It wasn’t the day’s most jarring moment, and it didn’t happen in front of 111,000 people, but the moment Joe Bolden walked into the locker room was surreal nonetheless.
The senior linebacker had just been ejected for targeting from the Michigan football team’s game against Michigan State on Oct. 17, and after taking a half-lap around the edge of the field, slapping hands and trying to get the crowd fired up, he arrived at the locker room to find the only person in the entire stadium who could relate to him in that moment.
Senior linebacker James Ross III was already standing at the door waiting for him, serving his punishment for the same penalty the prior game.
“I told him, ‘Hey, it’s your turn,’ ” Bolden recalled Tuesday. “So we kind of (traded) spots. Not sure that’s the ideal situation where you want to trade spots, but we watched the end of the second (quarter) together, and you could tell that he was ready to go, he was ready to come out and play as well.”
In the second quarter, Bolden appeared to be pushed into Spartans’ quarterback Connor Cook. And while his helmet-to-helmet contact with Cook looked unintentional, he was ejected, and thus relegated to watch the second half from the locker room. In his senior year, it was his last shot at the Spartans.
A year ago, Bolden found himself at the center of a minor controversy surrounding the rivalry game after he planted a stake in the Spartan Stadium turf. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio later termed the act disrespectful and cited it as his reason for adding a late touchdown after the game was already decided.
But his shot at redemption this season was cut short by the ejection. So as he went off the field, he implored the crowd to stay invested in the game, as if they needed any further incentive to cheer.
“I think it was important (for the crowd) to know that life goes on,” Bolden said. “Even though you’re gonna lose a guy, the No. 1 defense is still out on the field, and you guys need to stay behind them.”
As Bolden paraded the perimeter of the stadium, he jumped up and down, waving his arms, especially in front of the student section.
“(Michigan recruiting coordinator Chris Partridge) was pulling me off the field,” Bolden said. “I probably would have made it a couple of laps if it wasn’t for him.”
Ross, of course, returned to the field for the second half, since his carry-over suspension only lasted the first.
That left Bolden to either watch the game in the locker room, or seek another option.
“I actually went ahead and got on my phone and read every rule in the rulebook as soon as it happened, just to make sure there wasn’t any loopholes that could get anywhere else, other than a 10-by-5-foot room to watch the game,” he said.
Bolden was referring to finding another way to watch the game, preferably on the field. But he didn’t find one. So when Blake O’Neill’s fumble landed in the arms of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who returned it for a touchdown in an ending that shocked the nation, Bolden experienced it differently from the rest of his teammates. The TV was on a delay, and he couldn’t share his shock with any of them.
“Crickets,” he said. “I couldn’t hear anything. Just crickets. And then I walked out of the room.”