Fans revel in tailgating experience in the 'city that never sleeps'
NEW YORK — MSU alumni Jim Tumbrink and Roni O’Connor sat at a table toward the entrance at Mustang Harry’s, a bar located on 7th Avenue and right next to Madison Square Garden.
As they sat, eating their burgers and fries, they greeted everybody who walked in by their first name. Everybody.
“We’ve got some die-hard fans. We've got alumni from every generation, every decade is represented out here,” Tumbrink said. “Every college inside the university, every group that’s represented, we’ve got a lot of long die-hard fans.
“It’s tough to stay connected sometimes when you’re here, but we’ve got a loyal base and we make sure every Saturday in the fall is a lot of fun.”
Tumbrink, a 2006 alumnus, and O’Connor, a 1964 alumna, are both on the Board of Directors of the MSU Alumni Club of Greater New York. According to LinkedIn, the greater New York area has the highest amount of alumni outside of the Midwest, hosting more than 8,000 Spartan alumni.
“We have a very good group. We do a lot of different things besides game watches,” O’Connor, treasurer on the board, said. “We have cultural events in the city that bring Spartans, too. We raise money for scholarships — we have a scholarship that’s held at the university, so we raise money. We support students from this area who attend Michigan State. We have a good group of Spartans in this area.”
Mustang Harry’s is one of three bars in the Big Apple where Spartan alumni congregate for MSU events, the other two being Mercury’s Bar and Blondies Sports.
Tumbrink said the pregame tailgate was hosted at Mustang Harry’s because alumni have a connection with the bar.
“They wanted to work with us and they knew we had a great alumni base,” Tumbrink said. “Some come from New York, and some from outside of New York. It’s good.”
Two fans who made the trek was Kevin and Peggy McRae, who are third-generation Spartans and met in Chicago after their time at MSU. The married couple have resided on the outskirts of Philadelphia for about 19 years. They said they’ve been to bowl games and the NCAA finals.
“Michigan State travels really, really well, and whether you get the east coast fans or west coast or whatever you’re at, Michigan State represents itself very well wherever we go,” Kevin said.
Peggy said their youngest child has been raised a Spartan fan since birth, and they make occasional trips back to East Lansing and purchasing his “back to school clothes” at the Spartan Book Store on Grand River Avenue. One of their sons ended up being known as the “Michigan State kid” throughout middle school and high school.
“He came home and he said, like in middle school, ‘Mom, what’s an IZZONE? Nobody knows what an IZZONE is,’” Peggy said. “And we’re like, ‘Honey, stand proud.’”
Some fans might think hosting the Big Ten Tournament in New York City, more than 200 miles away from 12 out of the 14 Big Ten teams, was a bad idea. O’Connor, however, dispelled that notion.
“It’s nice to spread the wealth around, you know,” O’Connor said. “We’ve got alums all over the country, and you give another group of alums an opportunity to see the teams close up in person.”
MSU lost 75-64 against University of Michigan Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and will await its fate during Selection Sunday on March 11.
But despite the loss, O’Connor said the 2017-18 team has been fun to watch and the players have a plethora of talent.
“End of the game where the score is so tight, they forget they have older alums. Some of us have weak hearts. We kind of sweat it out at the end of the game,” O’Connor said. “But it’s been fun watching them. I think they’re a great group of guys and they look like they’re having fun on the court.”
Men's basketball beat reporter Michael Duke contributed to this article.