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100 Years: Remembering Spartan Stadium's most iconic events

October 1, 2023
Rock and roll supergroup U2 performs to a packed house Sunday evening at Spartan Stadium. The band was initially supposed to stop in East Lansing last year for the U2 360? tour, but were forced to postpone after lead singer Bono needed time to recover from back surgery. State News File Photo
Rock and roll supergroup U2 performs to a packed house Sunday evening at Spartan Stadium. The band was initially supposed to stop in East Lansing last year for the U2 360? tour, but were forced to postpone after lead singer Bono needed time to recover from back surgery. State News File Photo

Sixty eight years following the birth of Michigan Agricultural College, Spartan Stadium opened in 1923 — making this year the stadium's 100th anniversary. With a maximum capacity now of 75,000, Spartan Stadium has been home to many events.

Whether it has been performances from rock legends, nail-biting football games or commencement speeches from former Presidents, Spartan Stadium has been a haven for a myriad of events. Spartan Stadium has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows; all roads in East Lansing flow through Spartan Stadium.  

June 12, 1960: Former President Harry S. Truman's commencement speech

Fifteen years after he ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman gave the 100th commencement address to the graduating class of 1960.

In his speech, Truman said, "I am anxious for all you young men and women to become curious about the history of your country and the world, and follow through the hard work to keep this republic, the greatest republic in the history of the world."

Nov. 19, 1966: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

In late fall 1966, Spartan Stadium hosted this heavyweight matchup. The head-to-head football game between the Spartans and the Fighting Irish is commonly regarded as the "Game of the Century."

During the game, MSU jumped out early to a 10-0 lead, but was eventually cut down by Notre Dame for a 10-10 tie up. The game was a grueling, defensive battle ending in a 10-10 draw, squandering MSU's hopes of competing in the national championship game that year. 

Nov. 9, 1974: Michigan State vs. No. 1 Ohio State

In 1974, No. 1 ranked Ohio State rolled into East Lansing with a win already checked against MSU. However, then-MSU running back Levi Jackson had other plans. Jackson barreled down the sideline for an 88-yard touchdown, giving MSU a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The game came down to the last second as OSU ran out of time at the goal line.

"That was the first time I ever saw people rush the field and tear goal posts down after a victory," Spartan alumnus Chris Nugent said. "Here I was as an 8-year-old watching this as an unranked team beating the No. 1 team in the nation."

Sept. 9, 1994: Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge Tour

In the 1960s and '70s, the Rolling Stones were one of the biggest names in music, setting a precedent for rock 'n' roll through the modern era of music. The Rolling Stones were the first ever concert held at Spartan Stadium and Nugent said they did not disappoint. 

"Seeing them that close to home at Spartan Stadium's first concert and having such a great, famous act was awesome," Nugent said.

May 5, 1995: Former President Bill Clinton's commencement speech

Nearing the turn of the 20th century, Clinton addressed the graduating class of 1995.

In his commencement speech, Clinton implored the graduating class: "You are walking into a future of unlimited possibilities. And so, my fellow Americans, it falls to your generation to make your historic choices for America."

Clinton addressed the graduating class as peers walking into a new world post-graduation with endless possibilities. 

Oct. 6, 2001: No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Michigan hockey — "The Cold War"

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As big as the matchup was, "The Cold War" held a lasting effect on the introduction of outdoor hockey games.

At the time, the event broke the record for the highest ever attendance at a hockey event. With 74,000 fans and students, No. 1 MSU faced off against No. 4 Michigan.

"The newness of that idea at the time of having an outdoor hockey game in a football stadium really led to a great atmosphere," Nugent said. "It ended up being unseasonably cold for that time of year. The crowd was so full of excitement that it carried everybody through the game."

Michigan led the entire game until MSU tied up the game in the third period ending on a 3-3 tie.

Sept. 18, 2010: Michigan State vs. Notre Dame — "Little Giants"

"Little Giants" is the first iconic moment in then-MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio's career.

In overtime of the third game of the season, Dantonio sent out former MSU kicker Dan Conroy to hit a 46-yard field goal that sent the game to second overtime. As the clock ran, former punter Aaron Bates scanned the field and threw to former tight end Charlie Gantt downfield for a touchdown.

"When they sent the kicker out there, he had already missed an earlier one," Nugent said. "So, I wasn't at all confident that he was going to make the field goal. Then when they picked it up and threw it to the tight end with how wide open he was, it was just a shock, and we were overwhelmed."

June 26, 2011: U2 360° Tour

In front of 65,000 people, U2 took the stage at Spartan Stadium. The 2011 concert was just the second concert at Spartan Stadium, and there hasn't been one at the venue since.

U2's lead vocalist Paul David Hewson and lead guitarist David "The Edge" Evans performed their hit songs, such as "City of Blinding Lights" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

The performance led to an encore with the songs "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "With or Without You."

Oct. 22, 2011: No. 15 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin

A little over a year after "Little Giants," the Spartans hosted another tough matchup against the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the high scoring affair, every inch of the field mattered. Former MSU linebacker and 2013 Rose Bowl champion Taiwan Jones reflected on the crucial plays that led to the 37-33 Spartans victory.

"The blocked punt for a touchdown for sure — we always talked about how special teams can dictate a game, and I think that was one of the biggest plays of the game," Jones said. 

Former MSU quarterback Kirk Cousin unleashed a successful 44-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to seal the win for the Spartans.


Oct. 30, 2021: No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Michigan

Due to the coronavirus and year-long absence since 2019, fans were allowed back into the Spartan Stadium at the beginning of the 2021 season. 

In the fully packed Spartan Stadium, No. 8 MSU hosted its biggest rival: No. 6 Michigan. Both teams came into the late October matchup undefeated, and all eyes seemed to be on East Lansing that day.

"I've been to a lot of football games over the course of my life," finance junior Trevor Tuttle said. "This game was the loudest and best atmosphere I have ever seen." 

Then-running back Kenneth Walker III led MSU back from a 16-point deficit, scoring five touchdowns and gaining a 37-33 victory over the Wolverines. 



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