Thousands Gather at the 14th Annual Meet
EAST LANSING - Tuesday, August 16th marked another great turnout for the 14th annual Meet the Spartans event as thousands of Michigan State football fans flooded into the concourse at Spartan Stadium to wrap up summer and kickoff the season.
The entire 2016 Spartan football team was present along with head coach Mark Dantonio to sign autographs, take pictures and preview this year’s team. The event gave fans the chance to tour the press box, visit the football field, meet Sparty, get a taste of Spartan Stadium, take pictures with the 2015 Big Ten Championship trophy and more.
Spartan players got a break from preseason camp and fans got a glimpse at the guys behind the green and white helmets they’ll be rooting for at every game. Coming off of a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff, it was no surprise the support that was garnered at this years event.
Wearing Rose Bowl adorned bibs made in 1988, Merrill Shelden stood outside Spartan Stadium signing autographs and sharing memories of his 2-0 Rose Bowl victory attire, that he now wears at every game. “This has been going on for 14 years, I don’t think we’ve missed one of them,” said Shelden. “It’s another year, you know when you’re on a winning winning record you got to keep going but we’d be going anyway. We go regardless just to watch the Spartans play.”
The support may have been surprising to the newcomers of Meet the Spartans but it was no surprise to the players. “That’s just how Spartan Nations been through thick and thin, through the ups and downs it’s generations and it means the world to these fans, their kids,” said Michigan State wide receiver R.J. Shelton.
Doors opened at 5:00 p.m. but that did not stop hundreds of loyal fans from lining up outside as early as 1:00 p.m. in hopes of getting to meet and get the autograph of Coach Dantonio. “When we got here there were just people lining up outside just waiting to come in and meet all of the football players,” said first year Michigan State Cheerleader Brooke Allen.
Fans brought footballs, flags, pictures, vintage MSU football helmets, signs and other MSU memorabilia for coach and the team to sign. “We got here at two o’clock and we have been waiting at the gates and we have been sitting here,” said middle school student Mikaila Orlowski. “I’m most excited about meeting Mark Dantonio, I’m really excited because I can’t wait for him to sign my helmet.”
This excitement was the common theme amongst fans and players who fed off each other to get pumped up for the season. “We just get eager to play because I know how much that means to them,” said Shelton.
Aside from the autographs another popular attraction was the play-by-play broadcasting booth hosted by the Spartan Sports Network that allowed fans to live out their dream recapping the Michigan State vs. Michigan game. “I got to participate in the play-by-play calling, of course they used the Michigan game which was an awesome one to be able to call and it’s just a great atmosphere here, it gets you excited for the football season,” said an anonymous Spartan fan.
“Oh man, I’m so hyped up for this upcoming season, football is starting like next month,” said MSU graduate Erin Eschels.
In East Lansing, football season is the best time of the year. “I just graduated from Michigan State and I’m still working in East Lansing and I’m a big football fan. I’m not ready to leave East Lansing yet so I just wanted to come and meet some of the players before I move somewhere else and represent Michigan State from across the country,” said Eschels.
Anticipation for the season and interacting with Spartan Nation is why Shelton loves being at Meet the Spartans. “Just seeing our loyal fans, how much they bleed green and white, how much they love Michigan State. They would do anything for Michigan State whether it’s donate money, come to games or even just come to events like this,” said Shelton.
Crisp off a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff, Spartan fans can expect their team to bring their A Game this season. “You’re going to see a team that’s determined, ready to make a statement and go back-to-back (#Back2Back) because you know that’s just the goal that we have. We have high goals here and there’s high standards set here at Michigan State,” said Shelton.
With the hopes of another promising season on the horizon it truly was a day for fans who will take home more than just autographs and pictures. The young will look back at this day and remember fondly their first Meet the Spartans, while the elders will remember the magical feeling of what it’s like when Spartan Nation comes together inside Spartan Stadium.