Monday, October 19, 2015

Commentary: Reflecting on Saturday's Michigan State/Michigan classic

                                                 Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The periodic table of elements, the periodic table of elements, the periodic table of elements, the periodic table of elements.

Why did I repeat the same thing four times over? 

The periodic table of elements ended up being the one thing my science teacher pounded through my head in elementary school and knew one day it would come in handy and on a beaming Saturday evening at Michigan Stadium, everything came full circle.

No, I did not have to recite all of the elements and its abbreviations, but after Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped and scored on a 38-yard fumble return off a botched handle from Michigan punter Blake O’Neill to win in improbable style, 27-23, everything became clear that all of the scientific elements came together on the final play.

From all of the hype going into the most anticipated meeting between these two in-state rivals since Michigan State’s 34-31 win over Michigan 1999, which featured the emergence of then-Spartans coach Nick Saban and wide receiver Plaxico Burress, this one felt like another 12-round heavyweight bout from the moment I started to walk around the stadium to gauge the atmosphere three hours before the game.

While walking on Hoover Street, I began to notice some snow flakes falling from the grey skies and realized winter arrived a little bit earlier than scheduled. I shrugged off the miniscule precipitation and continued the walk and took in the atmosphere of both schools tailgating and enjoying the fruits of what makes college football the most special sport in the United States.

Once finishing my walk, I went back up to the media press box and while going up to the top floor on the elevator, things became clear that this game felt like Super Bowl 49.5, yes I said Super Bowl 49.5.

Then, I brushed off the thought given the game was two hours away from kickoff, but there was no denying the periodic table of elements were coming together piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Fast forward to moments before the first kick and right after the end of the national anthem, a military flyover ensued and once more, another ingredient to the element layered itself on top.

In a twist of fate, Michigan led for the entire game, but Michigan State remained in the back pocket and began to close the gap like Paul Tracy on Helio Castroneves in the final laps of the 2002 Indianapolis 500.

With ten seconds left in the game and Michigan forced to punt on fourth down, it seemed like an ordinary play that would put Michigan State in hail mary mode and presumably ending the race at the finish line.

However, the most significant layer of the periodic table of elements played out as O’Neill botched a sure-handed, rugby-style punt and tried to pick up the ball, but instead fizzled from his hands and Watts-Jackson took advantage of the moment and dashed to the checkered flag for a victory, something Tracy could not do thanks to a caution with two laps left in the race.

Thousands of stunned Michigan fans looked on emotionally numb in the agony of defeat, while the Michigan State core who made the hour-long trip down M-23 and various parts of the Midwest relished in the thrill of victory.

All of the elements came together and accomplished not only what my science teacher instilled into me as a young and bright kid, but taught everybody why sports are still the best form of reality television going today.

Pure, raw emotion from both teams poured out after the game, but like reality, there is always a dark side to a result and it came courtesy of Michigan fans criticizing and even sending death threats to O’Neill via social media.

I will not go into any specifics of the disturbing posts, but interim Michigan Athletic Director Jim Hackett’s response showed no matter the heartache of a moment, to remember that football players are also students and better yet, human beings.

Football unites fans unlike any other sport from the realities of everyday life, but as we were reminded after Saturday’s finish, things can turn on the drop of a dime, so always have compassion for all living beings, no matter the allegiances and remember to treat others the way you would want to be treated.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.