Sunday, April 08, 2007

Every decade or so, being a Spartan pays off (MNA April 07)

Associate Editor

There are some who shovel manure for a living. Still others are sewer inspectors or roadkill-removal specialists (I saw all of these on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, so I know what I’m talking about).
And then there is one of the most difficult, unappreciated, unthankful — and difficult things to be — a Spartan fan.
We are loathed by those who follow the maize and blue. We are disliked and disdained by anyone who sees our school and our athletic programs as inferior.
That’s okay. I equally loathe those guys from Ann Arbor. As the old saying goes, my two favorite teams are Michigan State and whoever is playing Michigan.
But the seem to chalk up a few more wins than we do in certain sports. And it gets frustrating, I’ll admit.
Yet we Spartans still cheer. And hope. And pray. And are often disappointed.
But not this time baby!
Every decade or so, all of the collective “stuff” we eat as our Michigan State teams fall short of their dreams again and again and we endure the mockery of Wolverines, Buckeyes, Fighting Irishmen, and other assorted hecklers — is worth it.
And we are vindicated — at least for a little while.
This time, our salvation came a day before Easter as the Spartans won the NCAA hockey championship, beating Boston College, despite coming into the contest as the underdog; a position we’ve become used to over the years.
But, today, and for the next year, we can say we are the national champions, although it didn’t come easily.
In true Spartan fashion, the boys in green and white couldn’t just win the game outright, either. They had to make us sweat.
They trailed for much of the game, and just when the Spartan fan collective was starting to think, “here we go again,” then tied it up in the final period. Before we even had a chance to google the NCAA playoff hockey rules to see how they handle a tie, it happened.
It was that moment Spartan fans seldom get to experience, the clutch score in the final seconds, as Justin Abdelkader (which the announcers always make sound like abdicator) gave us the go-ahead with 18.9 seconds on the clock.
An open net goal with a few seconds left on the clock sealed the deal — and even the M.S.U. skaters couldn’t believe it had actually happened. They congratulated each other, and one after the other stared at the clock and you could read their lips as they muttered “I can’t believe it.”
We couldn’t believe it either, boys.
Boston College had a better record (29-12-1) made it to the Frozen Four seven of the last 10 years, and had outscored its opponents 61-23 during their winning streak. B.C. boasts 12 NHL draft picks on their roster.
Few pundits picked Michigan State. As usual.
So, as I watched the Boston players hang their heads in disbelief, because they had traveled to the finals two years in a row and come up short, I recognized that look on their faces.
Because it is the look usually found on the faces of Spartan hockey, football, basketball — and even baseball and lacrosse players for all I know. Because we’re usually the ones who got upset, or embarrassed, or sent home disappointed.
That’s why being a Spartan fan is so great when we catch a break and finally win one. Because when the win finally does come, it’s all that much sweeter. It’s been 20 years since our appearance in the finals, so we’re gonna milk this one for all it’s worth, too.
I’m a fan of Michigan State because I love the school. I graduated with both of my degrees from Moo U.
That’s why I tell people I root for the Spartans.
I’m a fan for the same reason I love my family so unconditionally. Not because they’re always good — because I have to — I’m one of ‘em.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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