Wednesday, September 30, 2020

University enthusiasm shared by all

September 25, 2000

Call it a house of heroes.

Freshman quarterback Jeff Smoker shunned the boos he’d heard for much of the fourth quarter and hit Herb Haygood for a game-winning 68-yard touchdown reception.

T.J. Duckett continued to ignite “Heisman Trophy” cheers Saturday from the 72,000 fans in Spartan Stadium, rushing for 142 yards.

Head coach Bobby Williams rallied his Spartans to a 3-0 start in 2000, raising his career record to 4-0.

It was a performance that’ll be etched in school history, as MSU pummeled Notre Dame again.

But for a select few hundred green-and-white faithful, there’ll be more to remember than just another win over the Irish.

Those with tickets for seats in Section 9 - near the 40-yard line in the stadium’s east concourse - got a glimpse of some of the proudest Spartans in the stands Saturday.

Tom Izzo, men’s basketball head coach, was accompanied by most of his 2000 squad - just six months since its NCAA Championship run.

Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson, who both recently joined the professional ranks, took in the game. Neither’s changed much: Mateen sported his now-famous, ear-to-ear grin; Morris wore his tilted cap and shy smirk.

Junior guard Charlie Bell, who will likely be a key player for this year’s team, watched, too. He even made concession-stand runs for his friends.

All sitting down, most donning light-gray Spartan sweatshirts, one would think it’d be the most recognizable fan sections aside from those occupying Lakers courtside seats.

Yet, somehow, it seemed normal.

They’re Spartans. They fit right in.

Sure, they captured the hearts of America during March Madness. Snapshots of players or newspaper clippings from the title run are adorning walls somewhere in East Lansing.

And many wanted to greet Izzo and dub him God. “You’re the man, Tom,” fans shouted.

“Thanks,” a bashful Izzo says, with a sincere smile on his face.

But Saturday, many came to know our heroes as fans, as pride-stricken coaches and as normal students.

When Smoker threw an interception, the basketball team was bummed - just like the rest of mid-Michigan and greater Lansing. But when Smoker connected with Haygood, the team erupted - just like everyone this side of Ann Arbor.

Tickets had them sitting in row 35, 36 or so. Their seats had no padding; they were chilly bleachers.

The team ate like normal fans, as several raided Melting Moments vendors, scarfing down a plethora of cookie and ice cream sandwiches.

Many chose not to leave their seats, except to rally on the field during halftime. Izzo, with the NCAA Championship squad and trophy behind him, called for fans to watch “the Spartans beat Notre Dame.”

The stadium went crazy. And the team went back to their seats, anxious to see Izzo’s words become a reality.

Result: MSU 27, Notre Dame 21.

The actions of the football team and basketball squad - who exchanged words and high fives shortly before the third quarter began - made it even more clear that MSUathletics is more than a department.

Flash back to April, when the basketball team was celebrating its title with a high-energy spirit rally at Spartan Stadium. Who showed up?

The football team, in gear and breaking from an early-spring practice, to say “Good job.” On Saturday, the basketball team returned the favor.

They slapped hands when Duckett sprinted for one of his first downs and when David Schaefer kicked his career-best 50-yard field goal.

And undoubtedly, the hoops team was saying to their gridder counterparts “Great job.” Throw in the fans, alumni and administration.

You’ve got one big Spartan family.

Tony Paul can be reached at paulanth@msu.edu.

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