For Le’Veon Bell, it was the longest four seconds of his life.
As the 2010 MSU football team lined up for a fake-field goal to beat Notre Dame in overtime, the play was designed for punter Aaron Bates to throw a pass to Bell, but the running back was taken to the ground and thought the game had been lost.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I still thought Bates was throwing it to me, for some reason, so I tried to get up real quick,” he said. “I saw the ball go over my head and I was like ‘Man, game over,’ but when I looked up, and I saw (tight end) Charlie (Gantt) running by himself, I was like ‘Oh, he’s throwing it to Charlie.’
“All of this is going through my head in four seconds. I got up and I made sure Charlie got the ball … and I made it to the end zone and tackled him into the band.”
Bates’ 29-yard touchdown pass to Gantt beat the Fighting Irish 34-31 on a play that since has been known as “Little Giants,” and is the last time MSU played Notre Dame at Spartan Stadium.
Junior linebacker Max Bullough was a freshman on the field goal team at the time, and said it wasn’t until later that he understood the magnitude of the moment.
“I didn’t even realize how unbelievable it was going to be blown up into, deservedly so,” Bullough said. “I was a freshman and I thought we won on a fake and it was cool and everything, but then I realized how much of an ordeal it was.”
But unlike Bullough, some players didn’t make it to the locker room very easily.
Sophomore center Travis Jackson also was a freshman that night, and got caught up in the craziness after the game.
“I remember I saw it, and I was getting ready and I sprinted out on the field, got knocked over by someone, tried to get up, (and) someone tripped over me,” Jackson said. “By the time I got to the corner of the end zone everyone (already) was sprinting to the student section.”
When fellow offensive lineman Chris McDonald heard the fake field goal called, he said he couldn’t believe it.
“It was surreal,” McDonald said. “We saw the signal that we were going to fake it, and at first I was like ‘What’s going on?’ but we practiced it so much, I knew it was going to be perfect.
“Charlie Gantt is one of my really good friends, so it was special to see him score the touchdown his senior year.”
The news of the Spartans’ dramatic win traveled across the country to senior tackle Fou Fonoti, who was playing junior college football in California at the time.
Fonoti didn’t know he would play at MSU, but said he still felt the impact of the play on the other side of the country.
“I heard little pieces about it and the next thing I knew it was on ESPN’s SportsCenter,” Fonoti said. “I was watching it, and just being on the West Coast, I got goosebumps, just to see the excitement and the enthusiasm that the Spartans exploded with on the field. It was truly exciting, and I wished I could have been there to share that moment.”
The moment also helped spawn a new generation of Spartans.
Watching in the stands with his parents, redshirt freshman defensive end Lawrence Thomas said after he and his fellow recruits saw the play, they wanted to jump on the field and celebrate with the team.
“We were in the stands, and we were like ‘Dang, this is a long field goal right here. This is a long field goal,’” Thomas said. “Then when we saw them pick up the football, my heart just dropped. I was like ‘Hold on. Did something go wrong?’ and I saw Charlie Gantt wide open and I’m like ‘Oh no!’ and then he caught it … I was looking at the other recruits and we wanted to be on the team right then.”
Jackson said it’s the plays, such as Little Giants, that make you want to become a football player.
“You dream of games like that,” he said. “You throw the ball up to yourself, catch it in the back of the end zone thinking you won the game on the final play, so it was definitely surreal being a part of that. Games like that are why you play college football.”