Happy Thursday everyone. Hope you all enjoyed your Fourth of July holiday. Speaking of, who here thinks the Fourth of July should always fall on a Saturday? I can’t figure out the logistics of that, but I know in my heart it’s a good idea.
But anyway, as we continue to trudge through the offseason, let’s take a few moments to recognize some Spartans of yesteryear. The topic for this thread is your all-time favorite MSU athlete, or athletes if you are like me and can’t narrow it down to just one.
I have one stipulation for this. It must be someone who you are old enough to remember seeing play at MSU. For example, Magic Johnson is my favorite basketball player ever, but I only remember seeing him play in the 80s as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. I did grow up in an MSU household and I did know that he was a Spartan so that definitely had a lot to do with him being my favorite (even though we were cheering for the Bad Boys), but since I did not get to see him play for Jud Heathcote, I can’t use him as my answer.
As I hinted above, I don’t have one. In fact, I have several. From my childhood, I have to go with running back Blake Ezor. This guy once ran in 7 TDs in a single game, a then-NCAA record. I always rushed to read the Sunday sports section to read his stats (younger TOC readers: there was no internet back then). Honorable mentions from this part of my life go to a couple guys from the hardwood, Shawn Respert and Steve Smith.
From my years as a student in East Lansing, I was fortunate enough to be there during MSU’s run of 3 consecutive Final Four appearances from 1999-2001 and was there in person when we won it all in 2000. Obviously, this puts Mateen Cleaves up on my list. But since I am admittedly more of a football fan, my favorites from this chapter come from the gridiron. My favorite from offense was T.J. Duckett, who was the hero of the game my senior year between MSU and um; y’all know what game I am talking about. And my favorite on the defensive side was Canadian-born linebacker Mike Labinjo. This guy just had a nose for the ball and it felt like he was responsible for half of MSU’s tackles his senior year.
To name a few from the years since college, my favoritism tends to stick with running backs in football and centers in basketball. Paul Davis, the late Adreian Payne, and Xavier Tillman all had their turn holding the title of “favorite current player”. And, as I am sure he will be one of the most popular answers in this thread, Cassius Winston will always have a special place in the MSU portion of my heart.
In football, Leveon Bell was a delight to watch. I was there for the game against Boise State when he turned one of the Bronco defenders into a human hurdle. And LJ Scott is responsible for what just may be my all-time favorite MSU play, his game-winning reach of the ball over the goal line in the B1G championship game against Iowa. The awareness he displayed as he was being tackled to pull the ball back to his body and over the defender before stretching it out at the last possible moment was brilliant.
So that is it for my compilation of favorite Spartans of all-time. If I am being forced to pick one, after thinking about it for a few minutes and reading my article a couple times, I think I would go with Xavier Tillman. This is a player we watched get better each season, from overshadowed recruit to defensive leader and early entrant in the NBA draft. Oh, and there is that one famous inbounds play where he clandestinely signaled to Cassius where he wanted him to run so he could catch it and
run out the clock end Duke’s season. That just showed how smart of a player he was.
Ok, enough from me. Let’s hear your thoughts. Who’s your #1 (or top- as many as you’d like to give a shout out to)?