The Michigan State Spartans football program represents Michigan State University (MSU) in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level. The team currently plays as members of the Big Ten Conference. The team plays their home games from scenic Spartan Stadium, which is located on the main university campus. Because of the stadium’s design and perhaps because of the passion of the fans, Spartan Stadium is regularly ranked among the NCAA’s Top 25 in attendance records.
Spartans Early Years
In 1885, Football was only a club sport at MSU. It gained varsity status 11 years later in 1896. Early teams at the university competed in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which was chartered in 1888, which is also the oldest existing collegiate league in the US. The association’s first season of competitive football was in 1894, which, at the time, included Eastern Michigan University.
Chester Brewer revolutionized the football program during his three stints as head coach (1903-1910, 1917, and 1919). He was considered a defensive genius and his teams posted shutouts in 49 of the 88 games he coached. John Macklin took over as head coach in 1911 and owned a winning percentage of .853 (29-5), which is the best in Michigan State history.
Later, Jim Crowley, one of NOtre Dame’s Immortal Four Horseman, served as the head football coach at Michigan State from 1929 to 1933. He had come to the university after a successful stint at Florida. Crowley was then followed by Charlie Bachman, who like Jim Crowley had served at Notre Dame. Bachman led the team to 10 winning seasons in 13 years.
The Spartans Today
The team today is historic with several incredible games and upsets where they defeated fan favorite teams. This led to a very strong overall record. The records and achievements are listed below.
- All-time record 715–465–44 (.602)
- Bowl record 13–16 (.448)
- Playoff appearances 1 (2015)
- Playoff record 0–1
- Claimed national titles 6 (1951, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1965, 1966)
- Conference titles 11 (9 Big Ten, 2 MIAA)
- Division titles 3 (2011, 2013, 2015)
A historic team will always develop certain traditions that are part of the full home game experience. And the Spartans are no different. Here are some of the traditions that fans look forward to the most.
- “The Spartan Walk” – On the morning of each home game, the team takes a 10-minute walk from their hotel at the Kellogg Center, crossing the Red Cedar River, and finally into the stadium. The sidewalks are often lined with fans cheering on the team.
- “Zeke the Wonder Dog” – The team mascot is a frisbee-catching dog that was debuted in 1977. When the current Zeke gets too old to wow the crowd during halftime, the team holds tryouts for a replacement.
- “It’s a beautiful day for football!” – Before the kickoff, the PA announcer gives the weather forecast and declares that “It’s a beautiful day for football!”. This happens even during poor weather conditions.
- 300 – Ever since the film debuted in 2007, clips from the movie were added to the “Thunderstruck” introduction sequence. During opposing third down situations, the clip of Spartan King Leonidas shouting “Spartans! What is your profession!” will play.
About Spartan Stadium
Spartan Stadium, formerly known as College Field, Macklin Field, and Macklin Stadium, is the longtime home for the Michigan State Spartans. The stadium is primarily used for football games, but has seen use for a variety of other events over the course of its existence. It is nicknamed “The Woodshed” and lies in scenic East Lansing, Michigan. Even with its reported seating capacity of 72,027 fans, it has held over 80,000 spectators making it one of the Big Ten’s largest stadiums.
Spartan Stadium was conceived of in the early 1920s, as school officials decided that they needed to replace Old College Field, the former football stadium. The resulting stadium was partially ready in the fall of 1923, with a capacity of about 14,000 fans. Over time, the stadium grew and expanded with accommodations made to address the developing needs of the university. For example, in 1936, the field’s track was removed and permanent end zone seating was added, increasing the seating capacity to 26,000.
The facility was dedicated as Macklin Field, in honor of former coach John Macklin who put Michigan State Football on the map with a 29-5 record from 1911 to 1915, with victories over Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Penn State.
After the program was admitted into the Big Ten in 1948, Michigan State increased capacity to 51,000 spectators. At this point, the program was attracting national attention, so 9,000 more seats were added in 1956. The following season saw the Spartans capacity boosted to 76,000, at the same time that the stadium became known as Spartan Stadium.
What follows is a short list of some of the most impressive games to have ever been played at Spartans Stadium.
- 1961 – V. Notre Dame: Michigan State defeats Notre Dame 35-0 before a television audience on NBC. This game is considered what put Spartan football in the national spotlight
- 1972 – V. Ohio State: MSU defeated the then undefeated Ohio State 19-12 ruining their chances for an undefeated season and a national title
- 1987 – V. USC: This Labor Day night game saw MSU defeat USC in a televised season opener 27-13. The Spartans then went on to win the Big Ten title and defeat USC in a rematch at the Rose Bowl 20-17
- 1987 – V. Michigan: The Spartans broke an at-home losing streak vs the Wolverines that started in 1969. The Spartans won 17-11.
- 1995 – V. Michigan: Tony Banks led an 88-yard drive and threw a winning touchdown to Nigea Carter with just over a minute left in the game. The final score was 28-25.
- 2000 – V. Notre Dame: Wide receiver Herb Haygood caught a 68-yard touchdown pass on 4th down in the 4th quarter pushing them past Notre Dame.
- 2007 – V. Penn State: Halfback Jehuu Caulcrick led the Spartans from a 17-point deficit to a 35-31 victory. This game clinched the Spartans a Bowl game appearance, their first since 2003.
- 2013 – V. Michigan: Michigan State won 29-6. The Spartans defense handed the wolverines their worst rushing yardage (-48) in the university’s history