You know an event is one for the ages when everyone can tell you where they were at that moment.
In their new book The Perfect :10, MSU alumni Jack Ebling and Joe Rexrode, both sports reporters, reveal behind-the-scenes intricacies and untold stories from the epic conclusion to 2015’s Michigan State v. U-M football game.
Here’s an excerpt from their book:
With 10 seconds left and U-M ahead, 23-21, Australian punter Blake O’Neill mishandled a low snap, a swarm of MSU “Rangers” overwhelmed his outflanked blockers, and the ball somehow floated to an unknown redshirt freshman, Jalen Watts-Jackson, who wildly dashed 38 yards for a touchdown.
Equal parts chaos and silence ensued at U-M’s stadium and the entire sport of college football and one of its most bitter rivalries had witnessed a play for all time.
Here’s how the Spartans lined up, from left to right: Monty Madaris, Khari Willis, T.J. Harrell, Jalen Watts-Jackson, Zac Leimbach, Andrew Dowell, Matt Macksood, Matt Morrissey, Brandon Sowards, Grayson Miller and Jermaine Edmondson.
Eleven MSU football players, representing the last real hope for the Spartans to come back to beat Michigan.
The matchup always meant a lot, but this time meant more what with U-M’s new Coach Jim Harbaugh, all the attendant hype and the fact that both teams were Big Ten championship contenders.
Of the Spartans, two were four-star recruits, six were three-star recruits, three were walk-ons. One of the walk-ons had to try out just to be a walk-on.
Three were true freshmen with lofty expectations for their football futures, four were redshirt freshmen, two were fourth-year juniors who battled to carve out roles on special teams and two were fourth-year juniors who came to MSU with high hopes and were still searching for roles beyond special teams.
Five hailed from Michigan, three from Ohio, one from Florida, one from Illinois, one from Kentucky. Two were sons of MSU football legends.
Among them were six black men and five white men. One twin. One from a family with 10 children. One from a blended family with 11. Big brothers and little brothers, representing a full range of economic backgrounds.
Five were from households in which both parents were still together, five in which that wasn’t the case, one playing in memory of a father lost to cancer.
Another whose father was in prison and who felt enduring gratitude for a family in Cincinnati that took him in and changed his life. One had trouble getting out of the womb and later experienced a gun scare as a teen. One who escaped a California town and school rife with gang violence. And one who’d stopped breathing for seven minutes as a seven-month-old but survived.
Now here they were, 11 teammates, about to be linked forever on Oct. 17, 2015.
As some of their loved ones and fans got up to leave Michigan’s stadium, others stood and watched in hopes that something improbable might take place.
Others hit the video recording buttons on their smart phones. Thousands of Spartans—at watch parties, in theaters and at home—pined for the near impossible.
Here’s how what happened next sounded on the Spartan Sports Network with play-by-play announcer George Blaha and color analyst Jason Strayhorn:
Blaha: “Let me tell you folks, nobody is deep. Spartans coming after them. BAD SNAP! Bobbled! Scooped up!”
Strayhorn: “GO! GO!”
Blaha: “Here come the Spartans! Down the sideline!
Racing into the end zone!”
Strayhorn (as Watts-Jackson scored): “WHOAAAAA!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!”
Blaha: “Racing into the end zone is Jalen! Watts! Jackson!
Blaha: “Flags? No flags!”
Strayhorn: “NO FLAGS! OH MY GOD!”
Blaha: “The Spartans, piling on in the end zone! It’s over!
The Spartans win again! The Spartans win again!”
Strayhorn: “George, what a call. My God. My God. How did that happen?”
The Perfect :10 features 42 pages of vignettes from the famous and not-so-famous reflecting on where they were for the historic finish.
The list includes Tom Izzo, the MSU basketball coach who left the sideline early so his son wouldn’t hear more taunts from U-M fans; Olivia Valley, an off-duty MSU cheerleader sitting in the U-M student section; Chris Baldwin, the distraught U-M fan who became an Internet meme; and Todd (formerly T.J.) Duckett, the legendary running back who was watching the game on a battleship.
And don’t forget MSU alumnus John Hood. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Hood fell in love with MSU and earned a degree in elementary education.
Today, he’s assistant superintendent in the Okemos school district. And, he’s the proud owner of a coveted Spartan license plate: 10 SEC.
Hood recalled: “I didn’t think of going to Ann Arbor to see the game in person. I wanted to be with my friend, Jim Pignataro, who was struggling with health issues.
“We watched at his house with our wives, Kristen and Alana. And I remember saying, ‘We should’ve won.’
“Just then, Jim said, ‘Maybe he won’t get the punt off.
You never know.’ Then, I saw him say, ‘Whoa!’
“We stood up and started screaming. Our kids came running in, thinking something was wrong.
“The high lasted for weeks. I’d always thought about getting a vanity plate. I went on the Secretary of State’s website, picked the Spartan license plate and tried ‘10 SEC’—and I saw it was available.
“We put a picture of it on Twitter. My friend Jim warned me: ‘Just don’t drive it to Ann Arbor.’”