Jan. 8, 2014
Rose Bowl Defensive MVP Kyler Elsworth holds up the 100th Rose Bowl Game trophy at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.
Nearly a week later, even in the winter wonderland that is East Lansing with more than 16 inches of snow and subzero temperatures, the magical feeling of winning the 100th Rose Bowl Game still permeates and warms the soul of Spartan fans everywhere.
From Pasadena to the Breslin Center, it's the Green and White party that just won't quit.
On Tuesday night, several key players from the 2014 Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State Spartans were introduced during halftime of the top-five matchup between MSU and Ohio State before an adoring fan base that has been waiting to say "thank you."
Thank you for the magical ride that proved anything was possible. Thank you for showing what hard work, determination and teamwork can achieve. Thank you for representing Michigan State in a class manner on the biggest stage in college football.
What began with a highlight video and the introduction of the players, followed by comments from head coach Mark Dantonio thanking the fans for their support, ended with the entire Breslin Center crowd on their feet chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" along with offensive lineman Travis Jackson in a dance modeled after pro wrestler Daniel Bryan.
Jackson first performed the "dance" in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game as a joke after a Connor Cook ran for a 1-yard touchdown, and it has become a Spartan rallying cry ever since the victory over the Wolverines.
"You know we have a post-game ritual," said Dantonio at center court, before handing the microphone over to Jackson during the halftime ceremony. "We need everyone to do it because we need to get it happening in here, for this game now, because we live in the reality of now versus Ohio State tonight. This is for our basketball team. This is a dream come true now for Travis Jackson."
"I know I speak for all these guys when I say no one has it better than a Spartan," opened Jackson. "Coach D asked me to do this; I was a little nervous at first, and I was like `oh man, this is in front of a lot of people.' And then I remembered that we have the best fans in the country, so we're going to do this right!"
After giving a brief introduction of the dance - it doesn't take long to catch on - Jackson did what he always does when starting it off. He slowly bent his legs, then his arms in a 90-degree angle, pointed both index fingers to the sky, paused...and proceeded to fully extend his arms in the air while repeatedly shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" until all 15,000 fans chanted in frenzied unison. Over and over and over. The fans weren't going to miss their chance at joining the fun they'd seen the players enjoy in the locker room following each win.
The video of the crowd quickly went viral after ESPN showed the clip on its broadcast of the basketball game. The network also aired the scene multiple times on SportsCenter, and even the anchors on the Los Angeles set - which Dantonio visited just last week - started doing the "Yes!" chant. It's one of the many moments that has kept the momentum of the Rose Bowl win going for the past week.
Ever since the "Superman" fourth-down stop from linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris that sealed the thrilling victory in the final seconds over Stanford, the Spartans have been relishing the historic moment. And deservedly so.
It's still hard to comprehend and digest what happened on that majestic, picture-perfect New Year's Day in The Granddaddy of Them All.
A celebration 26 years in the making, the long-awaited party finally uncorked and spilled onto the immaculate Rose Bowl turf after sunset following two kneel downs in the victory formation - the last one by senior Andrew Maxwell.
After showing surprising quickness in eluding a Gatorade shower, Dantonio raced out to midfield to shake Stanford Coach David Shaw's hand before getting stopped for the first of his many interviews.
"I just knew we were going to have a special football team this year, there was no question in my mind," Dantonio said to ESPN with a huge smile that beamed across millions of homes across the country, a smile that only grew bigger with each passing second. "We got great leadership from our guys, all of our seniors. Our guys came to play and fought back tonight and some type of way, we got it done.
"I tell you how you sum up the moment. You will be able to come back here in 50 years and see Michigan State up there winning on that plaque outside this Rose Bowl. That's what you're going to be able to do."
A sea of players, coaches, family members, former Spartans, media and supporters, all wanting to soak in and savor the moment, surrounded Dantonio at midfield. As the Spartans threw on their championship t-shirts and hats, there's no doubt the "paint of roses" from the enormous 100th game logo smeared on their "cleats", proving MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis' eternal quest of winning in Pasadena was more than just a vision recited at his first press conference as AD. The backdrop was a wall of sound booming from the nearly 60,000 Spartan fans in attendance. Not to mention the loads of confetti flying in the air. Nothing says a championship quite like confetti.
