It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s talk food and Michigan State football — two of the main things to be thankful for.
It’s Thanksgiving, which means we’re talking about food. Everyone has thoughts about Thanksgiving food and what should and shouldn’t be served. I’m not interested in arguing about that. What I am interested in is creating a guide that translates Thanksgiving food into highlights from Michigan State football games.
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re alone. Maybe you’re with friends reminiscing about games. One thing leads to another, and YouTube comes up on the TV. Which games are you searching for? Which set of plays could you watch over and over again?
Everyone has their own rankings for games just like everyone has their own rankings on food.
Realizing many will disagree with the items selected for my plate, I tried to keep it simple with the foods that most households eat on this wonderful Thursday in November. Each game or clip featured will have similar significance to the food it is being compared to. Shout out to YouTube user MSUAndy. He’s a king.
Let’s make some analogies.
First Drink: “Little Giants” touchdown vs. Notre Dame (2010)
Whatever you’re drinking this Thanksgiving, there’s nothing like that feeling of the first one going down. A long day of eating and watching sports on the couch is all ahead of you.
I feel that way about the “Little Giants” play from 2010.
It was the first of many unforgettable Spartan football moments under Mark Dantonio. In a way, the program became so successful that I often feel like that play gets lost. It was the moment for me when I realized we might have something special as head coach. Who calls a fake field goal in overtime from that distance? Mark Dantonio had many amazing qualities as a head coach. But I maintain his feel for special teams fakes was among the best we’ll ever see.
I was at this game. I still can’t describe the emotions ranging from confusion when Aaron Bates stood up with the ball to pure elation when Charlie Gantt held the ball up as he crossed the goal line. It was unforgettable.
Cheese & Crackers: Charles Rogers touchdown vs. Notre Dame (2001)
Now we’re on to the food. The first thing to come out is the cheese tray. Now I realize that Charles Rogers had a far more impressive catch in the following season against Notre Dame. But I’ve always had a soft spot for this one because unlike the following year in 2002, Michigan State won this game.
It also encapsulates what made Rogers such a special player. He takes an ordinary slant pattern over the middle before stopping on a dime, spinning around, and outrunning the entire Notre Dame defense on his way to the end zone.
My favorite part of the highlight is the color commentator’s “ugh” sound after the initial tackle is missed. He knows it’s a touchdown right there.
Even at eight years old, I knew I was watching something special with Rogers. I can understand what Mel Tucker is trying to do by bringing back the No. 1, but a part of me was glad it was “retired” under Dantonio because Rogers was that good. It’s a short video, only about 40 seconds long. But it’s a great warmup for the rest of the meal.
Salami, Prosciutto: 2015 Big Ten Championship drive
This one is a little bit of a heavier appetizer. No cheese tray is complete without a few Italian meats, though. The rest of this game isn’t great to watch again. A defensive stalemate with a lot of punts. But the video that shows every play of the 22-minute, nine-plus-minute drive will never get old.
I was also at this game, and it became very clear about halfway through that drive that it was now or never for the Spartans. You could tell Connor Cook wasn’t 100 percent, and whatever he and that offensive line had left in the tank was being emptied on that drive. LJ Scott was fantastic all drive and made a really underrated and difficult play reaching the ball across while also avoiding an attempt at a punch out.
It wasn’t pretty until it was. At no point during the drive did I think I would ever want to go back and watch it again. This video is made all that much better by having the MSU radio broadcast on the call.
Turkey: Michigan State vs. Michigan (2015)
Let’s move on to dinner. This one is pretty straightforward. Thanksgiving is the one day a year when people cook a full-size turkey. Love it or hate it, it is going on your plate on Thanksgiving. Watch as many MSU highlights as you want. At some point, you’re making your way to the 2015 game against Michigan. This is not only one of the most famous MSU games of all time, but one of the most famous college football games of all time.
The “trouble with the snap” play is obviously the reason you come to watch this video. But that play is so famous that I feel like it almost takes away from how great the rest of this game was. It overshadows so many other great highlights from this game.
I’m not sure I’ll ever experience that type of positive shock in my sports fandom ever again. I would like to think that every sports fan gets one of those moments in their lives. I think that moment was mine.
Mashed Potatoes: 2013 Big Ten Championship vs. Ohio State
Similar to turkey, mashed potatoes are essential at Thanksgiving. This highlight video is also essential during any MSU highlight binge. There’s never a bad day to have mashed potatoes. There is also never a bad day to fire up this video.
The thing I love about this game is that it wasn’t a fluke. Michigan State was just flat-out better than Ohio State. They jumped on them early, took a punch, and punched back. This wasn’t the most talented Ohio State team, but they did also win the national championship the following season.
