By Scott Westerman – Head Servant, MSUAA
The greatest, most powerful and most feared monster in East Lansing is the Izzone. Since 1995 it’s been the 6th player on the Michigan State University basketball team, making the Breslin Center rafters ring with support for the Spartans and psychological pressure on our unlucky opponents.
Every year, there is a challenge: How to bring the power of the Izzone to the Brez during Winter break? MSU can easily sell out the venue, but the team, and Coach Tom Izzo have come to rely on the incomparable human energy that the student section generates.
This year, the MSU Student Alumni Foundation, the group that recruits, trains and manages the Izzone came up with a novel idea: Why not invite Izzone alumni to come back to their former haunts when the students are away?
Tonight, we saw the fruition of that notion. 850 former Izzone members came from as far away as California and the East Coast, to cheer and jeer on cue. I had the great good fortune to be right in the middle of it.
As the new Head Servant at the MSU Alumni Association, SAF and the Izzone ultimately are under my care. As one who models the behaviors I expect, I joined SAF leaders Dan DiMaggio and Tim Bograkos at tonight’s event.
It began with a huge reunion in the auxiliary gym, complete with catered dinner and a visit with our legendary head coach. Word had it that when his staff told him that there were over 650 people downstairs waiting to see him he found the number hard to believe. Could we really attract that many energized alums? Could they put the same intensity into the game that they did when they were fueled by pizza, beer and youth?
When the Coach entered the gym, he received a thundering ovation, which was only quelled when he yelled, “OK, sit down” into the microphone. He was genuinely grateful, he said, for the turn out. He talked about how the Izzone had been an important part of the Spartan legend for 24 years. He didn’t guarantee a win, but guaranteed a good game if we helped charge up the team.
When he returned to his players, I did a wholy inadequate warm up with a rising volume of “Go Green – Go White” chants as we fired them up for the game.
The Izzone has prime seating. They fill almost half of the lower bowl, dressed in identical white Izzone T-Shirts. At each seat are the tools of the trade, a newspaper, cotton towel and a white paper bag.
Tradition dictates that when each member of the opposing team is announced, we cover our faces with the newspaper, pretending to be disinterested and shouting “who cares” after each introduction. This contrasts with an explosive cheer for each Spartan player.
We blow up our paper bags and pop them in unison when State scores it’s first field goal.
During the game, the power of the Izzone is palpable. Whenever the bad guys have the ball, we jump up and down and scream at the top of our lungs making it impossible for the other team to communicate and focus. By contrast, we support the home team with a cacophony of cheers at each Spartan basket.
Working the crowd I could feel the full fury of the Izzone when I walked along the front row. Your ears hurt and you can almost feel the hurricane wind of air rushing from lungs past vocal chords and into the faces of the other team.
There is well practiced choreography for everything from pep band tunes to free throw shots. Over the last five years the fight song phrase “See their team is weakening” has evolved into “See their team is weeeeeeeeeeaaaaaak.” Just as in the early days of MAC, MSU’s students have created fresh traditions that elevate school spirit to new heights.
The game was close. Our victory wasn’t assured until the last 41 seconds. So none of us had a chance to catch our collective breath until the final buzzer. As the post game festivities began, PA announcer Terry Braverman broke from his script to announce that the Coach wanted to address the crowd.
Tom was hoarse. He always is after a game. But you could hear emotion in his voice as he said, “I want to thank the alumni who came back tonight to participate in the Izzone. You were a definite factor in our victory.”
I stood at the top of section 127 shaking hands as the white shirts weaved their way toward the exits. The common theme was that everyone had a wonderful time. “We’re still proud to be Spartans,” was something I heard again and again… along with.
“Can we do this again next year?”