Thursday, July 17, 2014

Old Spartan football games on Big Ten Network, and how I love them (In particular, 1987 MSU/UM and 1998 MSU/OSU)

I am an absolute sucker for the Big Ten Network's "Greatest games" series. During the slow summer months, these replays get quite a bit of rotation as BTN tries desperately to fill programming time. I find it fun to revisit these games years later, to reminisce about the old uniform designs, the cheesy graphics used in the original broadcasts (the same graphics that seemed so hi-tech at the time), and even other minutiae like the clothing and hairstyles of the spectators. (I can't believe how utterly ridiculous and horrible we all looked in the 1980s. However, I suppose we'll be saying the same things twenty years from now when we watch replays of current games).

A few weeks ago, BTN broadcasted Michigan State's 17-11 win over Michigan from the 1987 football season. This was an especially pleasant treat, because with the exception of highlights on YouTube, I hadn't seen this game since it was originally played on October 10, 1987.

I had completely forgotten that MSU--and Michigan--had run several wishbone plays. Maybe I simply didn't understand the significance of this back then, or else I flat-out didn't notice or care.

I had also somehow forgotten what a slobber-knocker that game was. Twenty-two guys just obliterating each other on practically every play: the direct result of how the game was played back in the 1980s, particularly when the two coaches (Perles and Schembechler) had the same "three yards and a cloud of dust" offensive philosophy.

The Spartans dominated the game, with hapless Michigan quarterback Demetrius Brown almost completing more passes to MSU defensive backs than his own receivers. Still, Michigan scored a touchdown and two-point conversion early in the second half--after Andre Rison coughed up the ball on a fumbled punt return--and were remarkably only down by six points. On two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines had a chance to score a winning touchdown, but each time Demetrius Brown threw a pick. Todd Krumm's interception with under a minute left in the game finally sealed the victory for Michigan State.

The 1998 Ohio State game still blows me away. To this day, it's stunning that the Spartans came back from a 24-9 deficit to score the final 19 points of the game, stop the Buckeyes on a goal-line stand in the final minutes of the game--sealed by a Renaldo Hill interception--and come away with a 28-24 victory over a powerhouse football team loaded with NFL talent. Almost sixteen years later, it still ranks as one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

Julian Peterson drills Joe Germaine in the 1998 MSU/OSU game (AP Photo)

When Ohio State took the 24-9 lead in the third quarter, it looked at that point like the Buckeyes were en route to rolling to a victory. It looked especially bad when the Spartans were forced to punt deep in their own side of the field, but in one of those crazy twists of fate that can completely change the momentum of a game, the ball hit an OSU player at midfield and the Spartans recovered. From that point on, MSU played like a team that was given an adrenaline injection, while the Buckeyes seemed to be waiting for MSU to simply pack it in. The Buckeyes would wait almost the rest of the game for this to happen, but it never did.

Watching the game, I am reminded of how aggravating and frustrating that '98 MSU football team could be. They were capable of crushing Notre Dame (42-3 lead at halftime en route to a 45-23 win) and beating #1 Ohio State at The 'Shoe--yet they could also lose to a weak Minnesota team and follow up the OSU upset with a home loss to Purdue. The Spartans had talent on that team, but it was raw talent. Players like Plaxico Burress and Julian Peterson showed flashes of brilliance that would come to full fruition the next season, when the Spartans finished 10-2.

It's been fun passing the lazy days of summer watching these old games and engaging in one of my favorite activities: reminiscing.

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