The sudden surge pushed us backwards in a hallway, three reporters caught in the way of a sea of massive bodies.
I used one hand to hit record on my phone (more on that later) and the other to try and prevent the unexpected wave of white from crushing me against the wall. Somehow, they didn’t, although I highly doubt my stiff-arm did anything more than give me momentary leverage, because the tide almost as quickly flowed back out into the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
That is when I saw the punches, shoves and kicks. Michigan State football players hovering over a Michigan football player who almost as quickly as he got knocked down disappeared from the pile.
It happened in an instant and almost as fast as it blazed across the internet. But first, let’s back up to how the Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau, MLive’s Kyle Austin and I ended up in the middle of what is now a criminal investigation into what transpired between a number of Spartans and two Wolverines.
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With UM headed toward a 29-7 victory Saturday night following Payton Thorne’s interception with 4:04 to play, Charboneau and I each filed our game stories early, handing them off to each of our papers to read and add final stats. It is a common practice in sports journalism, particularly for me to get the story into later editions of the Sunday Free Press.
That also allowed us an opportunity to go from the west side of Michigan Stadium to the opposite side and the postgame visiting media interview room, which is a few feet from the tunnel connected to the visitors’ locker room. A photographers room and the referees’ room is also in the same hallway.
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We turned and stopped just inside the doorway to the hallway. All of us were aware of the situation that happened two weeks earlier with Michigan and Penn State and the ensuing fallout with Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin about the stadium tunnel. Any reporter worth a damn understands another such incident — particularly in the rivalry game — would be newsworthy.
It is about a 20- to 25-yard walk from the field, maybe 15 yards from where players and coaches disappear from the public eye, to the top of the tunnel and locker rooms. The hallway to the interview room is the first doorway for those coming from the field approach.
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As we walked past the locker rooms to the top of the tunnel incline, the game ended. I tweeted the final score. People from the field began filling the 25-degree inclined tunnel.
It was 11:03 pm
A handful of Spartans passed the door headed towards their locker room. Then came the referees, who turned the corner and walked past us with an MSU team support staff member following them into the hallway, trying to get their attention to something that happened on the field. One of the refs told him they would “take a look at that” as another MSU staff member yelled down the hallway calling the refs “a bunch of bitches.”
Seconds later, everything erupted.
[ Harbaugh expects criminal charges for MSU tunnel incident; ‘an apology’ is not enough ]
As I stood against the hallway wall next to a propped-open door on my right, I looked back to my left following the refs for a brief moment. Noise swelled in the tunnel coming towards us. Charboneau, Austin and I all reached for our phones to record.
It was unclear how far down the tunnel things began or what started the altercation, but a cluster of players flooded past the doorway to my right and just as quickly swayed into our hallway. They were pulling a helmetless Michigan player towards us. It was impossible at the moment to see who was punching and who was kicking, but I saw both things happening from my vantage point.
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It was 11:04.
Of the three of us, I was nearest the door and got bumped backwards by players as their momentum pushed them into me, using my hand in an attempt to leverage whoever hit me from falling further down the hall. Unbeknownst to me at the moment, my phone captured 3 seconds of video of the wall and hallway and stopped upon being contacted. I didn’t realize it until after the combatants started to disperse.
I tried to reestablish position, thinking I was still recording, as Itayvion “Tank” Brown in front of me picked up the Wolverines’ No. 1 — it was Ja’Den McBurrows after reviewing the video later — and threw him back through the metal doors that remained open despite the UM player hitting it after being tossed into them. After that, I watched Zion Young and Angelo Grose both connect on punches and then shove McBurrows to the ground. Young also kicked at the UM player as McBurrows (also upon later video review) popped up and spun away from the pile towards his locker room side of the tunnel. Austin’s and Charboneau’s videos captured the scene.
I went to stop my recording. My video screen read “00:00:00.” I swore at myself briefly before hitting the red button again and capturing the Spartans walking towards their locker room. A security guard stood next to me doing nothing. Across the tunnel, Green was along the opposite wall yelling towards the MSU players. Other TV cameras had joined us.
(We did not know there was a second player involved at the time. It wasn’t until the next day that video emerged of the incident involving Michigan defensive back Gemon Green in which it is alleged he was hit with a helmet. Another video of the field after the final whistle showed both he and McBurrows walked and skipped into the MSU entourage. Both were carrying their helmets in their hands as they ran into the throng.)
A few more referees walked past. Then the rest of the Wolverines arrived with the Paul Bunyan Trophy, closing the gap on the Spartans who remained outside their locker room.
It was 11:05 pm, the pageantry of 60 minutes of hard-fought football all but erased by the two minutes in the tunnel.
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What I saw in the middle of the Michigan-Michigan State tunnel fight