Thursday, June 14, 2018

Apparently it's been so long since I've posted here, I can't access Brainsplotch on my PC, so I guess I have to do it from my phone. I don't know what the heck is going on, but I have to figure it out.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The dark cloud hanging over Dantonio and Izzo

I have tried to write this post a few times, but events at Michigan State seem to change on a daily basis, rendering my thoughts and impressions immediately dated.
Let me get right down to it: I am depressed. I am sad. I am infuriated. Infuriated with MSU's leadership void and incompetence, but also infuriated with unfair and vindictive shots MSU is taking from outsiders (and I don't necessarily mean ESPN, but mainly people on social media).
I don't know what to make of the dark cloud over the basketball and football program. How much of this is really malfeasance by Izzo and/or Dantonio, and how much is it an opportunistic ESPN with an axe to grind? How much of my reaction is knee-jerk defensiveness that my alma mater is under the microscope? Is it just that I can't handle the ugly reality and am taking out my anger on a media outlet that is simply trying to report a story?
I have never met Mark Dantonio, so I have no idea who he is as a human being. Perhaps he is capable of covering up sexual misconduct/abuse. I really have no idea. Certainly, Dantonio's program has been checkered by bad behavior by his players, so I regret to admit this is not a far-fetched notion.
On the other hand, I have met Tom Izzo twice, both times in everyday situations in which he could have easily "big-timed" me or ignored me. Instead, he was gracious and friendly. He struck me as, deep down, a hard-working blue collar guy from Iron Mountain. I felt like I got the measure of the man and insight into his character. It's hard for me to imagine Izzo ever knowingly covering up bad behavior by one of his players.
But what do I know? Clearly the culture at Michigan State is not what I thought it was just one or two years ago. It's an institution that enabled a predator like Larry Nassar, so who knows what else it has allowed?
All I really know is that if It's true that Izzo is guilty of a cover up, it will be one of the saddest days of my life. I will no longer feel like I can trust any public figure.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thoughts about the Larry Nassar scandal

I'd be remiss if I didn't spend some time writing about the Larry Nassar scandal.

It has been a time of embarrassment and shame for the entire MSU community. The scope of Larry Nassar's abuse of his patients certainly stupefied and horrified me, and probably everybody else who has been paying attention to the trial. What is even worse is that Nassar was able to engage in this activity for decades without being stopped by anyone.

All of the women who came forward to testify in court deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their bravery, and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina also deserves praise for allowing anyone who wished to speak the opportunity to come forward.

I called for Lou Ann Simon to step down as president, and I am satisfied that she did so yesterday. Though I do not think she should be vilified (at least not yet. Who knows what will be discovered in the independent investigation of the scandal) her leadership has been lacking throughout this ordeal.

It has been terrible to see Michigan State University, a place I hold dearly, raked through the mud in the national news throughout the last several weeks. But I can't say it wasn't deserved. I hope that the university can learn from all the mistakes that were made and begin the healing process.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Catching up again...and adventures at the Maryland game

Catching up from where I left off...

The Ohio State game did not go as planned. Perhaps the less said about it, the better.
The following week, the Spartan men's basketball team lost yet again to Duke. The Blue Devils are MSU's kryptonite, and losing to them is agonizing. I'm sure it's far worse for Tom Izzo than it is for us fans.

Last Saturday, I scored two tickets to the home finale football game against Maryland. The weather that day was abysmal, so my wingman--my elder son--bailed on me about a half-hour before we were to leave for Spartan Stadium. I can't say I blame him.

Allow me to take a moment and complain about how college sports have become a slave to the whims of television. There is no way a mid or late November football game in the upper Midwest should kick off at 4:00 PM. And to make it even worse, the constant television timeouts are interminable.

So I trudged my way through the mucky, wet, already dark at 3:30 campus of MSU to the stadium. Nobody--and I mean NOBODY--was tailgating in this grey gloom.

