down to find some friends. This is the first time both of us have seen Lucas Oil, and we agree -- it looks fantastic.
SATURDAY, 4:00-7:30 PM -- ASSORTED BARS, INDIANAPOLIS
We're drinking! Since this is supposed to be a football recap, I'll spare you the details except this -- Wisconsin fans were easily outnumbered by at least a 2 to 1 ratio by State fans.
SATURDAY, 8:00 PM -- LUCAS OIL STADIUM, SECTION 424, ROW 10
Our seats are at the very top of the second deck behind the "Michigan State" end zone, and the seats are very nice. Even nicer, the section is right next to the men's room. We arrive as Wisconsin's band is finishing up their pre-game show, and right as Michigan State's band is starting theirs. I want to comment on this, but I'm afraid I had to go to the bathroom. Sorry. It was a nice touch for both bands to perform the national anthem together.
THE COIN FLIP
Wisconsin wins it, and they want the ball. Great! I like Michigan State getting the ball to start the 2nd half, and it's going to be a matchup of strengths. Digging it.
WISCONSIN 7, MICHIGAN STATE 0
Not digging it. Montee Ball drags the Badgers by his staunch hindquarters down the field. The run is established, and Russell Wilson completes three passes to get Wisconsin into the end zone. That's all right, we still got this.
WISCONSIN 7, MICHIGAN STATE 7
WISCONSIN 14, MICHIGAN STATE 7
So this is how it's going to go? Montee Ball does it all again, including completing a third-down halfback pass to a streaking Wilson on the outside. And when I mean "does it all", I mean he touched the ball every time save one incomplete pass on an eight-play, 60 yard drive. That's OK, Michigan State has the kickoff --
WISCONSIN 21, MICHIGAN STATE 7
Nick Hill fumble on the return, two Ball runs, touchdown. That score happened that fast in real life as well.
WISCONSIN 21, MICHIGAN STATE 14
It's the start of the Kirk and B.J. show, as Cousins completes a 30-yard pass to Cunningham for the second score. I'm trying to remember how this happened, but I can't. That's how crazy balls this game was.
MICHIGAN STATE 22, WISCONSIN 21
Bulletpointing the next few thoughts:
- Yay for stopping Ball and pressuring Wilson! It's a three and out.
- Cousins picks his way down to the red zone. That throw to Nichol's going to be a bit short and...WHAAAAA?!??11!!! The lateral to B.J.! Touchdo --
- DOUBLE WHAAA?!!!?? Holder Brad Sonntag runs into the end zone for the two point conversion! MSU has their first lead, and WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
Wisconsin three-and-out featuring a Russell Wilson sack, Cousins throwing into double coverage into an interception, another Wisconsin three-and-out.
MICHIGAN STATE 29, WISCONSIN 21
The Spartans are exploiting Wisconsin's lack of speed on the outside via Keshawn Martin, and is it ever working. MSU's into the red zone again, and a Le'Veon Bell run gets Michigan State up 8.
Another Wisconsin three-and-out, and MSU fails to get a field goal from 51 yards. I rush to the bathroom, and manage to catch the MSU halftime show. Good marching, but I forget what the songs are.
THE THIRD QUARTER, A BLUR
I remember Wisconsin scoring. I remember Cousins completing a short pass to Cunningham and B.J. doing the rest of the work for a score. I am holding up four fingers; it is the fourth quarter, I am holding up four fingers.
MICHIGAN STATE 36, WISCONSIN 28 -- START OF THE FOURTH QUARTER
Wisconsin's scored again. I forget how. I do remember the Badgers going for the 2-point conversion and missing it, and laughing at Bret Bielema.
MICHIGAN STATE 36, WISCONSIN 34
Some time passes. MSU gets close to another pass down, but Martin can't quite reel in a third and goal pass. Conroy nails the field goal.
MICHIGAN STATE 39, WISCONSIN 34
FOURTH AND LONG FOR WISCONSIN, MIDFIELDISH
Wilson's flushed out of the pocket. Max Bullough gets up front, jumps to deflect the pass, but it's over his hands. Wilson's thrown across the field into double coverage...and it's caught inside the 10. Unbelievable. Ball takes it from there. 2-point conversion is good. Of course.
