Tirico: MSU-ND ‘what Midwestern football is all about’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

When Mike Tirico calls a Michigan State football game, you can usually count on a wild finish.

The veteran broadcaster will be in the booth on Saturday when No. 12 Michigan State travels to South Bend to play No. 18 Notre Dame. With Tirico’s recent move to NBC after more than 25 years with ESPN and ABC, it’s another chance for him to see the Spartans on the football field.

The last couple of times have had mixed results for Michigan State fans.

“I was just figuring out the last time I saw the Spartans was the triple-overtime Outback Bowl game when they beat Georgia,” Tirico said on Thursday. “And I think one of the last regular-season games I did with Michigan State was the triple-overtime Braylon Edwards game at the Big House.

“So I’m hoping for another triple-overtime game. I would say that would definitely be a good return to see the football Spartans after seeing a whole bunch of (Tom) Izzo’s over the years.”

That Braylon Edwards game, of course, was in 2004 when Michigan rallied to beat Michigan State. It’s not exactly the type of game Spartan fans are hoping for, but when they tune in to NBC for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, Tirico will certainly provide a familiar voice.

Tirico called Monday Night Football for 10 years before making the move to NBC and has done more Big Ten college basketball than he can remember, forming an entertaining tandem with Dan Dakich in recent years as the duo did Big Ten games on Tuesday’s for ESPN.

“I will miss those Tuesday nights with my pal, Dan,” Tirico said. “But I’ll still enjoy going to games as a fan, no doubt. The Breslin Center, Assembly Hall — some pretty cool evenings living here in Big Ten country. That’s why doing these Notre Dame games has been wonderful for me. I love college campuses, I love what college sports can represent when done the right way and getting to be around it for these three weeks is a blast for me.”

Tirico called Notre Dame’s win over Nevada last week and will handle the call when Notre Dame hosts Duke next week. After that, Dan Hicks returns to the post following his work covering the PGA Tour.

Getting back to his roots — college football — has been enjoyable for Tirico. He did his share of college work for ESPN in the 1990s and remembers his first Thursday night game coming from Spartan Stadium in 1999 when Michigan State beat Oregon. He was in the booth that night with Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit.

“I remember Amp Campbell was a safety who had a very serious neck injury and that was his return,” Tirico said. “And he made a big play in that game.”

It was a fumble return for a touchdown that essentially clinched Michigan State’s 27-20 victory in front of a raucous crowd. It’s the same atmosphere Tirico encountered last week, the first time he’d ever been to Notre Dame Stadium.

But a game against Nevada won’t compare to a visit from the Spartans, he said.

“With NBC having the rights for the last 25 years — this is my 26th year doing network TV — we never had the chance to do a game in South Bend and it was a first for me. It was crazy,” Tirico said. “It exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of atmosphere and setting and that was for Nevada.

“With a bunch of Spartys there on a Saturday night it is just gonna be tremendous. It’s what Midwestern football is all about and those of us who live here absolutely love that and I can’t wait for Saturday night.”

Tirico, a graduate of Syracuse, has lived in Ann Arbor since 1999 with his wife, Debbie, and two children. He holds no allegiance to Michigan, has known Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly for years and has the utmost respect for Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio.

“Mark Hollis is as good as there is in the country as an athletic director,” Tirico said. “Coach Izzo, Hall of Fame, enough said. And Coach Dantonio and what he’s built — it’s a great time for Spartan fans. They should enjoy what they have now. It’s very hard to have it as good as they have it with their major programs, for sure.”

Tirico gets some time to enjoy sports. He calls himself a huge Tigers fan and enjoys Red Wings games, as well. Right now he’s dialed in on the upcoming Tigers series in Cleveland and the chase for the final wild-card spot as he gripes and complains like a regular fan.

But those moments are fleeting this time of year as Tirico mixes in NFL work on Sundays and will help with Ryder Cup coverage later this month.

Until then, though, he expects a close battle in South Bend, typical of games in this series.

“I can’t think of anything better,” Tirico said. “You think about 50 years after the tie game, this started 119 years ago. There’s not a lot of things you come across that have been going on in America for almost 12 decades and Michigan State and Notre Dame has.

“To be part of a game where both teams are ranked in one of the iconic venues in the history of sports, two really good programs, I could not ask for anything more and it’s what we call work. We’re so darn lucky.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau