(7/24/03, CHICAGO, IL.) - Today, the Big Ten Conference held its annual luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Chicago's Grand Ballroom. Nearly 1,600 people showed up to get posters, hats and media guides and hear each of the coaches spew off on their thoughts from last season and expectations for 2003. Outside the hotel, the "Touring College Football Hall of Fame" was parked and open to the general public, showing the history of football in tradition and sport. Green and White were well represented in the crowd; after the luncheon, the MSU Alumni Association held its annual post-luncheon reception with Coach John L. Smith and Athletic Director Ron Mason as guest speakers.
As lunch was being served, the coaches were introduced by Dave Barnett of ESPN. First, the highlights: Gerry DiNardo of Indiana again had the best sense of humor, spewing off one liners and essentially forgetting that the football team exists (in reality, it barely does anyways). JoePa of Penn State actually was awake this whole time, and was funny though coming off slightly senile. The class act was - hate to say it - Lloyd Carr. He received a letter from a kid who grew up across the street from him, graduated from high school and then went to West Point, now deployed in Iraq. Reading excerpts from the letter, the young man emphasized the importance of leadership and how lucky we all are to be Americans. It was a very quiet, sobering moment. Raffle winners were thrown footballs by star quarterbacks John Navarre (Mich), Kyle Orton (Purdue), Jim Sorgi (Wisc) and Jon Beutjer (QB). Sad to say, Navarre did well and threw right on target; poor Orton was off target and broke several plates on the tables.
Now on to John L.
He was certainly very animated at the luncheon but was not particularly eloquent. In fact, he seemed rather out of his element. He mentioned that he was thrilled to be part of the Big Ten. John L. has high hopes for the year, and said it will be easy to see what we are doing - no tricks, you'll know who we will throw it to and you'll know who we run it to. We have work to do on defense, and he's been instilling discipline. He didn't know how to end the speech, saying "well, that's just what we are going to do, so, uh... thanks." No "Go State"? Somebody please coach this man on tradition!
At the after-reception, he was much funnier - and much more forthcoming with information. John L. said Dortch looks very healthy and likely will start, the injury has completely healed. The kickers look solid, but the rest of the special teams will be a challenge. Uniforms will be green tops white bottoms or white tops green bottoms, with the option on special occasion (read: Michigan) to wear all one color.
Ron Mason mentioned after John L. left a very interesting fact - at this time last year, 32 players were on probation. At this time, there are only 3. Ron is impressed with the discipline instilled, and he thinks this coach is headed in the right direction.
Comments were also raised to Ron about the new stadium project - it is expected to be finalized by September and announced in a press conference by December. Nothing new in the ideas, except that the club level should be truly a place to party, with indoor and outdoor seating and will be used not only during games for MSU donors but also to throw various functions. Renovation of bathrooms, beautification will also be part of this. The project is expected to start February 2004 and be completed by the start of the 2005 season.
Ron Mason said it was high time that Michigan State be mentioned as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten, and that is his ultimate goal as A.D. He said that John L. is overly optimistic, that it will be a tough season ahead, but this is to be expected and that it is 100% the correct beginning for MSU football.
On this sunny, perfectly warm day in Chicago, he couldn't be more right.