Upon Further Review: Spartans Cap Magical Regular Season With Big Ten Championship
Nov. 29, 2010
Kirk Cousins took a knee on the last play of Michigan State's 28-22 win over Penn State Saturday in perhaps the most satisfying victory formation over the last 20 years of Michigan State football.
When he bounced back up, the Spartans were officially Big Ten Champions for the first time since 1990.
Cousins held the ball high at midfield in the chilly air, cleansing the Spartans' soul in the previously not-so Happy Valley, a place Michigan State had not won for 45 years.
The junior captain proceeded to take that football on a joyride Spartan fans had been waiting two decades years for.
Cousins immediately hugged Coach Mark Dantonio, who in four years miraculously ascended Michigan State from last place to first place in the grueling Big Ten Conference. Just moments prior, Dantonio avoided a frigid Gatorade dousing on the sideline with a much more pleasant confetti shower, ensuring he too would be able to fully embrace the historic moment.
After the customary post-game prayer, the entire team dashed toward the Spartan section in the northeast corner of Beaver Stadium, where the seemingly non-existent State College sun had broken through the thick November clouds to shine on the guests from East Lansing.
The team chanted "Big Ten Champs," then sang the fight song and celebrated with the thousands of faithful Spartan fans in attendance. All of the winter workouts, the summer conditioning sessions, the two-a-days in the August heat, for this moment, right here, to be cherished with teammates and coaches.
Senior Colin Neely, the team's lone native from Pennsylvania who played one of his best career games with six tackles and two for loss, found his defensive line coach, Ted Gill. The two have forged a special relationship over the past few seasons, and with Neely losing his father at the age of 15, he said earlier this fall that Coach Gill was the closest thing he has as a father now.
D.J. Young found his 3-year-old daughter, Aniya, in the first row and lifted her up in his arms. Jesse Johnson, a former walk-on, found Coach Dantonio, the person who gave Johnson a chance to live out his childhood dream of playing for the Spartans. All-America linebacker Greg Jones, who spurned the NFL to come back for his senior year, found his dad, who made the trip from Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, Cousins gripped the ball the entire time, screaming the fight song, answering questions from a swarming pack of reporters, and embracing his family in the stands. His exuberant smile only grew wider with each passing minute.
Eventually, Cousins looked around and realized he was the only Spartan left on the field. It was time to go join his teammates in the locker room.
"People don't realize how hard we worked for this moment!" he yelled, continuing to clutch the football.
He didn't let it go until something even more appealing waited for him in the locker room - the Big Ten Championship trophy. When Cousins finally reached the locker room, there it was, simple, elegant, timeless. A gold football resting atop a wooden trophy with the words "2010 Big Ten Champions" etched below. It will forever be immortalized in the halls of the Skandalaris Football Center for future generations of Spartan fans to admire, but it was first touched in a foggy, sweaty locker room full of the hands that made it happen.
"I'm just truly happy," said Jones. "This is why I came back. This is why you don't give up. This is why you put in those hours in the offseason, why you run all those gassers, do all those tests, study so hard in the playbook, take care of things off the field and everything, this is what you do it for."
"We've learned so much through the years with this coaching staff," said fifth-year senior Eric Gordon. "We've gone through so much. Back in 2008, I remember Coach D talking about, `remember this, remember this.' That senior class was always telling us, `remember this.' We remembered it; we came back, and fought through. I'm speechless when it comes to how I feel about being a champion now. It's something we haven't done in a long time, and it feels amazing."
"You see a lot of satisfaction," said Dantonio, who wore his Big Ten Championship hat to the post-game press conference and has led this Spartan team to the most wins in school history with 11. "To get to where we are right now, a lot of work had to be done. Collectively as a group, whether it's workouts or learning defenses or offenses, when you stop and think about the time spent preparing for a football game, a football championship, a football season, it's an incredible amount of time. There are so many people invested in it.
"I'm extremely content. That's the way I feel...I feel very blessed with my health and how our football team has rallied around each other and responded in the face of adversity throughout the season. There's a lot of faith in that locker room...faith on the field and off the field. They go hand-in-hand, and I think that helps with our success ratio."
From a Saturday evening pep rally at the Breslin Center to a thunderous ovation given to Coach Dantonio at Sunday's men's basketball game, it's impossible to wipe the smiles off Spartan fans. A team that entered the season picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings ignored the predictions, went to work, and came out as champions. It's an accomplishment that no computer formula, no poll, no opinion can diminish. The 2010 Michigan State Spartans: Big Ten Champions once again, for the seventh time in school history.
"We're Big Ten Champions and no one can ever take that away from us - it goes on the wall in Spartan Stadium," said Cousins. "That's what we talk about year-round, being champions, and we did it. It's a special moment. You don't even know how much being a champion is stressed in our building, what championship teams do and what we need to do to be a championship team, and here we are with a championship on our resume."
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