EAST LANSING — Michigan State senior Dean Conway busted through his apartment door and rushed to the bathroom sink to wipe the tears from his eyes.
The Spartans’ dream season was over — K-Izz-O’ed by the Tar Heels in the Final Four.
However, Conway, who had been punching counter-tops and refrigerator doors in frustration during the second half of the game, wasn’t sad.
He just wanted to wash away the tear gas.
Thousands of students — myself included — naively departed from bars, apartments and our sanity on to the streets of East Lansing after the Spartans’ Final Four loss early Sunday morning. We all heard stories about the riots in 1999, when State lost to Duke in the Final Four.
I had expectations.
The presence of horse-mounted police in full riot gear roaming the streets by halftime seemed more alluring to drunken fans than the prospect of Spartan cheerleaders offering free lap dances.
Helicopters with spotlights …
Those Darth Vader-like masks …
Policemen that lined the rooftops of nearby apartment buildings …
How could we resist that?
Fans chanted, “Go Green, Go White,” rather peacefully until the East Lansing Police Department ordered the few thousand quasi-peaceful fans, with a megaphone, to disperse from the streets of the Cedar Village apartment area — the epicenter.
Then the camaraderie began.
Even Mama-Bear couldn’t quite teach such a lesson to Brother Bear and Sister Bear.
The police should be proud. Students united against them in kick-the-tear-gas matches, gathered on roadsides to share advice on where to go to escape the latest wave of the Civil Disturbance Foggers and even welcomed strangers into their apartments for water to quench the throat-stinging, eye-watering, face-burning effect of the gas.
In Cedar Village apartment hallways, revolving waves of students exchanged stories, holding shirts over their noses. Then, for whatever reason, they ventured back outside to create new ones.
“I came up to one of the officers who just tear-gassed me, and I asked him where to go (to get out of the area),” one student told me while I waited in line at a convenience store to buy more beer as tear-gas canisters boomed outside. “He wouldn’t answer me, so I threw up on him.”
The students who tried to get home had to fend for themselves.
A manager at the Grand River Avenue McDonald’s blocked the entryway to the store as a plume of gas began to engulf the assembled crowd near the door, causing them to scatter in all directions.
A friend of mine “found” himself near a bonfire of telephone books and chairs. He said exploding tear-gas canisters were launched toward him from all directions. Forced into an apartment building, he cowered in a ground-floor hallway with a Michigan State student who was crying from exposure to the tear gas, which had been so thick that it began filling the corridor. He said tenants heard them and invited them inside for a glass of water and wouldn’t let them leave until the fumes cleared.
I think partygoers learned a lesson and gained some entertaining stories to share with the grandkids, gift-wrapped in camaraderie.
And that’s why I went to East Lansing this past weekend. To bond. Around a major sporting event. With my friends.
Just after Sean May dunked the Tar Heels ahead by 13 with just over three minutes remaining in the game, Matt, a friend of a friend — who scored an 11 on his latest finance test — began to blame Michigan students in attendance for the Sparty’s second-half collapse. This had been the first anti-Wolverine sentiment of the day, but it was quickly followed by apologies and hugs.
“But I think I’d rather have my season end like this than end like Michigan’s,” he said.
Eric will never wear the $3.99 Michigan State T-shirt he bought in East Lansing on Saturday. He’ll give it to his sister for her birthday. Eric Ambinder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org