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Spartan LIFE
Tim Layden
November 03, 1997
After a grueling week of pain and preparation, Michigan State put its pride and hopes on the line against Michigan
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November 03, 1997

Spartan Life

After a grueling week of pain and preparation, Michigan State put its pride and hopes on the line against Michigan

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Friday, 3 p.m.

For the final team meeting, Saban ditches his motivational books and speaks from the heart. The room is stone silent as he challenges his linemen to dominate the line of scrimmage and his special teams to make the play that decides the game. "Remember, we've got Ranger," he says of the fake field goal play. Then he touches the nerve endings of this rivalry. "Whatever happens tomorrow, you're going to remember it for 50 years," Saban says. "If you win this game, the pride will never leave you. And remember last year, how it's been sticking in your craw for 365 days. Are we ready to do this? Are we ready? We are ready."

He stops for a beat. "Listen, guys. Of all the dogs in the world, this is the one dog that we don't want doing anything on our ground!" The room ripples with approval.

Just to be safe, Saban invites former Michigan State defensive lineman Robert Viney, a member of the 1965 team that played in the Rose Bowl, to address the Spartans after their light, indoor practice. "This isn't a game," Viney tells them. "This is a war."

Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

The Michigan State players and coaches make the traditional half-mile walk from the Kellogg Center, the on-campus hotel where players sleep on the eve of home games, to Spartan Stadium. Frenzied crowds build along the way, until just outside the stadium, the team can barely pass. A brass band plays just above the entrance tunnel, but when the players reach the dressing room, a metal door is shut behind them and the celebratory noise turns to nervous silence. Irvin is dressed, padded and taped, helmet on and mouth guard in, 90 minutes before kickoff. Reese paces the room, shouting, "Ain't a good day to be here unless you're wearing green and white!"

Saban walks into the equipment room and finds his son sitting quietly in a corner. They exchange a gentle hand-slap for luck.

Saturday, 12:35-3:45 p.m.

Ranger works to perfection. With 3:39 left in the first quarter, Burke throws a 22-yard touchdown pass to Irvin, who stealthily remains on the field and goes unnoticed by Michigan. The play gives Michigan State a 7-3 lead. It will be, however, the highlight of the Spartans' afternoon.

Tranquill's plan to keep the offense simple is largely successful, and it allows the Spartans to stay within six points, 13-7, into the fourth quarter. But the strategy is ultimately sabotaged by Michigan State's own mistakes. Unencumbered by the ankle and the back injuries, Schultz plays but throws five interceptions in one of the worst games of his career, and Michigan State is hit with 10 penalties for 96 yards. It proves ill-advised to challenge Woodson, who gets two of the interceptions. The turnovers have a snowball effect, allowing Michigan to play conservatively, thus never putting the game in Griese's hands. He throws for 102 very safe yards. "We didn't force him to make plays," Reese will say afterward.

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