When Dr. Mike Shingles had helped to pop Michigan State's most beloved hip into place from his seat in the back of an Ann Arbor ambulance, he did what most football fans were doing on the night of Oct. 17, 2015: He reached into his pocket for a cellphone and started searching for the clip.
Beside him, Jalen Watts-Jackson reclined in a relative moment of comfort and let the last half-hour start to wash over him. He braced for the next bump in the road on the short drive to the University of Michigan's hospital and strained his neck to try to see what Shingles had on his screen. The clip wouldn't load. The cell towers near Michigan Stadium that night were working overtime.
The relevant material, whether viewed on Internet video cut-ups or live on television that night, started shortly after 7:20 p.m. Michigan punter Blake O'Neill bobbled a low snap, collided with a pair of Spartan rushers and flipped the ball directly into the arms of Watts-Jackson. A 37-yard sprint later, Watts-Jackson lunged into the end zone with two Wolverines draped around his legs, leaving a cleat and a healthy hip behind.
If a viewer makes it this far without scrubbing backward to confirm what his or her eyes just saw, the scoreboard graphic in the corner speeds into action, scrolling to a final score: Michigan State 27, Michigan 23.
Victoria Norris made it to the exit gate at Michigan Stadium around the time Watts-Jackson's hip was sliding into place. She walked into the concourse and tapped in a password to check her messages on her cellphone. Then a junior in Michigan's kinesiology school, Norris kept her cellphone in airplane mode during football games to preserve the battery. Tonight, she was going to need it.
Two sections over, Chris Baldwin climbed the steps of the Big House's low, sloping bowl and ignored the incessant buzzing in the pocket of his jeans. The Saginaw, Michigan, native had friends and family on both sides of the rivalry and knew they would all be pinging him tonight to gloat or commiserate. He had no plans to respond to anyone until he thumbed through the list of incoming messages and saw each came with an attached picture of his shocked face.
"With social media it happens almost instantly," Norris said. "We saw that happen before, so I wasn't that surprised when my phone started blowing up. I didn't realize to what extent it would be until probably the next morning."
Norris and Baldwin, along with Watts-Jackson, of course, became the faces of an unforgettable moment in college football history. Do you remember the final score when Stanford's band took the field too early? Can you recall how far Doug Flutie launched his Hail Mary before leaping into the arms of a teammate? The details of last year's rivalry game -- the 27-23 final score, the 37-yard return -- will start to fade. The displays of emotions are the parts that are built to last.
Gifts exchanged among your family members when you're famous... pic.twitter.com/5CRfB9DHy6— Chris Baldwin (@Baldy424) December 22, 2015
In the clip, the camera tilts up into the stands, and Baldwin's face is the first we see after Watts-Jackson reaches the end zone. His wrists are pressed against the sides of his head in a mixture of anguish and disbelief. Behind his left elbow a young woman stands with her bottom jaw temporarily detached from the rest of her face. Next to her a man in the same yellow sweatshirt as Baldwin wraps his arms around his own head like he's trying to squeeze the sight of Michigan State's touchdown out of his eyes. For whatever reason, the camera settled on Baldwin.
He had been coming to the Big House to watch his Wolverines since kindergarten, making the decision to move a couple of hours south and study computer engineering an easy one. As far as he can remember, Baldwin says, he had never been on the stadium videoboard or more than a spec in the camera lens in a television broadcast before that night.
"I figured this will be funny for a day at the most," Baldwin said. "Then we'll move on to the NFL Sunday, and that'll be the end of it."
Two months later, he was in Atlanta shaking hands with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Baldwin attended the Home Depot College Football Awards in December to hand Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio his trophy for the year's best play. Dantonio looked shocked -- how fitting -- to see him.
"Is that you?" Dantonio asked the very first time they saw each other in person.
"Yeah," Baldwin said. "That's me."
