Column: Spartans make history in Big Ten Championship Game victory
INDIANAPOLIS — Several weeks into fall camp, head coach Mark Dantonio had a question for his team.
“How many of you were alive in 1988?”
To little surprise, not a single hand was raised. Of course, 1988 was the last time MSU went to a Rose Bowl with names like White and Snow and Shurmur and Enos and Ezor and Bullough – Chuck Bullough, that is. These men carried the torch of a tremendous program looking to carve an identity in a state rich with one previously painted Maize and Blue.
But most members of the MSU football team were born during or after 1990, a year marked by the United States’ newfound involvement in the Gulf War, the curiosity of the Hubble Space Telescope and a World Series won by the Cincinnati Reds – still two years removed from the trip to Pasadena, though.
Twenty five years later, Dantonio scanned the room of young faces, seeing the opportunity to drive home a point – one that he’d like to believe each member of the team will recall from the first day the MSU head coach pitched them the program.
His point was a simple one – it always has been. “Just think: you can make history.”
It was a point the Spartans kept in mind when the team jumped out to a 17-0 lead on the Buckeyes Saturday night. It was the one that kept the fire lit after the Buckeyes went on a 24-0 run to take the lead in the third quarter, causing clouds of doubt to creep into the minds of anyone on MSU’s side.
It was what propelled junior running back Jeremy Langford to drive yet another late game dagger into the heart of the defense, setting his team up for the win in the fourth quarter.
From the start, the Spartans were intent on making history, which is what they did in a 34-24 victory against the Buckeyes on the field of Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
Now, the Spartans are headed to the program’s first Rose Bowl in more than two decades, capped by a career-best passing effort by sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, who was named the Big Ten Championship Game MVP, along with another 100-yard rushing day by Langford.
“My dad used to always say, ‘Complete your circles.’ I thought we did that,” Dantonio told the media after the game. “I thought that’s what we did. I never get too excited. I don’t ever get too down. I live for my players. Our players, I’m so happy for them. They made a lifetime moment tonight for all of us – all of us had that moment, our fans, our players.
“It will be a moment that we’ll never forget.”
After navigating the perils of a four-headed quarterback battle, heavy offensive criticism from fans and media as well as constant skepticism if he was the guy for the job, it was Cook who had the last laugh during a frigid night in Indianapolis.
During the trophy presentation near midfield, Cook held a single rose in his grasp – even gripping it between his teeth, at times — before emphatically telling the crowd, “We’re the ones, baby. We’re the ones! We’re going to the Rose Bowl!”
The Spartans are the ones – and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
By snapping a previous 24-game winning streak by head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, it’s the Spartans who will book a flight to Pasadena for a showdown with Pacific-12 Conference champion No. 7 Stanford. But that’s likely a discussion for another day – in fact, probably for the next 24 days leading up to the Rose Bowl.
However, tonight is about a dream realized; one that now is etched into the basic fibers of every single member of MSU’s football team; one to be proud of and thankful for among a fan base starved for some BCS affection to validate the success of a football program.
And as Dantonio closes the book on a stellar win in the Big Ten Championship Game, he no longer has the need to remind his team they’re on the cusp of history. They unquestionably made history Saturday in Indianapolis, tearing down a wall older than any player on either team playing for the Big Ten’s top prize and opening the door for the program to take another step forward.
But before chasing down the next dream, take a moment to stop and smell the roses.
It’s long overdue.
Dillon Davis is a State News football reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.