'Payback' the talk of the town
By Ferd Lewis
LANSING, Mich. — The "John L. Smith Show" is on the radio and a caller named Denny wants to talk with the Michigan State football coach about the Spartans' chances of going to the Rose Bowl.
Some fans roll their eyes and shake their heads, suggesting that national championship-in-the-sky talk is not what has brought an overflow crowd of about 250 green-and-white-clad faithful to the Nuthouse Sports Grill in downtown on a Thursday night.
Most of them, arriving an hour or more before the show to secure prime tables, are on hand to talk about tomorrow's game with the University of Hawai'i. Or, what the show's host, Terry Braverman, popularly calls: "payback" weekend.
Hawai'i's 41-38 victory in the final regular season game of 2004, knocked the Spartans out of a bowl berth and doomed them to a 5-7 record, painful things not easily forgotten here in the wake of a 16-to-5 disparity in penalties and 119-to-35 difference in yards penalized.
"That game on Dec. 4," says Braverman marking its infamy hereabouts, is what separates tomorrow's return matchup from a run-of-the-mill non-conference game for the Spartans.
Last week Kent State was, well, a typical season-opening, warm-up opponent.
The UH game, you quickly get the feeling, is about squaring accounts — with interest, if the 32-point betting line is any indication.
With the bowl season four months distant and the date with Notre Dame a week away, what the folks on hand and, presumably those listening on 35 affiliate stations from Bad Axe to Tawas City, want to know is what about this week.
Some, like Craig Stover, who occupies a table near the front, are still upset about what they term "the lousy job of officiating" they believe resulted in UH's upset of the Spartans 10 months ago.
"I was there and I couldn't believe some of the calls," Stover said. "I like Hawai'i and the people there, but those WAC officials did a terrible job. Some of those calls, like the one (on DeAndra Cobb's 98-yard kickoff return) they called back for a foul that supposedly occurred 30 yards behind the play, made no sense."
Smith tells them he would prefer neutral officials for all non-conference games or that visiting teams should bring their own conference officials with them. But he does not suggest it for this week, of course. Perhaps for 2007, when the Spartans are scheduled to return to Aloha Stadium.
The four-touchdown, 283-yard performance of Chad Owens is still on the minds of many when one of the players describes UH receivers as "munchkins and elves."
Defensive back Ashton Watson earns some applause from the crowd when, upon being asked how many catches he expects to give up to UH receivers, says, "none."
With last season on their minds and tickets for tomorrow in their hands, that is enough to send the Spartan faithful off into the night in a state of good cheer.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.