Gameday At Last
The pad-popping of fall camp has come and gone. The morning breeze is calling for warmer clothes and students have returned to inundate the sidewalks of East Lansing. Folks... it's gameday.
But this gameday feels a little different, a little more special - especially for followers of the Green and White.
The last time the Spartans last played in front of a (kinda) full stadium in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl, Donald Trump was the president, Mark Dantonio was our head coach, COVID-19 wasn't yet on the radar of the Western world, and the Spartans were tying a consolatory bow on the latest in a string of underwhelming seasons.
Since that close victory in the Bronx, Dantonio unexpectedly hung up the clipboard, we obsessed over Luke Fickell's shoes, Cassius Winston kissed the Spartan Head at centercourt, COVID shut the world down, we shut COVID down, and COVID shut the world down again. March Madness was cancelled, we played what some might call a football season, and in a lot of respects, it feels like we're living in an entirely different world.
In the midst of the madness, Michigan State hired Mel Tucker to lead our football program. In the aforementioned first "season" of his, MSU gave us higher highs (two wins vs. ranked opponents, including Paul Bunyan's return to East Lansing) and lower lows (a season opening loss to Rutgers... Rut.gers.) than anyone probably imagined a short season could. The season was so bizarre that many have referred to it as "Year 0" under Tucker, but you won't find him reaching for that hall pass.
He understands the urgency required to rebuild in today's college football, and he got to work immediately, and the changes they've made have renewed the energy in the Skandalaris Center. He's brought in new coordinators and schemes on the field, but just as noteworthy are the changes made to some of the less visible areas of the program. To name a few, MSU has an entirely new, data-based approach to strength and conditioning, complimented with a state-of-the-art sports nutrition program, a relentless approach to talent identification and recruiting, and a social media and marketing strategy that has put all these changes front and center.
And those changes have kept us Spartan Faithful hopeful. Since Tucker's hiring almost 20 months ago, we bided our time, we put our belief in this new regime. Even through last year's debacle, we drank the Kool-Aid. We celebrated every recruiting win and incoming transfer, we maintained our optimism and latched onto every victory last year, big or small, and we wondered what could be in store for us with the first full season of games fast approaching.
But the waiting, wishing and wondering are over. At 9:00 tonight, for the first time in 616 days, the Spartans will take the field in front of a crowd of frenzied fans. Most of Mel Tucker's story as Michigan State's head coach is yet to be written, and that story could still turn out to be a tragedy. But tonight, we get to set the last 616 days aside. For three hours, we get to enjoy Spartan Football again.
It's a beautiful day for football.
Follow Scott Martin on Twitter.