LOS ANGELES – My flight back to Detroit and … well, don’t tell me what I’m coming back to weather-wise … leaves in a few hours. Yet more than 24 hours after Michigan State’s Rose Bowl victory over Stanford on Wednesday, I can’t help but thinking about one word.
Symmetry. Because when you complete a circle, there are infinite symmetrical lines.
In this Rose Bowl, the storylines of completion are equally as infinite.
Just about everything that happened in that 24-20 victory, with the night air in Pasadena holding just a little crispness to it like a fall Saturday in East Lansing, came together in fitting fashion. In fact, there are so many ways that the Spartans achieved one of Dantonio’s favorite phrases of finishing their circles.
* Foremost, The Stop. Max Bullough gets suspended seven days earlier. His replacements at middle linebacker, senior Kyler Elsworth and sophomore Darien Harris, combine to make the play that allowed MSU to run out the clock. Elsworth closes the tumultuous week by being named Rose Bowl Defensive MVP.
* Back in late August and September, it was the Spartan defense that won games while the offense struggled. On this night, with Connor Cook throwing a pick-6 interception and Jeremy Langford fumbling deep in Stanford territory, it again became primetime for MSU to dig its heels in and make a game-saving stand. And, for one last time, the nation’s No. 1 defense did it again.
* For Cook, who felt slighted during the fall camp quarterback competition and again after getting benched late against Notre Dame. He ascended to the starting job and changed perception from being an unproven liability to a thick-skinned Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP in just three months.
* For Andrew Maxwell to take both the first and last snaps of his the season, getting to watch the clock run out on the Spartans’ Rose Bowl win and continuing to answer questions after the game both humbly and honestly. It might not have been how the former starter planned on it, but he still exited his senior season as a Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion.
* It was fitting that Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler again continued to make the important plays, combining for 191 yards on seven catches. Fowler’s out-of-the-shadows 60-yarder set up MSU’s game-tying field goal in the third quarter, then Lippett’s outstretched, 25-yard grab-and-dive touchdown early in the fourth provided the eventual winning points. A year ago, and even during the offensive struggles in this season’s first month, they couldn’t make those catches.
* Another game for MSU’s offensive line, virtually healthy all year (save for senior Dan France not playing in the Rose Bowl), to wear down an opposing defense. The heavy run-left repetition behind senior captain Blake Treadwell looked almost identical to how the Spartans put away Michigan and Ohio State. And for Fou Fonoti, the only Californian on MSU’s roster, to finish his college career so close to home and in front of so many loving family members who lived his Rose Bowl dream week by his side.
* And for Mark Dantonio, who preached to his players all year about the importance of the number 7. In his seventh season, the quest he most wanted to complete finally came to fruition. That 26-year Rose Bowl drought is over.
* These are only a few of the many stories. As Dantonio says, everyone has one. But let’s not leave out the tens of thousands of fans who turned Pasadena into East Lansing West. They finally got to experience MSU winning another Rose Bowl. The unexpectedness of it, from August angst to January joy, made the sensation of victory all the more heightened.
So it’s now also time for me to also complete my journey, though there is more postgame video to upload soon. It’s been a busy ride, but I’m ready to abandon the 70-and-sunny baseline and get back home to whatever craziness Michigan has in store. The weather is a circle, too, and spring and summer are the next and best parts of it.