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Michigan State's guardian angel

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Posted: Tuesday April 04, 2000 10:23 AM


By Tim Crothers, Sports Illustrated

INDIANAPOLIS -- After Michigan State won the national championship Monday night, senior forward Morris Peterson told me that the his team's sixth man was actually a woman. Peterson's 72-year-old grandmother, Clara Mae Spencer, had passed away a week earlier, but Morris was convinced her spirit lived in the RCA Dome. A dedicated Spartans fan, Clara Mae spent all of last March with the family following the team through the NCAA tournament, and she was making arrangements to do so again this year when she suffered a debilitating stroke on Feb. 9. Morris had planned to visit Spencer the day after the Final Four, but instead he attended her funeral in Mississippi last Thursday afternoon. There he told her that he was dedicating the end of this season to her memory. He wrote his grandmother's initials on his sneakers, and as the Spartans held hands to pray in the locker room minutes before the championship game, Morris asked her to watch over the team. After the game, as his teammates hugged one another, Peterson, who led Michigan State with 21 points, walked alone to the edge of the court, kneeled down and thanked Clara Mae for giving him strength. Later, when he climbed the ladder to cut down a piece of the net, he held up a sign that his mother, Valarie, had made for him which read, "This one's for you Grandma!"

Turns out that a year ago, after Michigan State lost to Duke in the national semifinals, Spencer told Morris that he would earn his championship this season and that she would be there to see it. Morris is convinced that she was right on both counts, although this was not exactly the view that she had intended.

When the final buzzer sounded Monday night in a jubilant Michigan State cheering section that resembled a gospel choir, Valarie pointed her right hand to the heavens and whispered, "Thank you, mother. Now you can rest in peace."


Tim Crothers is a Sports Illustrated senior writer. The opinions expressed above are solely those of the writer.

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