WISCONSIN 42, MICHIGAN STATE 39
A short drive from MSU is nearly saved by an amazing catch by Martin. It was third and nine, and I thought Cousins had enough room to run for a first down. Punt. MSU uses its last two timeouts (the other was used in the third, I forget on what) to stop Wisconsin. They are successful. Wisconsin will punt.
W 4-3 W26 98-Nortman, Brad punt 41 yards to the MSU33, 82-Martin, Keshawn return to the WIS3, out-of-bounds (98-Nortman, Brad), PENALTY MSU roughing the kicker (9-Lewis, Isaiah) 5 yards to the WIS31, 1ST DOWN WIS, NO PLAY.
I remember MSU getting pressure. I remember the punter falling. I know it's over.
The replay would show Lewis touched the Badger punter. Isaiah Lewis, playmaker extraordinare including the pick-six that secured the Michigan game, has flown too close to the sun, and there is falling. Three knees by Wisconsin.
FINAL SCORE -- WISCONSIN 42, MICHIGAN STATE 39
Streamers are erupting across Lucas Oil while Jim and I are heading for the exits. There's a long line for the escalators.
I'm out of the stadium. A vendor's advertising Michigan State gear half off. Some State fans are sad, silent, and entering their hotels, while others are greeting their friends. Jim and I walk a couple blocks to find our cab. A Wisconsin fans yells "Have fun at the Capital One Bowl!" And I remember being pissed and thinking "The Capital One Bowl sounds pretty good over the Insight right now."
More walking to find a cab. A police officer is saying to passerby that they can find cabs on Meridian street. Finally a cab arrives, and we're back to our hotel.
THE WYNDHAM HOTEL SPORTS BAR, 1:30 AM.
I'm sitting with Jim, and I'm starting to feel a bit better. I have a Fat Tire, while a Wisconsin fan drops a 50 on the bar (I remember this because who uses Grants anymore?). He's a stout man with a pair of glasses split down the middle around his neck. He asks me:
"What beer's lighter than a Fat Tire?"
I'm drinking a Fat Tire because they're not available in Michigan (hint), so I say, "Bud and Miller Light of course. As well as Stella."
"Well, I'll have a Stella then. Great game tonight." He's sincere, and it's easy to be magnanimous when your team is the victor, but it's a pleasant time.
There's a few Wisconsin fans on the other side of the bar. We reminisce about the game, and I ask them why their offensive coordinator backed off of running Ball when it was so effective earlier in the game (note: Ball ran 27 times for 137 yards. For whatever reason, it seemed like much less at the time). They agreed, and said they were nervous at halftime. There's a distraught Spartan fan sitting to Jim's left. I remind him that the old days -- the days of heartbreaking losses and no bowls at all -- were much worse. It's 2:30 AM. It's bedtime.
SUNDAY 10 AM.
Headed home. I manage to squeeze off a tweet:
A few minutes later, I get a tweet back:
I reflect. The outcome of the game was heartbreaking. However, seeing friends I hadn't seen in a while, feeling a part of a Spartan fan base playing tug-of-war with a Wisconsin fan base both screaming their heads off, and the atmosphere...those are moments I'll always remember
Michigan State's in the Outback Bowl, Michigan's in the Sugar. Many MSU fans are pissed, but me, I've long accepted that that's college football. On the macro level, it's a revenue stream for the NCAA and bowls to exploit fans. It's an ugly, ugly business.
On the micro level however, it's tailgates. It's 85 degree noon games the last Saturday in August. It's campus on a sunny day. It's the fight song in Spartan Stadium. It's the improbable comeback to pull off an impossible win, and it's the collapse that erases your mind. I know that Michigan State is going to get screwed by the current system at every turn.
I'll never stop being a college football fan. The good moments far outweigh the bad, and even in moments as heartbreaking as Saturday night, I still got to high five a lot of Spartans, and met a lot of good people -- a couple crappy Wisconsin fans won't mar the tens of other ones I met. Our wax wings took us to new heights, and the fall was devastating when they melted. However, the view was incredible.
JANUARY 2ND, 1 PM
The Outback Bowl. We may as well win the damn thing.