Dateline: Saturday, December 13, 1997.
Michigan took to the court at Crisler Arena to face off against the number one ranked team in the country, the Duke Blue Devils. The Wolverines came back from a 17-point second half deficit and won the game 81-73. As if we knew exactly what we were supposed to do, the students and fans took to the court in celebration. We weren't without practice, however. Just three Saturdays prior to this date, Michigan football fans rushed the field following a 20-14 drubbing of Ohio State that capped off a Big Ten Championship and undefeated regular season.
Following the game, buzzing with excitement, we returned to 1213. Later that evening, in possibly a more stunning upset, Charles Woodson beat out pre-season favorite Peyton Manning to become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman trophy. I still have the Sportscenter from that evening on tape. It was a great day for Michigan, both on and off the court.
Fast forwarding to today, 1/26/03... The Freshman, who I presume will soon be known as 'The Sophomores', came through with an extra ticket in the Maize Rage section. We arrived early and made camp just four rows behind the Spartan bench, basically within throwing distance (sooooo tempting) of Lansing-legendary coach Tom Izzo. The ebb and flow excitment of the game could only be outshined by the strict chanting organization of the Maize Rage, who's candor and ingenuity was impressive to a level only previously seen at Yost Ice Arena. They battered and embarassed Izzo, dressing a blow-up doll in a dress-shirt and MSU tie, as well as gluing a perfectly modeled Izzo-face onto the doll head. They chanted "Angry-Midget" early and often, and jumped all over him at his every outburst.
As the game neared its end, Michigan turned up its defense, holding the Spartans scoreless for over six minutes. Several fans nearby began to discuss an impending 'court-rush'. Two desparation three pointers fell for the Spartan's in the final seconds, but they were not enough to overcome Michigan's impeccable free-throw shooting. Michigan passed the ball in to Bernard Robinson Jr., who tossed the ball down the court as the final 1.7 seconds expired. Michigan wins 60-58. And then....bedlam. They were not strangers to the Crisler hardwood, having rushed the same court only a few weeks earlier following an amazing come-from-behind victory against Wisconsin. Pouring out on to the floor, we celebrated the first victory over the Spartans in almost 5 years. Why storm the court after beating a 10-8 team whose tournament hopes are now on the level with our sanctioned team? Because hopefully we won't have to do it again. Excessive celebration is often the product of a mediocre team that enjoys big wins because they are not expected. The victory on Sunday afternoon was a turning point for Michigan Basketball. Not that winning will be taken for granted every night, as this program has NCAA rulings to endure and a lot of growing to do. However, losing will not be the expectation. Rushing the court will be reserved for championships...and wins over Duke.