Michigan State Spartans fans flock to Dallas for Cotton Bowl appearance
Arlington, Texas — “Wonder Woman” remained in the car Thursday morning while “Batman” helped set up the tents, tables, alcohol and snacks for a Michigan State tailgate experience that didn’t resemble any of the others outside AT&T Stadium.
Michigan State fans didn’t wait until dark to begin their New Year’s Eve celebration Thursday.
Spartans fans were in full party mode well before noon, ahead of the school’s 8 p.m. College Football Playoff national semifinal game against Alabama in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
But Brian Schneble, a 35-year-old 2003 MSU graduate who lives in Waterford, stood out among the crowd. He was dressed in a head-to-toe Batman costume that even had a cape on the back. His girlfriend, Kelly Jones of Brighton, napped in the car while dressed as Wonder Woman. She caught up on her rest as Schneble and three of his friends began setting up their tailgate scene more than eight hours before kickoff.
“We should get a good mix of 50 to 60 people and of course anybody else who wants to stop in — I’m very accommodating,” Schneble said. “I told people looking for me that I’ll have the Michigan State flag up and look for Batman and Wonder Woman. We’re bringing the Super Heroes out here to Dallas. I just thought it’d be funny.”
Schneble said 20 MSU fans at his tailgate came from six other states, including Florida, California and Seattle, Wash.
This was a repeat visit to Arlington for some MSU fans who also traveled to the $1.2 billion palatial home of the Dallas Cowboys a year ago for the Spartans’ 42-41 win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. For others, it was their first time.
“My girlfriend is in the band and she was here last year for the Cotton Bowl and she said it was amazing, so we wanted to get down here for this one,” said Jack Borto, who graduated from Michigan State in May. “It’s huge. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’m looking forward to seeing the (big) screen. People were telling me you have to be careful to not just watch the screen. There is a game going on down below it.”
Getting in the spirit
Borto, 23, and his friend Mike Fitzpatrick, who also graduated from MSU last May, drove 15 hours from Chicago for the game. They spent some time browsing a merchandize stand near the stadium before heading to tailgate with friends. Borto said they drove through a blizzard in Illinois and around flooding near St. Louis before finally arriving just before midnight Wednesday.
“I drive the whole way. I just got in a zone,” said the 22-year-old Fitzpatrick. “I was ready to get down here.”
Most MSU tailgaters seemed to recognize one familiar face this far south. More than eight hours before kickoff, well-known MSU super fan “Johnny Spirit,” whose real name is John Sheldon, was circling AT&T Stadium on his bicycle. He was covered in green body paint with a giant “S” on his chest, with a big MSU flag waving behind his bicycle.
Some MSU fans yelled at Sheldon as he pedaled by tailgaters.
The MSU Alumni Association arranged a Cotton Bowl tour for fans to travel to the game and attend activities leading up to kickoff. Three chartered planes left Lansing on Tuesday for DFW.
Maria Giggy, the director for membership and marketing for MSU’s Alumni Association, said about 800 fans were a part of the tour group that traveled from Michigan.
Though MSU alumni were out in full force Thursday, the green and white presence wasn’t as strong as it was for the 100th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. The Spartans defeated Stanford, 24-20, that day for their first Rose Bowl win since 1988, capping a 13-1 season.
Giggy said attendance for the tour group to the Rose Bowl two years ago was 3,500 and an estimated 12,000 MSU fans took part in the pre-game tailgate party that day.
“The Spartans are excited to follow their team anywhere,” Giggy said, “but the Rose Bowl is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think there are a lot of people who decided to forgo the Cotton Bowl in hopes of traveling to the National Championship.”
One game at a time
A win Thursday would give Michigan State the chance to play for its first football national championship in 50 years, sending Spartans’ fans west to Glendale, Ariz., for the CFP national championship game Jan. 11. But first, they have to get past the Crimson Tide, who have more national championships (10) than any other school during the NCAA bowl era (since 1936).
Bonnie Knutson, a marketing professor in the hospitality program at MSU who has three degrees from the university, was with a group of six who flew in Tuesday. She said she’s bumped into MSU alumni from all over the country while walking down the street and through Dallas/Forth Worth Airport.
“People will yell, ‘Go Green,’ and we’d yell back, ‘Go White,’ ” Knutson said. “There is that Spartan camaraderie.”