Memories from my MSU Days

Submitted by DonAZ on October 17th, 2018 at 12:46 PM

The board thread Parking help at MSU brought back many memories for me from my time at Michigan State back around 1980, particularly related to my time working for the campus police doing event traffic control.  I shared two stories from that time in that post.  This diary post will provide a few more stories from era.


I am a fully-committed, 100% rabid fan of Michigan football.  I have been that way since I was 14 years old in 1973 when my older sister enrolled at Michigan.  I caught the football bug in a bad way: I'd tune into WPAG radio to catch Bob Ufer call the games; I'd scour the Sunday newspaper for any and all information on each game; on the few times Michigan would be on TV, I'd lay claim to the one TV we had in the house so I could watch the game; I developed a true man-crush for Denny Franklin at QB that year; the 10-10 tie with Ohio State was a severe disappointment, and the subsequent vote to send OSU to the Rose Bowl enraged me.  It still does.

I vividly recall Ricky Leach starting as a true freshman, which was a very rare thing back then.  To this day I think Rob Lytle was the best running back ever, and I have a special place in my heart for the number "41."  I secured my sister's season tickets or the 1975 season, and I went to every game, screaming my 16-year-old fool head off.  For the 1976 season I dutifully memorized the entire starting lineup -- both offense and defense -- and to this day I can rattle off the last names of the starting defense.  Being the only sports enthusiast out of all six of us kids, I learned to punt a football fairly well, and I marked off yards from the side the barn (we lived in Howell) so I could kick imaginary field goals (my longest was 38 yards).  I was Mike Lantry for every one of those kicks.

1977 was my senior year in high school, and a decision had to be made about attending college.  Money was an issue as I could not expect any assistance from my parents.  The price difference between MSU and UM at that time was $1000/year, and that was a great deal of money in an age when minimum wage was around $2.75/hour.  I applied to both UM and MSU and was accepted at both.  My heart pulled for Michigan, but my wallet ultimately demanded MSU.  MSU it was.

Freshman Year at MSU

The fire in my belly for Michigan football was unaffected by my attending college in East Lansing.  However, my 18 year brain was not yet smart enough to realize the better part of valor would be to stay quiet about it.  So I was a vocal Michigan fan in the heart of the MSU campus.  That did not go over well, as one would expect.  Threats were made, and my dorm room door was vandalized on a number of occasions.  I learned to stay quiet.  On Saturdays when everyone else was either at the game, I'd be in my dorm room listening on my clock radio to the Michigan game.

1977-78 was the year Magic Johnson was a freshman at MSU.  He lived in a different dorm, but in my dorm we had a few basketball players: Terry Donnelly was one, Ron Charles and Rick Kaye were others.  To this day I still remember Terry Donnelly in the community bathroom, carefully blow-drying his hair prior to a home basketball game.  I also learned the top door jamb was 6'8" because Ron Charles would just fit.

Working for DPS (Department of Public Safety)

By my junior year (1979-80) the need to work during the school year was something I could no longer avoid, and I landed a role working odd jobs for the DPS.  Football games were the single largest employer of students for DPS, with basketball and hockey second, and then just odd roles after that.  Being brand new and unknown, I was offered the least-desirable roles, which I took because I needed the money.  I rather quickly developed the reputation of being available and reliable, and that allowed me to work my way up to being an "orange vest" worker for football, basketball, and hockey games.

By my senior year I had worked my way up to being student supervisor.  That meant I was liaison between the police officers and the student worker program.  I must have done something right as I earned the trust of the key officers.  From that point until graduation in 1983 (masters), I was student supervisor for DPS, coordinating all activities and roles for students.  

From that time come many stories ...

