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Super fan lives for Spartan sports teams

January 18, 2001
Duane Vernon has constructed and decorated his basement in support of MSU. Vernon has been featured in Sports Illustrated magazine and other newspapers for his Spartan spirit. —

Graduating from Ithaca High in 1949, Duane Vernon had no idea what his future would hold.

Vernon, 69, was traveling home from the MSU tournament basketball game vs. Minnesota that year with four of his high school basketball teammates and coach.

It was a stormy February night complete with sleet and hail as they drove along the two-lane highway north of St. Johns.

Then the car skidded head-on into an oil tanker, forcing Vernon’s head through the windshield.

The accident took the lives of three of his teammates. The fourth still suffers from amnesia-type symptoms, and his coach’s back was broken.

“I was lucky and very blessed to be alive,” Vernon said. “As fate only knows that’s the thing that really cemented it all together.”

Like a brick dedicating itself to mortar, Vernon’s dedication to MSU began.

Duane Vernon’s longtime friend, Jack Ebling, recently nominated him for the Sports Illustrated Outstanding Fans Hall of Fame. Vernon was one of 11 chosen out of 1,100.

“I think he is very deserving of the award,” Ebling said. “Duane is a model of what an athletic fan should be. He’s always positive, supportive of coaches and a great reflection on Michigan State.”

Vernon and his wife Judy hold many memories throughout their Lansing home, mainly in the basement, and at their cottage in Pentwater, Mich.

The outside of their two-story house is white with green shutters and two flags hang on the flagpole - the U.S. and MSU flags.

Even their toilet-paper roll and doorbell chime the fight song. All of their carpeting and furniture is green and white - but this is only the beginning.

Before finishing the journey down the stairway, the atmosphere is nothing but that of true loyalty to one’s alma mater.

Pictures, a white and green Christmas tree, flags, pillows, chairs, teddy bears and a milk can are just a few of the many collectibles in the main room. A wall inside the room also is carpeted with green, with a big white “S” in the middle.

Then one takes a closer look at the pictures - a young Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the 1979 championship basketball team, Jud Heathcoate and the parties that were held when the basement wasn’t even finished.

The second room has a block S-shaped bar and matching lights installed in the ceiling. The license plate below the bar reads “Spartan Country.”

Throughout the basement framed pictures in timely order, costing several thousands of dollars, line the walls.

“A lot of this stuff has been given to us by people who want to be a part of the Spartan Room,” he said.

But the basement still isn’t complete because MSU’s achievements are far from over, Vernon said.

“We plan to knock out that other wall (in the bar) and continue with the ‘Tommy’ era of Michigan State basketball,” Vernon said, referring to his good friend MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo.

His Spartan loyalty isn’t only seen in his house, but also within the course of his marriage. Duane and Judy Vernon were engaged at Beaumont Tower and married in the MSU Chapel in 1986.

“Most of our evenings are spent talking about the games,” Judy Vernon said. “Our lives are centered around sports.”

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