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‘Spirit of Detroit’ catches Spartan fever, gets jersey

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — The “Spirit of Detroit” donned an oversized Michigan State University uniform for the first time Monday in celebration of the Spartans’ appearance in the College Football Playoff later this month.

Amid wind and rain Monday Ryan Wheeler of Prop Art Studio in Detroit ensures a good fit of the Michigan State Spartans jersey on the statue outside Detroit’s City Hall.

Workers outside the Coleman A. Young Center on Woodward Avenue battled wind and rain to dress the iconic monument in a weather-resistant, white jersey bearing the university’s logo and a large No. 1 in green.

The “Spirit” often is dressed in the jerseys of Detroit’s professional sports teams during playoffs. Monday morning’s unveiling celebrated the Big Ten Champion and third-seeded Spartans’ (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten) first playoff appearance at the Dec. 31 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium.

Recent MSU graduate Diana Hessen, 22, said she bought a $115 standing-room ticket off StubHub for the game against SEC Champion and second-seeded Alabama (12-1, 7-1). The 8:10 p.m. game will be televised on ESPN.

“As long as it gets me in the door, I’m good,” Hessen said of her ticket. “(The game) isn’t going to be a blowout, but I think we’re going to win because Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook, they always pull off a win when we need it.”

About a half-dozen Spartan fans joined Hessen Monday morning to watch the statue gear up for game day, including Sterling Heights resident Don Cavanagh, 53.

“Detroit has a bias it seems toward Michigan,” said Cavanagh, who earned bachelors and masters degrees from State in 1984 and 1989. “So when they start supporting Michigan State, I felt I had to be here.”

Both Cavanagh and Hessen agreed State’s first appearance in the playoffs marks a shift for the program.

“We have a very good chance (in the Cotton Bowl). We like being the underdog. I think it helps us,” said Cavanagh, adding the Spartans play well with “a chip on their shoulders.”

Hessen said the decked-out statue represents a higher profile for the university’s football program.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s definitely showing we’re not the little brother anymore.”

Although the university is based in East Lansing, it boasts several satellite campuses for summer courses in the Metro Detroit area, including Birmingham, Troy and Farmington Hills. The university also maintains a Detroit Center on Woodward just south of Mack Avenue.

“It’s truly exciting to know the Spartan jersey will be worn by the ‘Spirit of Detroit’ statue,” MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis said. “It’s a public symbol of support for our football program as it prepares for the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Alabama, and I’m positive many MSU alums will stop by the statue to pose for photos. The sustained success of our football program has energized the entire university and our fan base.”

The “Spirit” sits at 26-feet-tall and was the largest cast bronze statue since the Renaissance at the time it was dedicated in 1958, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

Among frequent years in a Red Wings jersey, the “Spirit” also has donned Pistons jerseys and a Lions jersey last season during the team’s brief playoff appearance. The statue in 2006 celebrated bringing football’s Big Game to Detroit by wearing a Super Bowl XL jersey.

One year, the statue was dressed to the nines in a tuxedo during a visit from the Three Tenors.

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