DETROIT — I’ve never seen so much green and white in my entire life.
Driving through downtown Detroit on Friday before the Final Four teams held open practice, I saw what looked like a Spartan pilgrimage to Ford Field.
I also realized that most Michigan fans would consider so many Spartan fans massing together in a major metropolitan area a sign of the impending apocalypse.
On the way from the parking lot to Ford Field, I heard “Go Green, Go White,” the entire way.
From the moment I stepped inside the stadium until the moment I left, it felt like the Michigan State fight song was on repeat. (I used to only know the opening line, “On the banks of the Red Cedar.” I know much more than that now.)
But as difficult as it was for the Michigan student in me to take in that whole scene, stepping back, I had to admit it was pretty cool.
It was pretty cool that 20,000-plus Spartan fans skipped work and school on a Friday just to watch their favorite team run a 50-minute walk-through.
It was pretty cool that local fans had a rooting interest in the Final Four, though it couldn’t have been planned when Detroit was awarded the event six years ago.
It was pretty cool that the Spartan fans had the chance to jump on the bandwagon.
Bandwagon fans are usually a negative part of any team’s title run. They tend to be less knowledgeable and more obnoxious than the diehards.
But Friday’s practice was the perfect time to let those bandwagon fans yell and shout and try to cover for the fact that they knew very little about Michigan State basketball. But those fans have that right, because the team they’re loosely affiliated with is having a great season.
The Michigan men’s basketball team should hope to have so many bandwagon fans sometime soon. The more bandwagon fans you have, the better you must be doing that year.
The Wolverines saw their bandwagon fill up a little bit when they made the NCAA Tournament. And it got even more crowded after Michigan knocked off Clemson in the first round. Following the loss to Oklahoma, most of those fans probably jumped right off, not planning to think about Michigan basketball again until the next big win or the next trip to the Big Dance.
But a few of those bandwagon fans may have been sucked in just enough to stick around through the offseason, to learn more about the program and become season-long fans.
John Beilein has a long way to go in building this program before he catches Tom Izzo’s behemoth. (Even longer after the Spartans’ run these past few weeks.) But it starts and ends with winning.
Izzo and Co. have been winning for what seems like forever, and each successful year builds on the last. No team is going to win the National Championship every year, but even one down year can put a dent in the foundation of a program.
Michigan State’s foundation is solid. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t have been so much green and white in Detroit this weekend, proximity of East Lansing to Detroit aside.
Beilein is still building his foundation in Ann Arbor. But he has proven at all of his stops he knows what he’s doing.
So don’t stop dreaming of the day 20,000 fans in maize and blue attend a Final Four open practice. It might not be that far away.
— Sandals can be reached at email@example.com.