A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Spartan Bowl Game…

Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Spartan Bowl Game…

I am not one to put much emphasis or stock in players-only meetings.  I have been around long enough to have seen that most are of no significance.  At best 99% of them turn into complaint sessions, finger pointing and at the end of the day have no significant impact on the actual field.  USUALLY.

With the Spartans in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in Mark Dantonio’s six years at the helm of Spartan football, something happened last week. The defense had been stellar all year and the offense was simply offensive.  As frustration mounted and (the team clearly had struggled with the little things that most ignore but stand in the gap between success and failure) the team’s heart and soul emerged.

Andrew Maxwell admitted on Tuesday, prior to Saturday’s game against Minnesota that, “We talked on Sunday. We made a promise to each other. We said, This week, we are going to find the details over every single thing we do, whether that be going to a tutor, showing up to a lift on time, cleaning up your plate at the training table.”

For those paying close attention, when you are heading in to game 12 of the season and you have to promise each other to show up on time for lifts, tutors and meetings that gives some insight into the season and the frustration.

Max Bullough is without any question THE team leader for the Spartans.  Unlike any other, he gives 110% on the field in practice, the games, the film room, the class room and in everything he does.  He is the best player on either side of the ball and the unequivocal leader of the team.

While Chris Norman and Andrew Maxwell are more leaders by example and less vocal, Bullough leads in every way.  Last Friday the demonstrative and emotional heart and soul of this team had had enough.  He knew he needed to act.

One of the more interesting qualities that Bullough possesses is that behind that legendary work ethic and killer instinct is a true gentleman.  He is a super young man.  He had bit his tongue knowing that one of his other captains was an offensive player for most of the 2012 campaign.

Bullough is NOT one to go out and try to offend.  He doesn’t walk on people.  Although his play on the football field wouldn’t indicate it, he is well respected on the team because he isn’t a bully.  An assassin on the field, he attacks everything in his life with the same zeal as opposing running backs.

He had had enough.  He could bite his tongue no longer.  He refused to lose.  He zeroed in with laser focus and he knew he had to say something.  Friday night in a players-only meeting in the team hotel in Minneapolis he did just that.  He spoke up to the anemic Spartan offense.

Bullough described the meeting this way, “I just said ‘guys we’ve got to put some points up.’ Defense, we’re going to stop them. We have confidence in that. That’s what our plan is. We said that we need to get some points up on offense.  They’re not going to ignore the elephant in the room. Those guys are big guys. They know exactly what’s going on, and they responded.”

Bullough continued, “They were thankful. They understand it. They took it like men and said ‘thank you, we needed that challenge.  That’s something that needed to be said to us earlier.’

I thought it was a good moment for us. I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be when I said it. I kind of got on a roll up there. Sometimes that happens. It ended up turning out good and they responded.”

Bullough continued by saying, “I planned it a little bit but a lot of times I get up there and get going, all excited. It turned out a little more colorful than I planned.  I thought our offense was so close to doing some great things, and they were. They were driving the ball down the field. Whether it was this or that, I thought they were so close. I didn’t think some something like that needed to happen but obviously coming down the stretch we were so close, and they responded.”

In the Bullough way, Max couldn’t take credit.  As usual he deflected the praise from his success on other people.  He said, “Don’t give credit to me. Those guys are still the guys doing it.” 

Bennie Fowler, the MSU WR, said of the meeting, “Max Bullough challenged the offense to score points and to move the ball.  He was just like ‘I got to say it. Defense is going to do their thing tomorrow.  We are going to be able to stop them.  Offense it is on you to score points.  He challenged us and we needed to respond and we did.”

When asked if Bullough’s impassioned plea to his offense helped the night before, Mark Dantonio said after the game, “Yeah, I think it did.”  Dantonio is not one to wax poetic about the inner workings of his team in public, but his admission said a lot.

The fact that Bullough had to do this is another story that I will write about after the year.  What matters for now is that with his teams back against the way he led. Not the defense, but the entire team.  He put them on his back and carried them.  Bullough was the engine that drove the Spartans to their sixth straight bowl game.

This team has not had that one clear leader all season.  Bullough was certainly that on the defense, but you can write this down.  On November 23, 2012, Max Bullough was already a great defensive leader, but on that day he emerged as a great TEAM leader.

Leadership isn’t easy; especially when you have to call out your teammates.  Few can do it because few lead in every area of life on and off the field.  Max has credibility because of the way he handles himself on and off the field.  Many athletes try to do what Max did, but few can.  Unless you handle yourself like him, you have no crediblity.

Max is not a good player; he is a great player.  Add to that, he has grown into an elite leader.  MSU has a past lineage of great players, but NO program has an abundance of elite leaders.  The Spartan Nation has another in Max Bullough.

People take for granted with the name Bullough on the back of his jersey that he will be great.  Certainly it doesn’t hurt, but that almost minimizes his hard work.  He didn’t get the scholarship because of his Dad, uncle, or grandfather and his teammates didn’t respond because of them either.  They responded to Max.

What has to put fear in the Big Ten is that among Max and his two brothers he may not end up as the best one.  Riley is a star whose play all season on the scout team was worthy of a starter as he redshirted, and Byron who is coming in the 2014 class may be the best.

This is no disrespect to the Bullough name.  Max comes from a great line of football players, but what people miss is that they are a better line of people.  Because of the character Max carries, his teammates listened. The good thing is that on this one night they followed the lead of that character and mimicked the way he plays.  A perfect combination.

About Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.

View all posts by Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. is the founder and publisher of SpartanNation.com and all of the family of services. The idea was birthed when overseas he ran into a Spartan not native to the United States who was wearing his Green and White proudly. He is dedicated to bringing you the latest and greatest information about Michigan State and Detroit Sports News every day. He resides in the Mid Michigan area. Follow Hondo on twitter here: @hondocarpenter.

One Response to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Spartan Bowl Game…” Subscribe

  1. Brian November 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Nice article. Read a similar story and it got me ticked: where in the heck has Maxwell been as a leader? Answer: Caspar the friendly leaderless ghost, nowhere to be found. The guy has no swagger. Cousins/Robinson/foreman were a leadership power trio. Bullough is the solo act now.

    Dantonio oversold Maxwell’s leadership ability. Big time. He is way too close to Maxwell personally, talked about him like a favored son. Mistake.