Spartan Shadows: Prelude to the Big Ten Championship Game (final update: 8:07)

11:17 a.m., MICHIGAN-INDIANA BORDER – It’s cold. Very cold.

Thankfully, there have been merely a few flurries in the air and not the blizzard-like conditions of the past 36 hours.

Regardless, Team GreenAndWhite.com – Brian Calloway, Graham Couch, photographer Rod Sanford and me – marches onward to Indianapolis. And there are plenty of Green and White fans also rolling south with us on I-69, their Spartan flags fluttering proudly in the frigid breeze.

Stick with me here throughout the day for periodic updates from the festivities in and around Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium.

The buildup to the Big Ten Championship Game is national, not just local. ESPN has College GameDay on site today. Sports talk shows analyzed and hyped the MSU-Ohio State all week, from sun up to sundown and deep into the vast wasteland of overnight radio. Hour-long TV specials and entire sections of this newspaper have been devoted to what many expect to be both a physical and entertaining game.

The Spartans received a major boost Friday night, when Northern Illinois lost to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference championship game. The Huskies had been 12-0, ranked No. 14 in the BCS rankings and hoping to get an at-large berth in one of the five big-money bowl games.

Their loss ended that. And it all but assured MSU – win or lose – of a BCS berth. It’s fairly clear that the thought of Pasadena is filling fans’ long, cold drive with plenty of warm visions.

Nine hours and counting until kickoff. About 12 hours from now, the Spartans will know if their Rose Bowl dreams will finally become reality.

3:20 p.m., INDIANAPOLIS - The Michigan St./Ohio St. sign greeted us as we arrived near our downtown hotel. Sure, that stands for Street and not State … but not today.

Saw plenty of fans wearing their MSU gear in vehicles on the southbound drive, as well as a bunch more during a quick food stop in Fort Wayne (also was a National Guard unit there, I’m guessing to eat lunch and not protect the restaurant’s stash of Polynisian Sauce). A few Spartan faithful were wandering the streets of Indy, including one brave soul without a coat but sporting a Dan France No. 59 MSU jersey. Big Ten Championship Game banners adorn the windows and pillars around the lobby, with a number of green- and scarlet-clad supporters of both schools milling about and getting their rooms and pregame rituals flowing.

MSU’s band is staying here as well. Overheard one mellophone player saying the Spartan Marching Band ran through their set this morning at Lucas Oil Stadium, which will include Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” (The 20-something gets a pass for crediting Van Halen, even though that’s surely the version the SMB will cover.) They begin load-out for the game around 3:30. And it’ll be a long day for the instrumentalists – they head back to East Lansing by bus after the game and won’t get home until around 5 a.m.

After getting our rooms, I bumped into Adam Rittenberg, one of ESPN’s Big Ten bloggers. He’s been in town a few days for the Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer press conferences.

“Are there a lot of Michigan State fans making the drive today?” he asked me as we waited on an elevator. When I told him of the MSU green mixing with the white snow on I-69, he nodded.

“Good to hear,” he replied. “It’s been all red here so far.”

Inside of five hours until kickoff. Energy all around here. Everyone is ready for this to get started.

3:45 p.m., INDIANAPOLIS – Calloway here. Street banners advertising the Big Ten Championship Game are on the streets of downtown and there’s a large presence of green and red roaming the area getting geared for the game.

That even extends to Circle Centre mall, located near the Indiana State capitol building. Among those in green here in Indianapolis is the MSU men’s basketball team, who were roaming around the four-floor mall. Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine were greeted by Spartan fans and took the time to pose for pictures.

Also among those roaming around the mall and killing time before the game begins was former Spartan running back Larry Caper.

4:35 p.m., O’REILLY’S IRISH PUB - A Madhouse with Mad Dog and Jack is really what they should have called it.

Lines filed outside the door and snaked around the corner, mostly with fans wearing green and white, to get in and catch the Sparrow Tailgate Show with WVFN radio hosts David “Mad Dog” DeMarco and Jack Ebling. We weren’t even sure whether or not to leave our cab. It took some considerable cajoling for Graham Couch, Joe Rexrode and me to work our way into the overflowing bar, but we persevered and weaved our way to the back corner.

Imagine your most crowded experience in one of East Lansing’s finest establishments and double it while wearing a winter coat and sport coat. That cold outside turned into a sweat rather quickly.

The three of us Gannett Michigan scribes joined the venerable radio gents for the better part of a half hour, breaking down the MSU-Ohio State matchups and the bigger picture with the BCS and college football. When all of us get talking, there’s never a consensus (other than we all have faces for radio).

Rexrode’s adoring fan club was out in full force. And then there was That Guy. Hard to miss him, as he was screaming in my ear for 20 minutes, over and over, like he was Rexrode’s hype man at a rap battle. I can’t thank Tailgate producer Steve Miller enough for yanking That Guy away from my ear.

