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East Lansing — Early on New Year’s Eve day, the streets in this college town were deserted. There’s still almost two weeks left in semester break and many Michigan State students are out of town. But there’s a reason to come back.

Like a pilgrimage for the most ardent fans, students began arriving in droves as kickoff for the Cotton Bowl neared Thursday. Even some fans who aren’t Michigan State students made the journey, even if just to revel in the moment.

“It’s just the peak of football, of MSU football history, why not be up here for the game?” said Brad Chisholm, an Oakland Community College student from Lake Orion. “When they win, out there in Cedar Village, it gets pretty hype.”

As the Spartans ready to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff semifinal, East Lansing has become a temporary football mecca, and there’s a simple reason why.

“The atmosphere,” said Forrest Perez, a senior who made the drive from Grosse Isle for the game.

East Lansing’s bars will help provide that. With New Year’s celebration heaped on top of the game’s importance, establishments throughout the city are readying for a big night.

Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, a sprawling bar with a basement club, ran out of its 950 tickets Wednesday — meaning they’re almost guaranteed to receive a capacity crowd, manager Casey Comstock said.

“For the last 18 years we’ve offered tickets for games the day-of, but for tonight we offered them the day before,” Comstock said.

They’re not the only establishment breaking tradition for the game. Crunchy’s, a longtime standby for residents and students, usually closes for New Year’s Eve to give staff the night off. But for the first time in owner and manager Michael Krueger’s memory, they’ll be open.

“I’m excited, we have some bubbly to pass out to everybody, hopefully with a win,” he said.

Krueger said the enthusiasm around town is hard to miss.

“We had a nice little lunch crowd in here earlier, everybody dressed in their Michigan State garb, yelling ‘Go Green’ as they walked out the door,” he said.

Dublin Square, like Crunchy’s, doesn’t offer reservations. The Irish Pub is popular with students, but general manager Dan Tyler said he expects they’ll be full by 6 p.m. To coincide with the holiday, they’ll be bringing in a band.

“The band’s going to take the stage at 11:30,” Tyler said. “We’re expecting the game to go until about 12:10, so we’ll bring in the New Year real quick at midnight. ... The game will resume, and whatever happens, happens after that.”

But if bars are the venue, it’s camaraderie that’s the draw for students.

“I think that kind of makes the setting,” said senior Louise Almeida, whose family is in Battle Creek. “It’s really cool to be around when everybody cheering for the same team and everybody has so much school spirit.”

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