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Michigan-Michigan State football helped heal wounds of 9/11

Sparty Bob helped us forget the tragic events of 9/11, 20 years ago.

He was Michigan State’s timekeeper. He created a “Maize Rage” near the conclusion of the Michigan-Michigan State game, where people accused him of stopping the clock with one second remaining. It gave MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker enough time to spike the ball and gave the Spartans one more play to pull out an exhilarating 26-24 victory.

The game came two weeks after terrorists attacked the United States. It caused a division in the state.

But fighting never felt so good.

We were all stunned by 911.

In a way, it caused us to unite and love our fellow Americans more. Why fight? After all, we had a common enemy that wanted to hurt us all. We walked around and nodded to one another. We asked strangers if they were OK. It was the strongest bond I can remember in this country.

We were also numb.

Sports helped us get back to normal.

New York began to heal when New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza hit a game-winning home run to beat the Atlanta Braves after sports returned. America began to heal when President George Bush threw that perfect ceremonial first pitch during the World Series.

Michigan needed that moment to slap us back to reality. Sparty Bob gave that to us.

I also discovered that Wolverines and Spartans bought their DVR devices from different stores. I will explain.

Let’s set up the final minutes. Michigan led 24-20 and had to punt with 2:23 remaining in the game. A short kick gave MSU the ball at the Michigan 44 yard line. State drove deep into Michigan territory. On fourth down, Smoker completed an eight-yard slant to running back T.J. Duckett to the Michigan three-yard line with 0:17 remaining.

Smoker spiked the ball to stop the clock. He was tackled at the two-yard line on the next play but failed to get out of bounds. Smoker frantically pulled his team together with the clock running down and spiked the ball with one second remaining.

Michigan State
The clock shows 1 second remaining at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001 before Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker, scrambling and off-balance, lobbed a 2-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Duckett on the last play of the game as Michigan State stunned No. 6 Michigan 26-24 on Saturday, likely ending the Wolverines’ chances at playing in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Or did time expire for Michigan State?

Michigan fans will tell you that the play took too long and that time expired. Michigan State fans will tell you Sparty Bob did not stop the clock.

The play should count.

Regardless, MSU got one more play to win the game.

I did talk radio at the time, and I received many messages from Michigan fans who said they replayed their DVR machines frame by frame and time expired. On the other hand, Spartan fans replayed their DVR machines frame by frame, and it was obvious that time remained on the clock.

That’s how I knew Wolverines and Spartans get different brands of DVRs at different stores.

Smoker finished off Michigan with a short touchdown pass to Duckett as time expired.

That set off a firestorm across the state.

Michigan fans sent threatening messages to the clock keeper. The Big Ten changed its rule of having the home team provide a timekeeper for games. Now time is kept on the field by a neutral official.

The entire state fought for days. But it felt normal around here again. We did not forget the tragedy that unfolded for 911. But the clock incident turned us into normal sports fans again. It was an incident that helped us move on from the terrorist attacks.

The power of sports.

Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.

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