A Funeral for Sparty

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans looks on late in the game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Michigan State lost 90-81 to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. On Monday, we here at DPB sat in on the funeral as Spartans past and present came to pay their respects.

Written by Kyle Magin

East Lansing, Mich.–It’s fitting that Steve Smith bore the casket in.

As Lupe Izzo–veiled in Nike-supplied black–audibly choked back tears, the smartly-dressed standard for Spartan shooting guards whisked the casket bearing the 2015-2016 MSU men’s basketball season in the door and to the altar. Smitty called it for the team, live on CBS, after the pulse finally faded on the would-be champions. DOA, he said, cut down by a 15-2 barrage to start the game and 60 percent three point shooting.

“Jesus,” my buddy gasped as he elbowed me, sticking a finger in Draymond Green’s direction. “Day Day isn’t holding up too well.”

Indeed, the MSU legend, who had tried on his old jersey last week just to see if it still fit (it’s now a tent for students sleeping out to protect the Sparty statue), was convulsing in a near-front pew. It wasn’t hard to feel a pang of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I in his weeping as he looked upon the photo of his successor as team jackknife, Denzel Valentine. Next to him, muttering into the ether in similar emotional angst, was TOC commenter. I swore, that in between the sounds of him ripping a printout of his tempo-free stats-based analysis comment before the game predicting an easy victory, I heard a speech smacking of something.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiZNSzWIaLo&w=560&h=315]

Indeed, anger mixed readily with the sadness in the room. Magic was counting on consecutive weekends in Chicago and Houston to check-in on his Fatburger franchises in those cities but instead has to spend the next 14 days guarding the hermetically-sealed chamber Clayton Kershaw has been shoved into before the Dodgers open up their season. Orlando Magic coach Scott Skiles sat next to him, working his barren forehead, fivehead and sixhead into a bright, angry red that’d make their old coach Jud Heathcote proud. He stared daggers through Bryn Forbes’ photo, determined to wring the deceased’s neck for not stabbing, punching, and bodyslamming his way through screens on defense.

A counterbalance sat behind them. Perched on a pew in perfect equanimity, Spartan football coach Mark Dantonio took in the scene like a monk. Afterward somebody told me that’s always how he looks after his seventh Lipitor, but I caught the vaguest signals that he was pleased Coach Izzo’s team knocked Harbaugh off the front pages for a day or two.

A few more notables snuck in right before the service began–Shawn Respert looking relieved that his 3-14 upset at the hands of Weber State has been demoted in the school’s history books, and Nate Silver, who was whispering to everyone that Norfolk State over Mizzou was really the worst upset ever. It soothed noone.

To the surprise of many, Coach Tom Izzo stepped up to deliver the eulogy as Father Todd had been summoned in an emergency role to Brooklyn on Sunday to pray for the damned. Between the hoarse choke-sobs and infrequent pauses to make sure next year’s class was still coming, nobody quite caught what coach said about the 2016’ers. No matter, though–as the dazed crowd ambled out, somebody shouted that the Peanut Barrel was pouring $3 Oberons and Gus Ganakas said he’d drive the bus if somebody listened his story about getting ripped on sake with MacArthur.

Everybody shrugged and piled in.