I was also at this game. Tickets were so hard to get that I ended up sitting alone. After Jeremy Langford scored the sealing touchdown, I was jumping and hugging strangers. I remember my friend making his way to my seat to watch the trophy ceremony after the game. His words were something like “sorry it took so long for me to get here, the concourse is packed with Ohio State fans.”
Stuffing: Michigan State vs. Ohio State (2015)
Quite literally, this game was filled with lots of stuffing. Defensive lines stuffing ball carriers at the line of scrimmage. We only eat stuffing once a year. I admittedly watch this highlight video more than once a year, but I’m guessing most don’t. Unless you enjoy defense (which I do), it’s not a particularly sexy highlight reel.
Michigan State plays great defense on a windy, cold, and wet day and gets just enough on offense to beat the Buckeyes. Even the game-winning kick from Michael Geiger is a hooking drive that hangs on to go through the uprights to seal the victory. It’s still a monumental victory, and maybe the most impressive of the Mark Dantonio era. Ohio State was the defending national champions and hadn’t lost a Big Ten game since the 2013 title game to MSU.
The Spartans went into Columbus without Connor Cook and won. It was the main reason the Spartans went to the College Football Playoff in 2015.
Green Bean Casserole: Michigan State vs Wisconsin (2011)
Do people eat green bean casserole? Or is it only my family? I think it’s good, but not great. Let me be clear: this game was great. I was at this one as well. But it always leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth knowing that Wisconsin got their revenge in the Big Ten championship game.
But we’re not going to bring that up again on Thanksgiving.
Who knew we’d be watching two future NFL starting quarterbacks in Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson? This game was back and forth, up and down the field. It was surprising, given the desire on both sides to run the ball and control the tempo. At the time, it felt like a massive hurdle for MSU to clear in pursuit of a Big Ten title. At that time, the Badgers had been just as dominant as anyone in the conference.
If I remember correctly, College GameDay was here for this game as well. It was a big deal for MSU at that time to have the national stage with a legend like Brent Musburger on the call.
As far as the Hail Mary, it was the perfect story. The converted receiver in Keith Nichol has the moment of his career on the national stage.
Gravy: 2014 Rose Bowl vs. Stanford
Another staple of the holiday is gravy. I like to put a little bit of it on everything on my plate. Gravy is what comes to mind for me when I think of the 2014 Rose Bowl.
It took so much just to get to the Rose Bowl, that I wasn’t even that stressed about the actual game. The Spartans got there. That was what mattered. Winning the game would have been gravy on top of an unbelievable season.
I felt even more strongly about that after Stanford marched it right down the field on the Spartan defense. But that team was so tough. They adjusted, settled down, and got themselves right back in the game. We got lucky with perfect Rose Bowl weather.
Tony Lippett scoring the go-ahead touchdown as the sun was setting was a dream unfolding before my eyes. Having the program come full circle with a Kyler Elsworth fourth-and-short stuff was perfect. Michigan State wins the national championship if the current playoff format existed in 2014. You cannot change my mind.
Cranberry Sauce: Michigan State vs. Michigan (2001)
As a kid, I loved cranberry sauce. I think that’s true with most kids. Similarly, as a kid, this was the greatest game ever played. I wasn’t old enough to understand the bigger picture. All I knew was that MSU beat Michigan on the last play of the game in Spartan Stadium.
Watching this game again brings back so much nostalgia. The old ABC graphics. The astroturf at Spartan Stadium. Names like Jeff Smoker, T.J. Duckett, Herb Haygood, and Charles Rogers give me goosebumps. I don’t care if those teams didn’t win as much as other teams. Those guys are legends.
Similarly to other games on this list, the end of the game sequence is thrilling. Did the Spartans get an extra second? Yes, absolutely. Did they make the most of it? Yes, absolutely.
I remember watching this game with family friends. My dad broke the remote as a guest in someone else’s home celebrating. That’s when you know it’s a classic.
Pie: Michigan State vs. Michigan (2021)
I’m not here to tell you whether you should be finishing your day with pumpkin, pecan, or sweet potato pie. What I am here to tell you is that the 2021 victory against Michigan was just as sweet as all of those options.
Michigan State was dead in the water in this game. Kenneth Walker would not let them die. His five touchdowns while coming back from a 16-point deficit will never get old. Even though Michigan went on to win the Big Ten, knowing the Spartans were the one team to beat them is as sweet as a Thanksgiving dessert.
A lot has changed since that game a year ago. In that moment though, it really felt as if Michigan State was the program in the state of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh couldn’t solve the Spartans. It didn’t matter who was coaching. It was truly a “have your cake and eat it, too” moment.
So, there it is. That is what is going on my plate this Thanksgiving. After some food and an inevitable Lions loss, I’m going to be firing up some of these videos (before the basketball game of course). Obviously, everyone does Thanksgiving a little differently. Just like everyone remembers MSU football a little differently. Grab a plate, fill it up, and be thankful you’re a Spartan. Go Green. Happy Thanksgiving.