Stories Working DPS on Campus

  • The very first role I performed with DPS was to man the impound lot during a football game.  This is where they towed and impounded improperly parked cars.  In theory, the owners of the cars would go to the DPS front desk, pay their fine, and get a release slip.  But many came straight to the impound lot and try to argue with me to release their car.  I, of course, could not do that.  I was the recipient of quite a few intense and creative verbal slurs on my person and character.
  • There was a large panel van -- like what UPS uses to deliver packages -- that we used to deliver students to some of the more remote posts.  That van was on loan from another department of campus.  Prior to me becoming student supervisor, one of the previous supervisors decided to try to drive that van through one of the parking decks.  The height of the van exceeded the clearance of the deck.  The van was significantly damaged.  We never got use of that van again.
  • As related in the Parking help at MSU thread,  I worked all night as surveillance in the stadium in the week leading up to Michigan game.  Being one of two people in an empty and dark football stadium at night is a weird feeling.  Being the focus of a police helicopter spotlight on the field of an empty and otherwise dark football stadium at night is an even more weird feeling.
  • Oddly enough, I can't recall any particular efforts to place surveillance around the statue of Sparty near north campus.  The DPS must have thought they could protect that with their routine police cruiser runs around campus.
  • On a typical home football Saturday I'd be responsible for checking in the 110 students who acted as "orange vest" workers at various points across campus.  That was 45 minutes of controlled chaos, then everyone went to their posts.  There was a core of about 60 regular students who worked every game, and the rest I had to fill by making dozens of phone calls leading up to the Saturday.  No-shows were a problem.  Certain traffic control locations were lower priority, and those we held back staffing until the end.  Sometimes they went un-staffed.
  • Speaking of police cruisers, during one football game one of the police lieutenants told me to drive up to north campus and pick up the boxed lunches for the on-duty officers.  He gave me the keys to his marked police cruiser.  With a shotgun locked into its holder in the front seat.  So there I was -- a 20 year old student -- driving a marked police car across campus.  Needless to say I drove very carefully.  And I did not turn on the lights or siren. 
  • While working traffic control for a basketball game with Indiana, I got to meet and shake hands with Kent Benson of Indiana basketball fame.  This was after he had graduated.  His hands were enormous.
  • Back then the MSU library did not have any fire detection or sprinkler systems.  It may now, but back then it did not.  So we had to staff "fire watch" rotations every night from 11:00pm to 7:00am.  I worked many of those.  Again, it was weird to be all alone in a giant library in the dead of the night.  We had to check all parts of the library, including restrooms, both mens' and womens'.  The graffiti in the womens' restrooms was ... interesting.
  • Another night I was assigned to work surveillance of a bank of parking meters.  There had been a rash of meters being broken off the post and the coins stolen.  So I was placed in an unmarked car with a police radio and a set of binoculars.  Along about midnight a young couple came along, obviously drunk, and proceeded to engage in amorous activities about twenty feet in front of the car I was in.  Had I wanted to, I could have turned on the headlights and given them a mighty surprise.  
  • Working traffic control for concerts was another role, and I got to see a number of acts.  The Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon concerts were not very engaging, surprisingly; the Kenny Rogers concert on the other hand, was very well done.

I spent several years at MSU and earned two degrees.  They served me well lo these many years later.  Never once during those years at MSU did my enthusiasm for Michigan football waver.  Several times I stood in Spartan Stadium, watching the MSU/UM game take place, and I'd be silent on the outside but screaming enthusiastically for the Maize and Blue.  

In this run-up to the 2018 Michigan / Michigan State game I am still the manic Michigan fan I was at age 14 in 1973.  

Here's to a solid and convincing Meechigan victory in East Lansing this weekend!



October 17th, 2018 at 1:40 PM ^

I applied to both and didn't get in to MSU. Had MSU accepted me I likely would have enrolled -- coincidentally one Jim McElwain (who followed John L Smith from his previous stop at Louisville) told me he had a walk-on spot for me as a punter and I could try out as a receiver.  At the same time I was hearing from Michigan that it was highly unlikely I'd make the team, even as a walk-on.

I opted for Ball State University where i was promised a walk-on spot and tuition cost me nearly $4k/semester less



October 17th, 2018 at 1:40 PM ^

Ha! Saw that coming.

I only applied to msu. I was in the late 90's and a bit more forward thinking than our OP. I did not broadcast my UM fandom. We would fly our UM flag on msu week off our apt balcony facing E Michigan Ave. Beside some honks and middle fingers, no one ever thought to either track us down or bothered to. 

Those were some good stories, OP. After my first year of living in the apt I condensed all my classes as close together as possible for the remaining years so I could just head home afterwards. Lived about 45 mins away; a little east of GR. I did not have near as much fun there as you. 

