EAST LANSING — Well, now, wasn’t that a nifty little college football game? A bit of this, a bit of that, another this, then another that, then some more of this and a little bit more of . . .
What happened? What didn’t happen? Notre Dame came to Michigan State, and MSU won, 20-15. That is the Reader’s Digest version. The real story is longer than a Howard Cosell commencement address, and about as easy to follow.
Let’s see. We had a missed field goal, a blocked punt, a dropped shovel pass, a fumble, another missed field goal, several illegal procedure penalties, an interception returned for a touchdown.
And that was just the first half.
The second half brought such rarely seen delicacies as the quick kick, the muffed two-point conversion, the fair catch of a kickoff, and another muffed two-point conversion.
I lost count of the personal fouls. The batteries in my calculator went out.
“Have you ever played a game with so many twists and turns?” someone asked cornerback Todd Krumm, whose interception (yes, another one) of a Steve Beuerlein pass with 1:26 left clinched the victory for the Spartans.
“It’s funny,” he said, “it’s like all these things were happening, but then we look up and they always were within a touchdown of us. We never seemed to shake them. It was weird.”
Weird. Yes. Although I’ll bet Notre Dame has a few other words for it. For the second time in two weeks, Lou Holtz’s revamped Fighting Irish were driving downfield in the closing minutes with a chance to win. And again, they self-destructed. Last week, against Bo Schembechler’s crew, they missed a field goal and lost by a point. This time, they drove deep into Spartans territory, only to see their would-be winning ball stolen by Krumm.
Personally, I think Notre Dame has seen enough of teams named “Michigan” for a while. Hindsight, hangover
So now it is Sunday morning, and we have the wisdom of hindsight. Unless we are Spartans fans, in which case we have the wisdom of hindsight, plus a hangover.
OK. How do we categorize this one?
Sure, Michigan State sees it as a great victory for its program, a rebound from the disappointing opener against Arizona State.
But that’s loyalty talking. History. The pride that goes with a series that dates to the horse and buggy. The truth is, this game could have gone lots of ways. Check that. Any which way.
Beuerlein (19-for-36, 259 yards) passed well enough to win this thing. He also passed badly enough (two interceptions) to lose it.
Flanker Mark Ingram caught a beautiful touchdown pass that gave MSU a 20-9 lead. But he dropped one in the first quarter that should have been six points more.
Then again, Notre Dame had a second-quarter bomb from Beuerlein to Tim Brown nullified by an illegal procedure penalty. That almost certainly cost them points.
Then again, the Spartans’ defenders let Notre Dame roll right through them a few times. But when the patient was critical, MSU’s defense became the cure.
“With all that happened, did you ever feel like this game was yours?” someone asked tackle Mark Nichols, who twice sacked Beuerlein, once causing a fumble on the final Notre Dame drive.
“In a game like this,” he said, “you have to believe you’ll win it all the way. Otherwise you’ll definitely lose it.”
These college kids are getting pretty smart. Foggy day for Lorenzo
About the only thing for sure this day was Lorenzo White, the Spartans’ standout tailback. White was a constant force. He kept dive-bombing into the Irish defense and crawling out the other end, his helmet twisted, his shirt up around his pads, as wrinkled as a magician’s silk pulled through a magic wand. And just as dazzling.
“The funny thing is, he got dinged in the second quarter,” said MSU coach George Perles. “He was foggy the whole second half.”
White finished with 147 yards on 41 carries.
A foggy day.
But it was that kind of day. What seemed to be was suddenly not. Fumbles, missed kicks, blocks, penalties. No one really knew what the final colors of this tapestry would be until Krumm came down with that interception.
What happpened? What didn’t happen? Sum it up this simply: Spartans win weird, 20-15. And when the clock ticked out the final moments, and it was really, finally, truly over, the players stood and faced their opponents, and in a nice show of sportsmanship, shook each others’ hands.
I’m surprised they didn’t miss.