"It's surreal...I told them when we walked on this field, it would be something special. The Rose Bowl did not disappoint, let me tell you."
-MSU head coach Mark Dantonio
On stage for the trophy presentation, Dantonio talked about "finding the inches" and "dreaming big." When asked about his emotion following the fourth-down clincher, Dantonio deadpanned: "Well, I get a little excited when I'm at the Rose Bowl, you know?"
He also mentioned the now-famous video of him taping a message to his team last May, alone on the Rose Bowl field, looking straight into the camera and telling them they would be the ones to make it back to the Rose Bowl.
"It's surreal...I told them when we walked on this field, it would be something special," the seventh-year Spartan head coach said. "The Rose Bowl did not disappoint, let me tell you."
Standing behind Dantonio were the Offensive and Defensive MVPs of the 100th Rose Bowl Game - a sophomore quarterback who wasn't the starter in the season opener in Connor Cook, and a fifth-senior senior starting his first career collegiate game in Elsworth.
Once the formal proceedings on stage completed, the team rushed over to the student section and the band in the northwest corner of the stadium for a rousing singing of the fight song.
Everywhere on the field, someone was sharing a lifetime memory. Jackson led the entire student section in his "Yes! Yes! Yes!" touchdown dance. Fonoti, a California native playing his last collegiate game in his home state, rushed to hug members of his family in the front row. The offensive line, the glue of the entire Spartan operation on offense, posed for a picture in front of the scoreboard. Numerous players were telling their emotions to the hundreds of reporters scattered across the turf. The architects of the nation's No. 1 defense, Coach Dantonio and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, shared a long hug.
For this underrated group, the journey toward a Rose Bowl Championship officially began during conditioning sessions last February, held in the early hours of the morning in the dark depths of winter. The team remained unranked in The Associated Press Poll as late as Week 9. But as Coach Dantonio reiterated all season long, none of that mattered. Winning was the only thing that mattered. And in the end, winning would lead the team to its ultimate goal on Jan. 1 in Pasadena.
When the last members of the team slid past the final wall of cameras and into the tunnel, they rushed back to the locker room to make sure they wouldn't miss what has become "tradition" after just one season. The post-game locker room dance, set to Rich Homie Quan's "Type of Way", was soon to be blasting throughout the victorious Spartan locker room. And no one wanted to miss this rendition.
After Coach Dantonio addressed the team, he yelled what he had yelled all season long: "Hit it!" And with that, one of the greatest post-game locker room celebrations in Michigan State history - and certainly the most viewed - commenced.
The following four minutes of dancing to MSU's 2013 anthem, "Type of Way", featuring everyone from Coach Dantonio to Rich Homie Quan himself to Connor Cook to Darian Hicks to Taybor Pepper to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon to MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis, has become an internet sensation. It has been viewed more than one million times - and counting. "Anytime someone asks you why you still watch college sports," wrote Andrew Sharp of ESPN.com's "Grantland" website, "just go ahead and point to Rich Homie Quan and the Michigan State locker room."
The on-field celebration with the fans morphed into a VIP function in the bowels of the Rose Bowl, a time to be with the ones who made it happen. Secondary coach Harlon Barnett huddled with his defensive backs in front of a banner that boasted "No Fly Zone." Family members danced to the music blaring from the speakers. The trophy was being passed around waited to be tweeted out and posted on Instagram from every player that could get his hands on it.
Elsworth, the man of the hour, made his way to the Big Ten Network set outside of the stadium grounds and was greeted like a rock star upon his arrival. From a town of less than 2,000 people in Goodrich, Mich., to walking on at Michigan State, to clenching a rose between his teeth as the Defensive MVP in his last college game, Elsworth symbolizes Spartan football. Work hard and good things will happen. Scratch that - great things.
