Kevin Thomas chimes in on Dantonio being the man!

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 DANTONIO IS THE MAN
                                                 

    The tide of change is at hand for the Michigan State football program. Not for any game they have played, but for the ability of one man to draw a proverbial line in the sand. His name? None other than Mark Dantonio, the head coach for the Spartans.

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Rarely does anyone stand up and take on the local bully, the Wolverines of Michigan, since they have the well deserved reputation for elitist attitude and overbearing arrogance. They tend to smash people into submission with attitude, cockiness, and talent. They tend to win, and much to the chagrin of Spartans faithful, they tend to get the better of the Spartans, at least in football.

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Dantonio took on the bully early, telling some of the Wolverine coaching staff at a high school banquet that the Spartans were going to be players in this state. He even took it a step further, by setting up a clock to count down the moments before the Spartans would take on the hated foes from Ann Arbor.

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He even took a jab at the Wolverines after they endured one of the most embarrassing losses in college football history, a stunning loss to Appalachian State. After a Spartan victory that same day, he was asked to comment about the Wolverines unfathomable defeat, and he replied by asking if we should have a “moment of silence”. He even challenged the Spartan players the week prior to the game, asking them how long they would bow down to Michigan.

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On the day of the game, the Spartans pounded and beat up Michigan, especially in the third quarter as they ran the ball right at them in a fashion that was reminiscent of the glory days of Duffy Daugherty and Biggie Munn. Mercilessly pounding the ball down the throats of the Michigan defenders play after play. In my time, I have watched a lot of teams beat UM by throwing the football and mixing in some runs, but I have never witnessed a Michigan defensive front get manhandled the way the Wolverines were on this day. Yet, like many times before, the clock struck twelve and the Spartans ran out of time.

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So when the Wolverines came to town and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, that should have been the end of it story. The Wolverines should have been thankful for their victory and in finally shutting up Dantonio and the devastated Spartans.

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Except as usual, the Wolverines have problems in not gloating in victory. A few weeks earlier against the Nittany Lions of Penn State, wide receiver Mario Manningham decided to do the worm dance in front of Joe Paterno as the Michigan offense was in the victory formation.  

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So it was not a surprise when the Michigan players gathered at midfield to have a moment of silence for Dantonio and the Spartans, and some of the Wolverines began taunting the MSU players. Most notably, UM defensive tackle Terrance Taylor was giving it to Jehuu Caulcrick, who finally told him to get away from him and go celebrate with is own team. Later on Mike Hart, known for being loose of the lips and even taking on former UM

quarterback Jim Harbaugh earlier in the year, said he was laughing at the Spartans because basically they were the “little brother” who hangs around for a while but in the end usually folds. What a shame, it’s just that the Wolverines no longer handle victories or losses or show class like they did when Bo Schembechler was there. In fact, journalist Jemelle Hill called them ‘classless’ after Michigan loss in 2001 for their inappropriate behavior immediately after the game. Perhaps that is the era of football we are in.

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Then came the historic press conference of Mark Dantonio. You know, these things are usually boring, they talk about how they lost, what they need to do to get better, and they usually are a little defensive with their tails between their legs. Dantonio was NONE of those things. You could almost see Dantonio channeling Jake LaMotta after he was pummeled by Sugar Ray Robinson. “You never knocked me down Ray,” said a bloodied and beaten LaMotta. “You never knocked me down!”

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Dantonio came back with his own classic lines, “It’s not over and it will never be over.”

He also talked about how the Wolverines weren’t laughing when the Spartans were up, how

a lot of what the Wolverines did he found amusing, and how the Wolverines needed to check themselves since, “Pride comes before a fall.” He went further in mentioning that perhaps Mike Hart was the little brother with a motion of his hand, basically saying that Hart wasn’t exactly the tallest guy on the football field that day.

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The whole press conference was a thing of beauty and I don’t now about you, but it sent chills down my spine. This is not suppose to happen. The bully usually lands the big punch

and the other guy is suppose to lay there. Except… there is a new sheriff in town.

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Now, I have been around Spartan sports for a long time. I loved it when Magic Johnson won the National Championship in 1979 and when Tom Izzo did as well in 2000. I can remember the Rose Bowl victory with George Perles, and whipping USC twice in one year.

However, I can never remember a prouder and more awe inspiring moment than the Dantonio press conference.

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This was not suppose to happen, you just don’t taken on the bully, especially after you lost the game, but that is what he did—“It will never be over.” Wow, that is the first time I have ever witnessed a MSU coach having fire in the belly in this long standing rivalry and actually talking about it publicly. I am sure Tom Izzo is not happy with what the Wolverines have done in the past, especially with some of the legendary recruiting battles with Chris Webber and others, but when he gets on the radio, he always plays nice, which is commendable as well. I am also sure other coaches have wanted to beat the Wolverines, but not as much Dantonio seems to want to beat them, and especially with as much apparent fervor and disdain as he has for them.

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Now, the Wolverines reaction, or at least those wanting to speak for the Wolverines, in the media blasted Dantonio for handling it the wrong way—clearly indicating that Dantonio had touched the soul of the dragon and made them mad, further inspiring the Spartan Nation to realize that Dantonio did the right thing.

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Perhaps this is what the Spartan football has been missing for several years-fire in the belly,

true competitiveness, and not bowing down to anyone-even if you lose the game on the field.

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As a football coach, just like a baseball manager, you have to step forward and protect your players, you have to stick up for them when they are being mocked, and taunted, and laughed at, and while they are being called the little brother on the corner and that is what he did. That is what a good coach does. Had he not done that, this program could have gone

in another direction at Purdue. However, after seeing how Dantonio and the other coaches stood up for them, the players would have ran through a wall on Saturday, and technically they did, a gold and black wall in West Lafayette where they have struggled to win in recent years. As Devin Thomas said after the win over the Boilermakers, “This one is for the coaches.” All anyone had to do was to get behind these kids and those kids would get behind the coaches and that’s what they did. Did anyone question the players would be ready after Dantonio spoke up for them and had their backs?

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On Saturday, another interesting thing happened, the Wolverines seem to be reeling and discombobulated, not just from the Badgers punch on the ground, but from the comments of Dantonio as well. Which goes to show you, that sometimes in the real world, pride does come before a fall.

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Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you that Mark Dantonio is going to be the greatest Spartan coach since Biggie Munn or even Duffy Daugherty. I am not going to tell you they are going to start winning a bunch of Championships or go to Rose Bowls with any kind of frequency. However, I will tell you this-on one day in November of 2007, the bully finally got punched back in the face…and now there is now a measurable pulse of competitiveness that this program has lacked for years, and for once, after many years of disappointment… IT IS NOT OVER… AND IT WILL NEVER BE OVER. Heck, like Burt Reynolds in the “Longest Yard”, sometimes you have to say or do what you have to do without worrying about the consequences…and that’s exactly what Dantonio did at his legendary press conference, and as long as that kind of competitiveness stays in East Lansing, perhaps they can build something special here, after all, the Dantonio era is not over, and years from now, as grandfathers share with their grandchildren the story of this press conference with smiles on their faces, one thing will be remembered, and that is… IT WILL NEVER BE OVER.

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Go Spartans!