Having zigzaged up the ramp to Section 105 in the east upper stands, I found my seat on the wet aluminum bleacher and decided it may be best to stand. Rain turned to sleet, but I survive the first quarter. By mid-way through the second quarter, it was clear that the knitted gloves I wore were useless in the damp conditions, as they were saturated with water and I may as well have wrapped wet cold towels around my hands. The gloves were removed and relegated to my coat pockets.
Then there was my miscalculated choice of footwear: running shoes. My feet were frozen and I could barely feel my toes. Never again. Note to self: wear winter boots in all future November football games in which the temperature is under 45 degrees.

At halftime, the Spartans held a 14-0 lead. I seriously considered abandoning the game, but then I remembered how my son and I had left for home during the weather delay of the Penn State game. I decided to walk around the upper deck concourse and attempt to warm up at least a bit.
The third quarter started and I was resolved to take it a quarter at a time. Maybe fewer than 30 people remained in the upper deck. At the risk of sounding insensitive to a real tragedy, it was as if we were on the Titanic going down with the ship, having declined opportunities to escape in lifeboats.
I found it was more tolerable to move around to keep my blood flowing, and the third quarter went quickly. When an usher encouraged we few upper deck stragglers to move down to the lower deck, I gladly did so.

The tiny crowd remaining in Spartan Stadium acted punch drunk, practically delirious from the wet, cold, icy, snowy conditions. Maryland mounted a bit of a rally in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown to cut the score to 17-7. The Terrapins later threatened to make it a one possession game when they lined up for a field goal. Suddenly, a ho-hum game became tense, which helped stave off the cold weather. The Terps missed the field goal and the Spartans survived with a 17-7 win.
And I also survived.

There were moments during the game when I wondered, "Am I endangering my life being out here?" I could barely wiggle my toes when the game ended and I had images of me having my frostbit toes amputated because I was too stubborn to leave a college football game.

Thankfully, the walk back to my car worked wonders, and I could feel all of my extremities after the 20 minute walk had concluded. Ones favorite team winning also helps get the blood flowing.
So today the Spartans will be finishing a better than expected regular season in New Jersey against Rutgers. I will watch it from the climate controlled warmth of my house.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What a football season it has been!

The Spartans have played three games since I last wrote in here, and they've won two of them.

I was at the October 21 Homecoming victory against Indiana: a warm, gloriously sunny Saturday. I have never seen a Homecoming game as festive as this year. The stadium was so packed--and security so tight--that it took us until about midway through the first quarter to get to our upper deck seats. The game itself was painful until MSU woke up late in the fourth quarter to score two touchdowns and sneak out with a 17-9 win.

Last week, very little went right in a 39-31 overtime loss to a good Northwestern team in Evanston. But the Spartans more than made up by bouncing back to beat #7 Penn State 27-24.

There hasn't been anything overwhelming about MSU's Big Ten wins this season. They have won five games by a combined 25 points. Even if it isn't pretty, the team finds a way to win.

My son and I were at the Penn State game, but I regret to admit that after the stadium was evacuated, we didn't return to the see the conclusion. We had prior engagements that evening, so I watched the second half from the warmth of my living room. But here is a salute to the hardy people who stuck around to cheer the Spartans on. Well done!

There is a lot to like about this year's team. Just the fact that they have more than doubled last year's win total is reason enough to rejoice.

Brian Lewerke has thrown for 400 yards in two consecutive games. He established a new single-game passing yardage record against Northwestern and threw for another 400 yesterday against Penn State. Considering he still has two more seasons left at MSU, he could end up as the most prolific passer MSU has ever had.

The Spartans have a slew of excellent young receivers, but Felton Davis III has established himself--at least for now--as the number one guy. He was seemingly all over the field yesterday and made phenomenal catch after phenomenal catch.

So with Iowa blowing out Ohio State yesterday, the Spartans find themselves amazingly playing for the driver's seat in the Big Ten East race next week against the Buckeyes. For the fourth time in the the last five years, it is Michigan State--not Michigan--who goes up against Ohio State with a potential championship on the line.