SirJack II

October 17th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

Thank you for the riveting look inside an institution most of us only know from a safe distance. I've only been to State's campus a couple times to visit friends while I was an undergrad. I found the culture of the bros and coeds to be fascinating. I was eager to learn more about their rituals. What does it mean to burn a couch, what symbolism lurks there? What's the import behind a group of men taking their shirts off and wrapping them around their foreheads while howling? Why was everyone so defiant, unhinged, and angry? Could it be that they're not so different from us in our civilized campus greens and populated libraries, stifling our raging ids for the cultivation of the self and the betterment of society?


October 17th, 2018 at 2:11 PM ^

Money was an issue as I could not expect any assistance from my parents. 

This was pretty common back in the day.  I graduated high school the same year as you, and my only source of money at the time was working at a McDonalds for minimum wage ($2.20 an hour).

This drove a lot of decisions that I'd rather not have to have made.  But that's life.

I was 35 years old and still paying off student loans.  It did not kill me.



October 17th, 2018 at 4:51 PM ^

just so you know as of 2015 people over 30 years old made up the following:

  • 26+ million holders of student loan debt
  • $840+ billion dollars wrapped up in these loans to people over 
  • 14+ million of these borrowers are over the age of 40, holding over $400 billion in loans

This has undoubtedly increased across the last 3 years as well, but current administration is not as interested readily exposing these numbers.

35 and paying of student loans is more of the normal now than an outlier...


October 17th, 2018 at 2:28 PM ^

Thanks for sharing.  It is always nice to hear about other Michigan fans who attended MSU.  I also graduated from MSU (2007) and stayed 100% committed to my Michigan fandom which even included a couple years on the Michigan State Water Ski Team. 

A lot of people now ask me how survived MSU as a Michigan fan and I tell them that there are actually a lot of Michigan fans that go to MSU (for a variety of reasons) so it was never hard to find someone to watch a game.  Plus, for myself at least, my friends (and future wife) who knew I was a Michigan fan, knew I was a Michigan fan and never fought me on it and the ones that called me a traitor I would just tell them that I have been a Michigan fan way before I even knew what Michigan was, and that changing my fandom now would be a traitor move.  That either shut them up or the fact that their coach at the time was John L. Smith, either way I enjoyed my time there, made great friends, met my wife, and it has served me well career wise.  

More importantly though, lets get back to the John L. Smith days of winning starting with this Saturday.


October 17th, 2018 at 3:10 PM ^

I thought there was a rule that whenever someone mentioned Ron “Bobo” Charles, they had to call him Ron “Bobo” Charles. 40 years later, I still call him Ron “Bobo” Charles. 

Hotel Putingrad

October 18th, 2018 at 8:02 PM ^

I know it's just a game and all, but I couldn't imagine the cognitive dissonance required to attend one school and root for the other. And now I wonder who on this blog is an actual UM alum but SPARTY fan?


Mojo Hall

October 18th, 2018 at 10:34 PM ^

Thanks for sharing.  Always nice to hear the different perspective.  I got into both for undergrad but ended up going to a small private college where I got a full scholarship.  I then was in the process of applying to law schools after undergrad.  I had siblings that went to state and I would have gotten a partial scholarship but I just couldn't go there.  My hatred for them was too much.  Couldn't get into u of m law so I ended up in NY where I am now (paid full price but it was worth it).  Glad everything worked out how it did.  it was 2003 that I went to law school as time really flies.

You Only Live Twice

October 19th, 2018 at 11:04 AM ^

Enjoyable read.  Kudos for never wavering in your fandom - having that instilled by Bob Ufer lasts a lifetime.

Now.  Without looking it up, I can tell you that minimum wage in 1977 was $2.30.  I don't want to tell you how I know :-)



October 21st, 2018 at 12:08 PM ^

 WELL DONE SIR. You are the only person I would ever  believe got accepted at both UM and MSU and went to Sparty. I went to UM about the same time. My high school counselor was somewhat biased in favor of MSU and one of his major points was the cost difference.  I was putting myself through college and he thought he was giving me good advice. Of course i didn't follow it.