Grinz on Green: Top 10 Games at Spartan Stadium
Oct. 11, 2013
Michigan State will host Indiana in the 500th game at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12. The Spartans have been playing at the site of Spartan Stadium since 1923. MSUSpartans.com online columnist Steve Grinczel takes a look at his Top 10 games in Spartan Stadium history. The Top 10 games as chosen by the fans will appear in the Homecoming issue of MSU Football Gameday Magazine.
Every Top-10 list is an exercise in subjectivity. Consequently, each is inherently at risk of being subjected to critical activity. Nevertheless, upon the celebration of the 500th game in venerable Spartan Stadium, such rankings are borne from the necessity to tap into tradition, spark memories and even stimulate debate.
Here's one look, admittedly biased in some regards, back at the 10 most memorable games in Spartan Stadium history, and let the arguments begin:
1. Nov. 19, 1966: No. 2 Michigan State 10, No. 1 Notre Dame 10
The "Game of the Century" between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 MSU in the gloom of November has not only withstood the test of time as a defining development in school history, it remains one of the seminal events on the American sports landscape. Many have suggested the game would have been relegated to the dust bin of the past had it not ended in a 10-10 tie that never settled the debate on which undefeated team was truly No. 1 in all the land. It's no wonder that both teams were declared national champions by various accredited organizations. However, even had the game ended with a winner and a loser, it still would represented a pivot point on which sports, and how we view them, turned forever. With more than 700 sportswriters in the press box, a crowd of 80,011 - 18,000 more than were at the first Super Bowl two months later - and a television audience of 33 million watching 31 future NFL players from both teams perform, the game piqued America's insatiable appetite for big-time sports and set the table for the mega-events that followed. "It was really the game that started it all," said ABC sportscaster Chris Schenkle.
2. Nov. 10, 1951 - No. 5 Michigan State 35, No. 11 Notre Dame 0
Before the Spartans tied the Fighting Irish in 1966, they established long-coveted national legitimacy with a 35-0 drubbing over the biggest name in college football. Michigan State proved its 36-33 victory over the defending national champs in South Bend the previous year was no fluke with a dominant showing. By throttling the team that had finished No. 1 in the polls in three of the previous five seasons, and was No. 2 in 1948 with a 9-0-1 record, Michigan State established itself as a national power. The Spartans went on to finish 9-0 and win their first of back-to-back national titles. The victory was also part of a 28-game win streak stretching from '50-53.
3. Nov. 14, 1953 - No. 4 Michigan State 14, Michigan 6
Hosting archrival Michigan was a rare occurrence prior to MSU becoming a full-fledged member of the Big Ten in '53. Michigan State avenged its 7-0 loss to the Wolverines in the 1924 Stadium Dedication Game and a defeat in only the second meeting with them on the current site - 13-7, 24 years later - with a 14-6 victory. Led by the "Pony Backfield" of halfbacks Billy Wells and LeRoy Bolden, fullback Evan Slonac and quarterback Tom Yewcic, the Spartans' first victory over U-M in Spartan Stadium, in the teams' inaugural Big Ten meeting, propelled them to their first conference and Rose Bowl championships.
4. Nov. 14, 1987 - No. 13 Michigan State 27, No. 16 Indiana 3
The game between Michigan State and Indiana amounted to a de facto Big Ten Championship game even without the benefit of divisions and a one-game playoff at a neutral site that would come 24 years later. Many former players who took part in the resounding 27-3 victory over the Hoosiers maintain it was a bigger career highlight, thanks to the super-charged electric atmosphere created by 76,411 fans jammed into the stadium, than their subsequent 20-17 win against Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. The fans showed their appreciation for Lorenzo White's 292-yard performance, on 56 rushes, by storming the field and enjoying one of the biggest parties in stadium history.
5. Nov. 9, 1974 - Michigan State 16, No. 1 Ohio State 13
It remains one of the most discussed Big Ten games ever. Ohio State came into Spartan Stadium with an 8-0 record and eyes on the National Championship. The Buckeyes left with a devastating 16-13 defeat thanks to an 88-yard romp up the right sideline by sophomore fullback Levi Jackson with just over three minutes to play. The Spartans defense sealed the win with a goal-line stand as time ran out, except it took the officials, and conference commissioner Wayne Duke, 45 minutes after the final whistle sounded to declare MSU the winner.
6. Nov. 3, 2001 - Michigan State 26, No. 6 Michigan 24
Dramatic, and sometimes controversial, endings that keep the spotlight on Michigan State are almost a school tradition, and the Spartans' 26-24 victory against No. 6 Michigan kept it going with what has become known as "Clockgate." Despite undergoing almost as much video scrutiny as the Zapruder film, Wolverine fans still can't accept the fact that there was one second remaining when MSU snapped the ball and Jeff Smoker threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Duckett to secure the stunning upset.
7. Sept. 18, 2010 - Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31
Behind head coach Mark Dantonio's poker face is a cagey gambler, which he proved in the 34-31 overtime victory against Notre Dame. Although Dantonio sent in the field-goal unit, presumably to force another overtime session, it lined up to run the play with the code name of "Little Giants." After taking the snap, holder Aaron Bates popped up, took two steps to his right and threw the perfect 29-yard game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Charlie Gantt for a giant-sized win.
8. Sept. 7, 1987 - Michigan State 27, No. 19 USC 13
Spartan Stadium's historic first night game would have been memorable if MSU played Southern Continental. But with No. 19 Southern Cal providing the opposition, the carnival atmosphere surrounding the "Great American Football Celebration" on Labor Day set MSU's 27-13 win apart and served as a portent of Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships to come.
9. Oct. 22, 2011 - No. 15 Michigan State 37, No. 4 Wisconsin 31
The latest entry on Spartan Stadium's all-time list edged ahead of other heart-stopping games. But, it's hard to argue with MSU's 37-31 victory against No. 4 Wisconsin, which was secured by Kirk Cousin's 44-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to Keith Nichol. And this time, thanks to instant replay review, it only took four or five minutes to determine that the Spartans had won, not 45. Without that win, MSU wouldn't have won the inaugural Legends Division title or played in the first Big Ten championship game.
10. Sept. 2, 1999 - Michigan State 27, Oregon 20
The greatest games often stand out for a singular, defining moment. Few can match Amp Campbell's game-winning, 85-yard touchdown return in the 27-20 victory against Oregon. A year earlier, the defensive back known as "Soup" sustained a horrifying neck injury on the second play of the game against the Ducks in Eugene. Those who were there wondered if he'd ever walk again, let alone play. Campbell was a few millimeters away from being paralyzed, or worse. Throughout the year that followed, he could be seen getting around the Duffy Daugherty Football Building while wearing an immobilizing turtle-shell brace that stretched from his waist to his ears. For him to not only return to the football field a year later, but to perform in a starring role, came right out of Hollywood. Campbell's long run inspired speechless gasps, goose bumps and tears. "I've never felt lower as a coach (than) when he got hurt," said former MSU coach Nick Saban. "I've never felt higher than when he picked up that fumble and ran it back."