EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Emmett Lippe has managed the ushers in Spartan Stadium's Sideline Club -- a small section with seatbacks instead of bleachers directly behind the visiting team bench -- for each of the past 35 football seasons at Michigan State. He's never had a day at the office quite like the one he witnessed this weekend.
Lippe's crew of six in that section for Saturday's 27-24 win against No. 7 Penn State comprised mostly veterans who count their time as ushers in decades rather than years. One, Jack Cook, worked his first day at the stadium in 1952 back when Boy Scouts were employed to show Spartan fans to their seats. He was filling in as a substitute this week, picking a heck of a time to end his six-and-a-half-decade leave of absence.
At 3:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the men sat huddled in folding chairs at the mouth of the stream of rain that was flowing through their section's gate and into the stadium concourse. They traded stories about previous bad-weather games while trying in vain to stay warm and kill time by shooting the bull.
"And we're just about out of bull," Lippe said.
It had been two and a half hours since lightning bolts in the area prompted Michigan State to stop play and clear the stadium midway through the second quarter of a noon game. The delay would officially last 3 hours and 22 minutes. At best guess, some 10,000 or so soggy folks returned to their seats or respective sidelines after the wait, and their patience would soon be rewarded.
Felton Davis was waking up from a nap around the time Lippe and his guys were running out of bull. The junior wide receiver said he was sleeping for more than half of the time he and his teammates spent waiting for the skies to clear. It took an accidental kick from fellow receiver Darrell Stewart who was lounging next to him to wake him up again.
"I went to sleep for like two hours," Davis said. "I actually was pretty tired."
Some players headed to the training room for treatment. Some players watched movies. Others saw the start of Ohio State's game at Iowa and other afternoon games on the televisions in their locker room.
Linebacker Joe Bachie decided to take a shower. Head coach Mark Dantonio happened to be checking up on players nearby when he saw someone emerging from the bathroom in his towel. Dantonio shot him a confused look.
"Just gotta be fresh, coach," Bachie said.
Michigan State's coaching staff talked strategy for the first 30 minutes of the break before running out of things to rehash. By then Dantonio had more or less dried out, as had the small prayer card he stuffed in his pocket before kickoff -- Psalm 91, which reads in part: "You will trample the great lion."
The Lions, leading 14-7 when play was stopped, weren't yet trampled. But they were getting hungry.
Penn State's staff handed out pizzas and chicken sandwiches in the visitors' locker room. Some of the running backs got their hands on a bag of small candies and used them to test Saquon Barkley's mouth-eye coordination. The team's Twitter account shared some video evidence of their star gobbling up tosses from his teammates standing several feet away, but has since deleted it.
The players found room to spread out and relax by taking over part of a separate room where head coach James Franklin would sit for a postgame news conference several hours later. Franklin, a meticulous preparer, has binders full of protocol for every imaginable scenario and contingency plan. He told reporters he'll need to add a new one to his collection this week.
"I'll talk to sports scientists. I'll talk to other coaches," Franklin said. "I'll go through every detail of what happened today and we will make sure that we have the best plan possible."
Dantonio said dealing with a weather delay in Minnesota this season and a travel issue last week on their way to Northwestern helped prepare the Spartans to roll with an unusual situation. He said his team was excited to retake the field when finally given the chance because "this was different."
The long line of storms heading in East Lansing's direction veered south and east, at last allowing the teams to return to the field about 4:30 p.m. Gates to the stadium re-opened at 4:05 p.m. and the fans waiting in classroom buildings and the hockey rink across the street filtered back inside. The concession stands had run out of hot chocolate in the second quarter, but had time for a much-appreciated reload during the break.
Many had left for home by then, but the hearty fans who remained reaped the benefits. Justin Kolarik, a 2003 Michigan State grad, slipped into the first chair in the first row behind Penn State's bench with his 6-year-old son, Lucas, next to him. A 35-year veteran from the ushering staff decided to break his rules and allowed the Kolariks to help themselves to an upgraded view.
They were on their feet minutes later when Davis, who needed no time at all to shake off the cobwebs of his nap, hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass with a diving catch to tie the game before halftime. Yes, the players all then filed back into the locker room again for halftime.
The three-hour wait meant the late afternoon games had more or less caught up with the events unfolding in East Lansing by the time the second half started. As the day wore on, some players managed to keep tabs on the games they had started watching in the locker room. Midway through the fourth quarter, Barkley leaned over to Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey while they caught their breath between plays and provided an update.
"Ohio State is losing. They're down big," Barkley told Frey. "We're playing for a championship right now."
Barkley couldn't shake free from Frey or the rest of the Spartans linebackers through the rest of the fourth quarter. That kept the score low, and put Michigan State in a position to kick a game-winning field goal as the clock struck 7:02 p.m.
A full seven hours after kickoff, Dantonio stood on the sideline next to redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin. The baby-faced rookie whose teammates call him McMuffin had missed two field goals the previous week in a triple overtime loss to Northwestern. He told Coghlin this was a moment he'd been dreaming of and then pressed a damp, small prayer card into the kicker's hand and sent him on.
Frey and Bachie locked arms with teammates on the sideline. Davis wasn't watching. He said he knew the kick would be good, and he was right. For the second time in a month, the Spartans knocked off a top 10 team in the rain.
Coghlin, generously listed at 188 pounds, saw his teammates sprinting toward him to celebrate and instinct kicked in.
"I wasn't really thinking about the celebration," he said. "I was just running away because I didn't want to get trampled."
He had done the trampling. And as Coghlin laid out and slid across the rain-drenched turf when his teammates finally caught up to him near midfield, Lippe checked his section to make sure a well-rewarded crowd was staying where they should.
Then, hopefully, Lippe and his crew allowed themselves at least a second to soak in the moment. No matter how long you've been showing up on game day, college football always finds a new story to tell.