"This is a dream come true," said Elsworth, still in full pads while donning a "Rose Bowl Champions" hat, on the BTN stage with the iconic Rose Bowl sign lit up in the background.
When explaining the storybook fourth-down play to the BTN analysts, Elsworth remarked, "When they lined up, they had real tight splits. We talked about it all week - there's not going to be a run-through lane. The only opportunity there was to go over the top and launch yourself, but when you do that, you leave the ground, and if you don't make the play, there's no change in direction. I'm glad he handed the ball off (laughing) - otherwise I wouldn't be up here."
One day later, when Elsworth would return to campus, he was greeted by hundreds of fans who waited for an hour outside in freezing temperatures to congratulate the team. He was in no rush to head inside to get his bag. With no coat, he answered every question from the throngs of reporters, signed every autograph, smiled for every photo. Bitter cold has nothing on winning the Rose Bowl.
"The Stop" by Kyler Elsworth and the Spartan defense on fourth-and-inches in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
After 45 minutes of post-game interviews - and dancing - the Spartan locker room finally cleared out when Dantonio made his way back in following his own mini-media tour. His last interview was all the way across the locker room, in an empty corner by a dry erase board, and his task was to sit down and try and explain his emotions of the past hour to Spartan Sports Network broadcast host Will Tieman.
"I had a Big Ten Championship hat three weeks ago, and now I have a Rose Bowl Champions hat on," started Dantonio, who said things somehow just kept getting better and better. "We talk a lot about moving the rock, about moving the foundation of who we are. We actually found a big boulder when we re-did our fields and we actually try and move that boulder once a week; we have a different group move it. We put ropes on it and the whole deal, because it's big.
"And I think that's what we did. We had to move a foundation from a 7-6 season last year, we had to move out here to the Rose Bowl, we had to move out to the Big Ten Championship Game, we had to win on the road, just like a lot of our fans...People moved their foundation to get out here and I'm very appreciative of all the Spartan fans that showed up. Spartan Nation was in force like I'd never seen it."
Historically, this Michigan State team stacks up against some of the best not only in school history, but Big Ten history.
"People moved their foundation to get out here and I'm very appreciative of all the Spartan fans that showed up. Spartan Nation was in force like I'd never seen it."
Only three teams in the 117-year history of Big Ten football - which dates back to 1896 - have won 13 games. Michigan State is one of them. The Spartans are also the only team to win all eight of their Big Ten games by double digits. And really, the total is nine, unofficially counting the 10-point win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State finished No. 3 in both national polls, the highest finish for the program since 1966. The Spartans ended the season with an exclamation point, defeating No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Stanford, marking the first-time ever MSU has topped two top-five teams in the same season.
The more than 18 million that tuned into the 100th Rose Bowl Game saw a Michigan State football program that arrived on the national stage and took full advantage of its opportunity in the spotlight. The nation now knows what has been brewing in East Lansing for the past seven seasons under Dantonio.
But for the ones closest to the program, it's not about the debate for historical comparison. It's about the players and staff that made this happen. It's about the winningest senior class in school history going out on top. It's about a team that lost six games the year before by razor-thin margins coming together, finding the "inches", and developing into champions.
"We said coming into the year we had to chase those inches down, and that it had to be a mindset," concluded Dantonio on his post-game radio show. "I said it at (last year's banquet) that we would be the ones (to go to the Rose Bowl). I really felt like that."
Those words - and beliefs - turned out to be prophetic.
Upon receiving the 100th Rose Bowl Game trophy, Dantonio mentioned the journey to winning the Rose Bowl felt like "completion" in his seventh season. But another road awaits the Spartans. And the new chapter will begin with the Spartans on a whole other level in the hierarchy of college football. They are already ranked sixth in one "way too early" 2014 preseason poll on ESPN.com.
Winning the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl Game tends to do that for a program.
By Ben Phlegar, MSU Athletic Communications. Photos by Matthew Mitchell and Rey Del Rio, MSU Athletic Communications. Videos by Ryan McPhail and Bob Armstrong, MSU Athletic Communications. Aerial photo provided by Rose Bowl.