I was there last night, at ground zero, on the wrong side of sports history. I watched from the far end of the stadium as everything imploded in the final seconds, and I had the joy of driving back to across the state afterward. Thus, I’m going to share a few thoughts.
After Michigan's last stop on 4th and 19, I was prepared to be annoyed by belligerent Michigan fans on Facebook all week. Looking back on it, that would have been so much better. ☺
More often than not, sports brings out the worst in people (at least the fans, which are 99.9% of sports "participants"). Michigan's punter is receiving death threats? Maybe the saddest part is how not surprising that is. Michigan fans, remember that without his until-then historically great night of punting, State probably has that game in hand late and wins comfortably.
In the immediate aftermath, countless Michigan fans in that stadium (and presumably around the country) donned their Captain Hindsight hat. I know because I heard them all showing off their new super powers as I walked back to my car. "Why didn't they just run the ball on 4th down? How could State have won if they'd done that?" I suppose emotions and intellectual honesty must compete for the same cerebral real estate and when one is surging, the other is no where to be found.
From a football X's and O's perspective, I thought the two teams were quite evenly matched. Michigan State out-gained Michigan by roughly 150 yards, but Michigan's superior special teams (obviously until the final snap) forced that upon Michigan State. Had State's special teams had the inverse upper hand, they would have won by 14 points.
Harbaugh hype seems to be warranted. If Michigan's performance against Michigan State is the measuring stick (and it's imperfect given that previous years' State teams had Narduzzi and this years' doesn't), Harbaugh is obviously making Michigan competitive against great teams again.
The last time I felt a gut punch of this magnitude must have been after watching the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. You know what I mean.
And lastly, on my way out of the stadium I saw a couple, both Michigan State fans, holding each other's faces and looking at each other with maybe the purest joy I’ve ever seen. I could only imagine those expressions being matched in the real world by hearing from doctors you could never have children, but then successfully conceiving. A National Geographic photographer would have given anything to get a clean shot of their ecstatic embrace amid the flow of angry and bitter Michigan fans.
I've seen a lot of classic, elating victories in Michigan Stadium, and in ~20 years of attending games this was certainly the most heartbreaking. The most recent contender (which I did not attend) would have to be Colorado over Michigan in 1994 on a last second, 60-yard Hail Mary. Sadly, I think this finish was manyfold more heartbreaking.
Good game, State.