No further explanation was needed. Baldwin has met hundreds of new people since the play, all starting with some form of, "Hey, aren't you the guy ..." Most want to recount their own memories or heartbreak or glee from that night. He has taken countless photos in the past year. His image has appeared on T-shirts from at least two companies (one of them sent him some food and made a donation to the Chad Tough Foundation). He and Norris even became a popular East Lansing Halloween costume last October.
His favorite story came when old neighbors from Saginaw, diehard Spartan fans who were watching the game at their daughter's wedding reception, let him know that they had seen him amid their celebration. The whole wedding party gathered around the TV with Baldwin's face frozen in anguish and took a picture of their smiling faces beside his.
At that point, Baldwin realized that this whole thing might be fun.
Norris didn't appear on screen until nearly a minute after the touchdown. The camera danced between bewildered folks in blue and maize and giddy ones in green and white. Then it found Norris with her fingers laced together on top of a blue headband and her mouth and eyes still equally gaping.
Her grandfather used to coach the golf team at Michigan, and football games at the Big House were personal for Norris. She spent Saturdays growing up yelling at the television screen with her mother while a trio of brothers less in love with sports found other ways to stay busy.
It was an easy decision when a coach at nearby Skyline High School asked if Norris, then a goalkeeper for the high school's soccer team, wanted to try to kick field goals for his football team.
Norris could put one through the uprights from as far as 45 yards out. She gave punting a brief try as well.
"I wasn't as good at it as kicking," she said. "Knowing that I could get hit while punting was not my forte, so I decided it best to leave that to someone else."
She semi-seriously entertained the idea of trying to be a walk-on at Michigan when she first enrolled, but decided instead to play goalkeeper for the Wolverines' club soccer team.
Norris got the photo requests and the questions just like Baldwin, albeit probably not quite as many. She saw the Halloween costume, too. When she needs a "fun fact" icebreaker at a new job or her last year of classes, she normally tells people that she has been made into a Crying Jordan meme on the web. No one has been able to top that one yet.
Still feeling like, "What..." pic.twitter.com/2P8fe3lqo8— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 18, 2015
Norris' mother didn't see the pictures of her daughter until they landed in her email inbox a couple of days after the game. Norris visited the family home later that day to show her mom all the various places her picture had appeared over the weekend. The two gawked at Victoria now on the other side of the TV screen they had hollered at together.
"She was just mind-blown," Norris said. "She thought it was really cool."
A couple of days earlier, Norris' phone battery had dripped down to 60 percent before kickoff. She slid it into airplane mode as she always does to conserve power and eliminate distractions from her post in the front row of the student section. The messages piled up as soon as she reconnected to the network leaving the stadium, and by the time she walked through town to her apartment the battery was dead.
Watts-Jackson's phone was going through its own struggles at just about the same time. It sat unattended in in the visitor's locker room at Michigan Stadium, vibrating until it could vibrate no more.
When he was reunited with his belongings the following day after surgery in Ann Arbor, Watts-Jackson tried to flip through all the messages he had received. He had a couple of days to watch the clip and its aftermath while recovering in the hospital. His overloaded phone continued to freeze every time he turned it on.
Appreciation for his play and concern for his hip poured in through other avenues that week. He received letters and phone calls and soon learned that someone had named a horse after him.
Watts-Jackson, like Baldwin and Norris, described the moment as bittersweet, the chance to be part of a legend mixed in with a considerable dose of pain. He wasn't able to return to the field during the Spartans' run to the College Football Playoff, and it would be several months before he could walk without some type of help.
"I'd do it all over again, just as long as I knew it would get us to the playoff and keep our goals alive," he said in December.
Norris and Baldwin can't say the same. Both said they'd gladly give up their extended 15 minutes of fame for a Michigan victory. The ordeal, though, hasn't come without its lessons. Why do players sacrifice as much as they do, and why do fans torture themselves with their deep emotional connections to a college football team? The sport can be so cruel and painful at times. But shared pain can be beautiful.
"I guess it really did lift my spirits," said Baldwin, who is still searching for tickets for another round of the rivalry on Saturday.