I admit that after last season's 3-9 debacle, I wasn't sure if Mark Dantonio could get the program back to championship level. How wrong I was. He has to be a prime candidate for national coach of the year.

I fully expect the Spartans to be underdogs in Columbus next week, and I think that's the way they like it. Ohio State has proven themselves to be fallible, and though I don't expect them to look as bad as they were against Iowa, in no way do I think they are a guarantee to beat Michigan State. I have finally learned not to doubt Mark Dantonio.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Spartans escape 30-27

I am doing something I should do more often and posting on my phone right after the game.

Well, the good news: the Spartans won.

The bad news: they damned near blew it.

In a game in which it appeared that MSU was in control and cruising to a relatively dominant victory, the bottom almost fell out in the 4th quarter. With MSU up 23-6, I had actually gone to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. I couldn't have been gone more than five minutes. I came back to the living room in time to see Minnesota score a touchdown and cut it to 23-13.

MSU answered the Gophers with a touchdown of their own and all looked well again. But Minnesota refused to die. They marched down field and scored yet another TD.

It looked as if MSU would respond with another touchdown, but one of the weaker holding calls I have seen negated a great LJ Scott run. The Spartans then missed a field goal and I had a bad feeling.

Minnesota, naturally, drove down field on some improbable plays (including their backup QB faking out one of our defensive players) and scored yet another TD to cut the score to 30-27 with about 1:13 left. They did this with no timeouts left.

Suddenly I had images of the Nick Saban years when his teams seemed especially adept at blowing leads and losing in improbable ways. (Look up "1997 Michigan State/Purdue" to see what I mean).

Thankfully, MSU recovered Minny's on-side kick and that was that. As stated before, the Gophers were out of timeouts.

The Spartans had escaped with what was suddenly an ugly win.

(Did I mention that I spent the last several minutes of the game loudly cursing my television? Some things never change).

The positives are as follows: the Spartans won and are now 5-1 (3-0 in conference); LJ Scott had a truly great game despite his one turnover. It was one of the best games he has had since the 2015 Big Ten title win over Iowa. Another positive: the defense played well for about 80 percent of the game.

The negatives: too many turnovers (though the weather WAS bad); too many youthful mistakes; and the defense was woeful down the stretch.

I contend, however, that this is a young team still finding its way.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Elevated expectations

I literally have not been able to get to a computer to blog until now, but am taking a few minutes to type a few thoughts now.

So I haven't written anything since before the Notre Dame game. That one didn't go as I thought, with turnovers doing the Spartans in. The following weekend I was in Seattle and followed the Iowa game on my phone while traipsing around the "Emerald City." We returned to our hotel room when the game was in the fourth quarter and I was amazed to discover that the game was actually on television in the Pacific Northwest. It was a sludgy ugly nail biter, but the Spartans hung on for a 17-10 win.

And then there was Michigan this past Saturday. I thought MSU could and should make it a close game, but I didn't necessarily think they'd win. Well, I have to learn to stop doubting Mark Dantonio and company in this game. Dantonio is now 8-3 against Michigan. Even in the games that MSU has lost, the Spartans have been in every one of them, including last year's game in which a struggling team pushed Michigan to the fourth quarter.

So MSU's win Saturday should have come as no surprise. This is what Dantonio does. He gets his teams prepared to compete against Michigan and they never doubt their ability to beat the Wolverines. In fact, I think they assume they will beat Michigan. And with pompous Michigan alumni like Desmond Howard offering bulletin board material every year, Michigan State players don't lack for incentive to beat the Wolverines.

As someone who has followed this rivalry since the mid-'70s, and experienced his share of Michigan losses, it's still hard for me to get used to this new reality, But believe me, I'm enjoying it.

So now expectations for the season are suddenly elevated. Is this a team that can seriously contend for a Big Ten title? Who knows? Maybe they can. It all depends on how the team handles its big win over Michigan and how the young players mature over the course of the season. The next test is tonight on the road against a beat-up but still dangerous Minnesota Gophers team. It could be a struggle, but I will pick the Spartans to win 23-16.