It's amazing, and a bit frightening, to think that I was a 19 year-old sophomore at Michigan State University the last time the Spartans played in the Rose Bowl. Looking back on it now, through the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I had somehow found a way to make it to Pasadena. But at the time, there was no thought in my mind, or anyone else's mind, that MSU would never make it there again. It was merely assumed by most MSU fans that the Spartans, under the guidance of coach George Perles, would be making at least one or more trips to Pasadena. Twenty-four years later, Spartan Nation is still waiting for another Rose Bowl.
I want the current MSU students to feel the excitement that we as students felt in '87/'88 when Lorenzo White, Percy Snow, and company won the Big Ten title and beat USC in the Rose Bowl. And, on a more personal level, as I have reached what may me be either "halftime" or the 'third quarter" of my life (at age 43), I want to experience that same joy. I've reached that point where, not to sound overly maudlin, I don't know how many more years I will have to wait for "my team" to reach another Rose Bowl.
I've been feeling some butterflies and nervousness regarding tonight's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, and I'm not even playing in the game. This morning, I tried to remind myself that it is merely a game--and take a more philosophical approach--by watching one of my favorite football-related films, Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29. It's an absolutely wonderful documentary about the 1968 clash between two of the most storied rivals in college football, who both went into the game undefeated. Harvard, through a series of incredible breaks, stunning plays, and mind-boggling Yale miscues, scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds of the game to tie the heavily-favored Bulldogs. (Yale, led by future NFL players Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, were ranked 16th in the nation going into the game). Though the game was a tie, the way in which it ended created two different interpretations depending on what side you were on: the Crimson saw it as a win, and the Elis were devastated. Anyway, the best part of this film is the contemporary interviews with the now middle-aged players. Naturally, as these are Ivy League men, they are the most philosophical and erudite group of former gridiron gladiators as one will ever hear. Their thoughts about that bygone game and turbulent era are by turns poignant, humorous, joyful, amazed, disappointed, but always thoughtful.
I don't really know where I was going with that mini-review of Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29, but the film is a good reminder that football is "just a game". (And I try to remember that as I'm hurling four-letter expletives at my TV screen tonight).