Shilique Calhoun stood charging his phone near his gate in the Los Angeles Airport waiting to board his flight to Phoenix.
Decked out in Rose Bowl and Michigan State gear – and being 6-foot-4 – he was hard to miss.
Person after person came over. A Texas A&M fan that insisted on keeping his Aggies hat on. A season ticket holder for 30 years at Michigan State. A man who was a sophomore the last time MSU went to Pasadena.
Some for a picture – one to prove to her brother she met him. Some to congratulate and say good game. Some just to talk and others to explain how much the Spartans’ 24-20 win in the Rose Bowl meant to them and thank him.
One stood and chatted for a little while and shared how he had been at the game in Indianapolis two years ago when the Spartans were so close to earning a trip to Pasadena. Calhoun talked about how he was a freshman that year and being inches away and to see it fulfilled now.
The sentiment of it all as player and alumni related to falling short and now victory was as evident as the throngs of Michigan State fans headed home from every gate: A Rose Bowl win meant the world to all Spartans everywhere.
It hadn’t been like this in a long time for a fan base hungry for long-absent national gridiron success. It was understandable as from coaching departures to little brother comments to BCS snubs and a tough 2012 season, it seemed like it may never come.
But a group of players with a chip-on-their-shoulder mentality – in many ways representing the people that went to Michigan State – silenced those doubts.
“We moved the foundation,” Mark Dantonio said. “We moved our football team here to the Rose Bowl. Not just this particular game, but all the way from a 7-6 season.
”We were able to dream big.”
And the dream carried. It carried to a Top 5 team that started the season unranked and looked, at times, destined for a repeat of 2012. But it was nothing like it – or any other season Michigan State has ever seen.
“We are 13-1 and we are Rose Bowl champs, Big Ten champs – this is stuff no one can take from us,” Bennie Fowler said.
Fowler is right. The place in Michigan State lore is engrained. The first 13-win season in school history, the third double-digit win season in the past four. But this was the first of the three that concluded with a Rose Bowl win for the fans and players that have been such a part of the program.
“The way I thought about it and the way it feels now, it’s identical,” Tony Lippett said. “It’s a dream come true. This program hasn’t been here in 26 years.“
Close, it hadn’t been there in 26 years. A generation of fans hadn’t seen a Michigan State team in Pasadena – a generation that is no longer. The only Michigan State fans that haven’t seen the Spartans in a Rose Bowl were born after 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday.
And it seems unlikely those fans will have to wait 26 years for another Rose Bowl appearance.
It seems almost certain the excitement and experience of Pasadena will be less of a dream and more of an expectation for Spartans fans.
And if that is the case, there will be more January 2’s in the Los Angeles Airport filled with Spartans fans and players who represent them.
Hopefully, the exchanges will be similar to Thursday’s as every person who came to Calhoun left with him saying, “Have a good day.” It was a simple, polite and characteristic gesture from him but it carried a sense of redundancy.
Because of him and his teammates, they already had.