The Sunday memorial to Mike Sadler at Spartan Stadium is gonna be tough. He was truly a Spartan great both on and off the field. He was a starter for four years, was the first MSU player to be a four-time Academic All-American, was headed to Stanford Law School in the fall. He looked destined for success in every way a success can be quantitatively and qualitatively measured.
And if he's remembered for that, that would tell a sliver of his story. Those accomplishments were things he merely accomplished, byproducts of a driven person. They were not who he was.
That's why what comes next will be hard. Not only because it's sad, which it undoubtedly is, but if we're keeping in Mike's spirit, I have to work through this sadness to try and brighten a few days, like he would've done. After all, we're Spartans: we've never really done things the easy way. So here is my best shot to eulogize him, from what I've gathered from those who knew him well over the past few days:
Mike Sadler was not just a great human being - he rose to be not just an asshole, but the best kind of asshole.
Asshole isn't the word I would first use to describe him, because I only knew him through the media and Twitter. That's a word Tyler O'Connor, someone who did know him well, used (albeit censored), and I completely get where he's coming from. Regular friends will have coffee with you regularly on Saturday mornings at 10 AM to chat. They'll pick up something from the grocery store for you when they're there. They'll go with you to the movies, you'll have a drink at TGI Friday's afterward, probably a margarita or other faux tropical drink with an umbrella, and you'll go to bed content.
Asshole friends though? They will drag you out of your comfort zone like nothing else. They will buy you that 4th, 5th, and then 6th tequila shot at The Riv on a Wednesday night, convince you to spend a weekend in Windsor before Finals, or say that absolutely sarcastic comment which you think is true but dare not voice. However, it's that blunt honesty, that tearing down of the walls of social norms that makes you appreciate the asshole. I know it sounds trite, but once those walls are demolished, you can let people in. That best kind of asshole, no matter what kind of random shit you'll get into, will be at your side, cracking jokes along the way, even if you're hungover on a Sunday morning waiting to cross the Ambassador Bridge.
Even though Mike didn't know most of us, through his tweets and social media posts, we got to know him more than any other Spartan football player. We saw his sarcasm saturated with happiness. Here was a man who would pose in a Speedo to get you to laugh, damn it. And if he could do it sexily, well, that was just an unintended side of effect of the photo's purpose: LAUGH, DAMN IT.
One look at Twitter on Sunday only redoubled those thoughts about that bond: the only way Mike could've had the force of affection he had is if he was the best kind of asshole. It wasn't just his family, friends, and teammates: it was thousands of people he had never met. Through social media, we got to see a side we don't often see a side we see in college football players: a side that says, "I've got a platform; why don't I just throw jokes against the wall to see if they stick?"
And boy did they stick. In a sport where the most-used metaphors are likened to battles and wars, Sadler had the most nerve of all: he tried to make college football — *gasp* — intentionally funny! I'm sure you're envisioning him stroking Faux Pelini's cat right now, but it was more than that. The man moonlighted as a running back people! Granted, it was only through punt formations, but would he have looked THAT out of place in the I formation? I bet he could've averaged at least three yards a carry, especially with Le'Veon blocking for him.
Further, let's not let his holding heroics slide here. You know who held the balls for 6 of the 24 points scored in the 2014 Rose Bowl? Mike once again. Although there were other holders on the depth chart, I'm sure no one would've put the laces out more cleanly. Heck, they might have had Geiger try to kick the ball straight off the snap. I'm sure he would've been up for the challenge, but I'm guessing he misses at least one extra point.
When someone we've watched and known so young dies, despair can be the default; to look at how 50+ years of Mike have been stolen from us and think what could've been. However, it's that despair we need to resist. Sadness? It's a conclusion to feel sad. One of the Spartans who gave us pride, laughter, and joy in these past years won't be here with us physically anymore. Let the tears flow. Every tear is a monument to how we miss him. Monuments that will make us recall not just his accomplishments in the classroom and in athletics, but also the laughter and joy he gave us, along with the knowledge that if Mike was that good in the 24 years he had, maybe there's a chance we can approach the person he would've been.
Even if we can't be a half, a quarter, or even a tenth of what Mike's potential, we can be a number: 3. The number that defined him: not just a punter, but also a running back and holder. When we doubt ourselves, even when our depressions tell us that no one out of a 100, a million, or 7 billion would care what we have to say. Maybe we can overwhelm those thoughts to believe that we can make 3 people, be it in an hour or day or week or month, laugh and have a better day. Most of us probably realize that we'll never be the person Mike would've been. That doesn't mean we're not gonna try. Try to make a difference to 3 people, however long it takes. It may be just making someone smile, a small favor, even holding the door open. Just because a gesture is simple doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.
Which is why when the tears come, when despondency, depression, and despair attack, when there's no apparent path to happiness, we have to try to deny our darkness to be the light to another. If Mike Sadler is remembered for anything else, it shouldn't be about his athletic or academic accomplishments, which were with few peers. It's that he let us he into his life. He was, above everything else, a real person, with family and friends he loved dearly; a real person who those family and friends will never get to see at Thanksgiving or Christmas or hang out with on a slow summer East Lansing Tuesday on the patio at Harper's. He easily could've been the sarcastic friend we had, someone we looked forward to seeing what he had to say each day. He erased walls to share his life with us like we, all of us who followed him on social media, were his friends. And I'll be forever grateful he did that.
I mentioned this earlier, but it's worth mentioning again: a remembrance service is going to be held for Mike on Sunday at 3 PM at Spartan Stadium. As I said, I never knew him, but I'm sure he'd like it if you show up. If you do, for every tear shed, make sure to share a funny moment: tell him about Faux Pelini's cat, favorite one of his tweets, or even carry around a wallet-sized picture of the time he wore the Speedo. Whatever you do though, don't cry alone. Find a stranger, and tell him or her why petting an imaginary cat gave happiness to so, so many.
Because above all, Mike wanted you to smile. The tears are absolutely going to be shed for some time. Let's make sure the laughs outnumber them.