Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Annual Pilgrimage

Today I performed a quasi-religious observance which has great significance to my family: the annual pilgrimage to Michigan State University to attend a fall football game. Since everybody but me in my immediate family is a green-blooded Spartan [heck, Mom and Dad were married in the college chapel 50 years ago last month], MSU holds a central place among us. For years, Mom and Dad met up every year with some of their classmates to attend a game, and my MSU-grad brother started joining them at some point. The year before Mom died, they invited me to join the party and since then I've really enjoyed continuing the tradition.

Dad and I started off Friday and drove up to the Cleveland Airport where my brother flew in at 8 AM. We picked him up and drove off toward East Lansing, talking eighteen to the dozen the whole way.

These weekends have a set program, and the first part is to spend an afternoon wandering around the MSU campus. We met up with some of John's friends on Friday evening for dinner nearby, and then retired early. (Well, at least Dad and I did.)

Game Day is the real heart of the weekend. We always stay at Kellog Center, the hotel affiliated with the business school on campus, so the day commenced with breakfast at the State Room restaurant in the hotel, where we were joined by two dear family friends, Gail and Ken. Gail was one of Mom's bridesmaids!

Today's game started at noon, so soon after breakfast we began moseying over to Spartan Stadium.
IMG_3352 002
The scenic walk used to pass by a large more-or-less vacant field; this year a new baseball stadium
IMG_3351 001
had popped up there like a mushroom.

Our first stop inside the stadium is always the Varsity Club:
IMG_3353 003
Dad is a proud member,
IMG_3354 004
and he loves being able to get his guests in there. (They used to stamp our hands when he brought us in, but after last year - we were here the week they had the hurricane, and our stamps simply washed off - now they strap hospital-style bracelets on those persons who are authorized to enter.) The club consists of a large room
IMG_3358 008
with an enormous big-screen TV (to watch the game in case of inclement weather) and many photos of past varsity lettermen and women. I found one particular photo: (click for bigger!)
IMG_3356 006 sharp
and a nice gentleman offered to take our picture in front of it:
IMG_3357 007 sharp
Then it was time to clamber up to our seats. We were in the nosebleed region, up in the corner of one end zone, but at least we weren't in the truly dizzying upper deck. We had a splendid view of the field, and almost immediately the pregame band show began. Central Michigan brought their band, who marched and played for awhile, and then the Spartan Marching Band took the field!
IMG_3361 011
They were preceded by flag bearers carrying flags for all (riddle me this) eleven Big 10 teams and the highly flexible drum major:
IMG_3362 012 crop
IMG_3363 013
Here they're playing the Fight Song, of course! Next, the student section wrapped its arms around each other's shoulders and swayed as the Alma Mater, "Shadows" was played,
IMG_3366 016
and then Sparty ran onto the field and commenced to mugging and riling up the fans!
IMG_3367 017 crop
Note the burly flag bearers behind him waving five-yard square M, S or U flags! I bet those guys pray for light winds.

You know, even though I didn't go here, I get into all this traditional nostalgia.

The game itself finally commenced (they had a good crowd today!)
IMG_3376 008
wherein downs were touched, goals were kicked, passes were completed (or sometimes not), fumbles were recovered (or sometimes not) and smiles were smiled.
IMG_3370 002
IMG_3373 005
Before we knew it, it was halftime and the band came back out
IMG_3378 010
to perform much fancy marching, this time accompanied by flag girls! They even did a combined number, "Swing, Swing, Swing", with the CMU band:
IMG_3383 015
It was terrific, and things only got better as my favorite part of halftime arrived.
IMG_3390 022
IMG_3392 024 crop
IMG_3389 021 crop
Zeke the Frisbee Dog was as game as any half, quarter or full back, and if not as wide as the human receivers, he had at least as good a pass completion rate!

As the third quarter began, I took some time to enjoy interesting sights adjacent to the field rather than on it, including the TV camera on an enormous dolly
IMG_3396 028
and the lovely view of Beaumont Tower beyond the edge of the stadium
IMG_3399 031
This fella is as much a campus icon as the tower:
IMG_3395 crop
I've seen him at every single home game I've attended (and even, if I remember correctly, some of the away games as well). John and I spent some time wondering if the green dye he paints on his skin has had a permanent effect - is he green on Mondays? - and we think there's documentary fodder in unofficial mascots like this guy.

The game was close, but MSU was ahead with eight seconds to go:
IMG_3402 034 crop
Unfortunately, due to a combination of penalties (Tchah!) and some wildcard plays on the part of CMU, the Spartans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory five seconds later:
IMG_3405 037 crop
Even so, we had a great afternoon, and the weather was idyllic (as if, John observed, in apology for last year.)

After a marvelous dinner at the State Room, John went to hang out with some more of his friends at a local establishment selling adult beverages. Dad and I retired to our hotel room, he to watch two football games simultaneously (Minnesota vs the Air Force Academy and Ohio State vs USC) and I to write this post!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! Looks like you had a great time. I am LOL at your descriptions of the actual football game in progress, and nice use of football metaphors for everything. :-) Way to go Zeke! I take it the "unofficial mascot" guy is practically nekkid and covered in green paint? What some people won't do for their obsessions....