For Western Wednesday this week, I decided to re visit four of my favorite WMU sports moments while I was in school. One for each year I was there!
Okay, I may have taken a victory lap, but besides my parents, who's counting? I'll just ignore my junior year.
A lot happened in my five years at Western Michigan. Championships were won, bowl games were played and nets were cut down. The Broncos appeared on the national stage, and while there are plenty of moments to choose from, these four are my favorites.
Freshman year 2010 -2011: "Fanned on the clear. He fell down"
I was not a college hockey fan growing up. In fact, hockey as a sport overall could not keep me interested throughout the calendar. I remember the first college hockey game I ever witnessed, a victory over Michigan State at Lawson Ice arena, and it was a game that piqued my interest in the sport but never made me a true fan.
That honor belonged to an early March CCHA Playoff game vs Ferris State, the ending of which was unforgettable to say the least. I arrived at the arena early because I wasn't about to sit anywhere other than right on the glass, at the blue line, across from the opposing locker room where I sat all season. Of course, these seats aren't as good for viewing as the seats I was standing in line early to avoid, but that certainly didn't take away from the game I was about to witness.
The atmosphere was intense. Ferris wasn't the draw that a Big Ten school would have been, hence the game not being sold out, but you could have fooled me given the raucous nature of the, "Lunatics". The Broncos on the ice matched the fans' intensity by taking a 3-0 lead that eventually became 4-1. The conversation in the student section focused on how many goals we would score and where the parties were after the game.
Whether we were paying attention or not, we were already at a party, and the Bulldogs wanted none of it. The three goal lead became two and then one, finally reaching an even tie midway through the third period. It all happened so fast. I was certain we were going to blow it. As the overtime period began, my mind was in a tug of war with all possible scenarios from victory to doomsday, and after what transpired after being up 4-1, doomsday seemed unavoidable.
Turns out it was, but not for the brown and gold. Ferris State's Brett Wysopal played a puck at his own blue line to clear, but it didn't go as planned. Wysopal fell while playing the puck, Dane Walters skated in to muscle the puck away from him and centered the puck with a quick backhand. On the receiving end of the backhand pass was Max Campbell, and you could almost hear the hockey gods laughing as he buried the shot pass the Bulldog goaltender.
Sophomore Year 2011 - 2012: Jordan White is a machine
The WMU football team played in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl my second year in school. I bought tickets and it was the first non-high school post season event I'd ever attended. The former Motor City Bowl seemed to be the butt of many jokes and I’ll admit, I was a little nervous the game would be, you know, lame.
I shouldn’t have worried. The game was the opposite of lame. In fact, the ENTIRE night felt more like a live screening of a video game than an actual football contest. Here are some entirely real and not made up things that happened:
-11 Turnovers, 7 from WMU
-927 yards of total offense
-2 Onside kicks recovered for Purdue
-99-yard Kickoff return for a touchdown for Raheem Mostert of Purdue
-439 yards passing from WMU
- 4 Interceptions by Alex Carder and a game ending fumble for a fifth turnover
The game was the epitome of MACtion. It was like the teams were playing an entirely different sport. Even all of that craziness wasn’t enough to make this my favorite sports moment of that academic year. What made this game so memorable was the opportunity to see Jordan White do Jordan White things one last time in a Bronco uniform. The guy was an absolute machine.
Senior Year: 2013-2014: Basketball in the NCCA tournament
My favorite memory from my fourth year at WMU was the basketball team’s run to the NCAA tournament. The football season hurt. It hurt really bad. Bronco fans needed something to get excited about. The 2013-2014 men’s basketball team was that something. However, I can’t exactly call the entire season a moment, so I’ll settle on one: the NCAA tournament dismantling at the hands of Syracuse.
Of course that moment hurt, but it was my favorite because I had never actually gotten to have that feeling in March before. I grew up a Michigan State Spartan fan, but I found that having not gone to school there meant that the pain of past losses faded from memory rather quickly.
I took in the game at a semi-packed University Roadhouse. Everyone there had sort of fooled themselves into thinking the Broncos could take down Syracuse in Buffalo, including myself. Syracuse was a fading team and WMU had lost only a couple of games in two months. It just felt right. It stopped feeling that way rather quickly though, as the Orange ran away and never looked back. The same man I saw before the game brimming with excitement and confidence was now attacking his cigarette outside, claiming, "Hawkins can't plan against the damn zone." Maybe he was right, but I was more concerned that CBS showed a graphic pegging a Western Kentucky graduate as an alumnus of Western Michigan. Can they even Google?
The team did look too small for the moment. They certainly faded early in that contest, but the pain was as real as the disappointment, but it felt somehow okay. The Broncos were in the NCAA tournament. No other MAC team could say the same that March.
Senior year part two 2014-2015: The Michigan MAC trophy
I knew I stayed for a fifth year for a reason. I made the trek up to Mount Pleasant to stand in the freezing cold for what I hoped would be an awesome football game. I was not disappointed.
It was CMU's final game, and the Broncos had one yet to play against Northern Illinois. Sure, it was a rivalry game, but I had watched enough WMU football to know that I could be leaving Kelly/Shorts Stadium a little upset and with nothing to cheer for the following week. The Chippewas went up 14-0, Jarvion Franklin didn't look like himself, and did I mention it was cold?
The stage was set for a letdown, and I think P.J. Fleck could sense the animosity, because after the first touchdown he dialed up a fake extra point and went absolutely bananas when it worked. It was a moment that could define a season, and it probably did since it was the last time WMU won last year. Though the head coach was excited, Alec Moulton's family had coach Fleck trumped in the stands - we all knew whose kid just barreled into the endzone.
Bronco fans know the rest. The Chippewas failed to move the ball well in the second half, and WMU went on for a 12 point victory that was easily the greatest for the new program under coach Fleck. The game ended, and I was happy for three reasons. First, it meant I got to warm up. Second, I didn't have to listen to the Chippewas, "Move those chains," anymore, and third, they were letting us onto the field. It felt a little like being a young high school kid, being let onto the field like that to mingle with the team for a moment. We probably didn't deserve it, having not played a single down of football, but getting to meet the post-game version of Fleck and hear him talk about how he was the, "worst coach in the country," in 2013, was pretty memorable.
It didn't stop there. Fleck found a person in a Michigan State jacket, pulled it off of him and exchanged it with his game worn, Row The Boat pullover while the now Spartan jacket-less student began to, well, row the boat - pretty strange considering he was actually a student at MSU. And what made all of this so cool for me was getting to touch the Michigan MAC trophy. I'm not sure that as a player I'd want to share that moment with a handful of students from the bleachers at a road game, but this team didn't seem to mind. It was my favorite sports memory while attending WMU, and I hope the Broncos grant me many more as an alumnus.
Row the boat