Everywhere, everyone in the joint was wearing MSU colors. Loud chants of “Go Green/Go White” drowned out our voices over the loudspeakers, and probably filtered through the greater Lansing airwaves as if Spartan Stadium itself was filled.

They were getting their fill, that’s for sure.

More weaving, more platitudes, more green. We sneaked out the same side door through which we entered. Then another death-defying cab ride that took more off my life than it did to get to Lucas Oil Stadium.

Across the street, more green. Tons of red, too. MSU showed up, and so did Ohio State – both in abundance. The line across from the stadium at The Slippery Noodle looked even longer.

It’s now 5:15. One last stop before the real reason we came can get started.

5:30 p.m., INDIANA CONVENTION CENTER: Every major event these days apparently needs some sort of interactive fan fest. Big Ten football, despite its long-rooted popularity, apparently is no exception.

Walking into the convention center, I bumped into a friend from college and her boyfriend. The made an easy drive from the metro Detroit area, similar to our trek from Lansing. Then down the hallway walked Greg Ianni, MSU’s associate athletic director. His first question: How did volleyball do?

Yes, it’s already been a busy day for Ianni and the rest of the Spartan athletic family. Cathy George’s volleyball team blanked Ohio in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Lexington, Ky. Suzy Merchant’s women’s basketball team lost again, this time at Virginia Tech. Tom Anastos’ hockey team was in the process of a fairly respectable 3-2 home loss to No. 1 Minnesota, one night after playing to a 2-2 tie and winning a dramatic shootout.

Next up: MSU men’s soccer vs. Notre Dame in the NCAA’s Elite Eight in South Bend, Ind. That game starts at 7 – a little more than an hour before the Spartans and Buckeyes kick off the pigskin here in Indy.

Ballroom I was my target destination. Not too hard to find, either: Follow the droves like a lemming.

As soon as you walked in, it was a sensory bombardment that screamed football. Videos of both MSU and Ohio State playing on loop on opposite side walls, much larger than life (though not as big as Spartan Stadium’s scoreboards). On the turf half football field ahead, the sounds of the Spartan Marching Band and the MSU Fight Song (a.k.a. Falcone Fight) filled the arena. It was an all-out pregame assault, complete with the cheerleaders and Sparty.

Fans from both schools ringed the turf and the stands behind it in their favorite colors. This is the type of stuff that either you love or hate. No one there looked unhappy.

For 15-20 minutes, the stage belonged to the MSU band. They closed with the alma mater and our namesake, “Spartan Shadows,” followed by one more rendition of the fight song to hype up the crowd one last time.

And then it was over. As MSU fans started filtering toward the stadium in the hallways, the Ohio State and their Q-tip hats came marching through toward their performance. It was the Buckeyes’ time to rouse some rabble.

Almost time for the hoopla to give way to the substance.

7:35 p.m., LUCAS OIL STADIUM - Unless there are a lot of MSU fans outside waiting to get into the gates, the stands are dominated by two colors: Fans wearing red shirts and vacant blue seats.

It’s at least 2/3 Ohio State backers with less than 45 minutes until kickoff. The Spartans are warming up in their all-green uniforms, the same jersey-and-pants combination they wore when they beat Michigan back on Nov. 11. They’re considered the home team. The Buckeyes are wearing road whites.

But it’ll be MSU apparently that will have to deal with a big and hostile opposing crowd. Vegas lists Ohio State as a 5-point favorite. Much of the college football world considers the Spartans the underdogs in this game.

Just like they’ve been all season. What’s one more game?

8:07 p.m., HIGH ABOVE THE FIELD - Two weeks of immense buildup. Two closer-than-expected games a week ago. Two programs trying to reach for mammoth goals.

For Ohio State, a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. For Michigan State, its first Rose Bowl berth since 1987.

For both: A Big Ten championship.

Only a few sketchy pass interference calls at Notre Dame separate the Spartans from perfect seasons. Yet, in many ways, this season already has the hallmarks of Mark Dantonio’s best.

A nearly impervious defense. A continually developing offense. Special teams that are truly special. One goal down, the next on the line here in Indianapolis tonight.

The very pro-Ohio State crowd gives a huge boo as the Spartans’ highlights show on the video board. In the far corner of the end zone, the heavily outnumbered fans let out a yell as Sparty leads Dantonio and his troops onto the field

In four hours, we’ll all know whether it’s Rose Bowl or bust for the green and white.

This entry was posted in Big Ten Conference, Bowl Games, Football, Mark Dantonio, Michigan State and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Spartan Shadows: Prelude to the Big Ten Championship Game (final update: 8:07)

  1. avatar huskerdave says:

    No trollin’ guys. Much respect, way to handle O State. Great game and good luck in the Rose bowl.

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