Madison O'Connor Then-junior punter Mike Sadler high-fives fans after the against Western Michigan on Aug. 30, 2013, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Broncos, 26-13.
The MSU football team had just played a game at Iowa and was walking toward the team bus among a sea of people. A small boy was jostled and crunched in the crowd that had formed around the players.
He stood patiently on his crutches, holding a football and waiting for the team to pass by.
Michael Sadler had just gotten off the field with his team after winning 26-14. It was 2013, a season that would famously lead to a Spartan Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory. Moments before walking back to the bus, Mike had out-rushed Iowa with one of his famous trick plays, “Hey Diddle Diddle, Send Sadler Up the Middle.”
Walking by the crowd with his team, the punter saw the small boy and stopped. Mike made room in the havoc for the boy to come forward. And getting down on one knee, he approached the boy.
“I wish I could be a kicker like you,” the boy told Mike.
The crowd had grown quiet and watched the encounter. And ignoring the crutches, ignoring the fact that the little boy only had one leg, Mike told him, “You can be.”
“But I only have one leg.”
“Don’t you let that stop you,” Mike told him. "You can be an amazing kicker in college if you really want to do that. You just have to set your heart to it and work really hard and it’ll happen.”
The little boy stared into Mike's eyes in astonishment.
“I guarantee it. If you want to kick in college, you’re going to kick in college,’ Mike told him.
“That little boy just smiled — Oh my gosh, it was just the most amazing scene,” Karen Sadler, Mike's mother, recalled. “And Michael said, ‘You know what? I have so much confidence you’re going to do this, I’m going to give you my game shoes.’”
And Mike took the shoes out of his bag and handed them to the boy.
“That’s who Mike Sadler was.
Mike died on July 23, 2016 at the age of 24 in a fatal car crash. He was the first four-time academic All-American in MSU history and ranked second all-time in punts and punting yards as well as the sixth all-time leader for punting average.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary since Mike's death. Karen spent it with more than 700 people to celebrate Mike's life in one of his favorite places.
Working with the Grand Rapids-based brewery Founders Brewing Co., Karen Sadler and the Michael Sadler Foundation hosted an event on the anniversary of his death to celebrate the impact Mike had on those around him.
On Sunday at about 10:30 a.m., the line for the event wrapped around the corner of the brewery. Founders opened at 11 a.m. for those who had gotten wristbands.
“Michael affected so many people," Karen said. "That’s why they’re still caring about it. That’s why they’re still wearing his shirt, that’s why they’re still talking about him. That’s why 700 people showed up at Founder’s on Sunday... he’s such an important part of people’s lives even though he’s no longer with us.”
Sunday was bittersweet for Karen. She looked around and saw Founders packed. It was perfect, but one thing was missing — Mike.
"It was gratifying and so heartwarming to see the love and support that came out to honor Mike,” she said. “I was very proud.”
Mike Sadler Celebration of Life event. Courtesy of Founders Brewing Company and Chase Kushak.
Those who attended shared stories and memories of Mike throughout the day, while drinking a beer brewed specifically for the event.
“We don’t do special beers very often, but this was just a rare opportunity,” Chase Kushak, COO of Founders Brewing Co., said. “Mike was from Grand Rapids, Founders is a Michigan beer company and we love being able to support the state and the community in any way we can.”
Founders created a special experimental batch of beer for the event. The apricot and wheat beer, "Sadler’s Run," was tapped July 20 in Mike's honor, Kushak said.
“I don’t know how long it will take for it to run out. It’s a very limited time, it was a very limited run,” Kushak said. “We’re not packaging it at all, we just don’t have the capabilities to do those really small runs, so it’s just a draft-only beer that was for that celebration.”
Last month, a Colorado brewery also created a craft beer as a tribute to Mike. Denver-based Jagged Mountain Brewery created the “Hey Diddle Diddle” — a wheat ale with oranges, apricots and rosebuds — with Karen for an event put on for Mike by the MSU Rocky Mountain Alumni Club.
“It was just an unbelievable scene and an unbelievable event, having everybody in there with their 'Sadler 3' shirts on," Harris said. "All the money that got raised for the foundation was incredible and, you know, it was an overall good time... I think that we were able to honor his name in the best possible way by doing that.”
Even people who weren’t at the event were able to join in by using a hashtag, #sadler3aroundtheworld.
“We just created that hashtag about six weeks ago, and we did it to highlight the fact that so many people are wearing the signature ‘Sadler 3’ shirt around the world,” Karen said. “People are not forgetting Mike, and the fact that they are wearing shirts around the world with his name and number on them says a lot.”
At the end of event, people walked away feeling a lot of happiness, Kushak said.
“In true Sparty spirit, people came, they had fun, they celebrated, it was all the positive memories of Michael and his legacy,” Kushak said. “It was really, truly a celebration. That’s probably the best word I would use to describe it, and that’s how Karen wanted it.”
Harris said the MSU community will help keep Mike's legacy ongoing.
“Michigan State is just such a tight-knit community that when tragedy like this strikes, everyone’s going to pull together,” Harris said.
Proceeds earned from the event went to the Michael Sadler Foundation, founded by Karen Sadler shortly after Mike Sadler's death.
In its first year, Karen’s foundation grew significantly. The Michael Sadler Foundation now offers awards, scholarships, camps and events in honor of Mike. She said the foundation could have been small, but it wouldn’t have been enough.
“I just realized that he meant so much to so many people that to isolate and do just one high school scholarship or just one thing as a foundation every year, that wasn’t enough. That’s not Mike,” Karen said. “Everything that he did was big, and now this foundation has become really big and is growing leaps and bounds because of who he was.”
Karen said there are plenty more projects in the works. Through the foundation, her goal is to keep Mike's legacy alive and instill the values that were important to him — character and leadership — in everyone the foundation benefits.
“Anyone that knows Mike talks about him being a giver,” Karen said. “He affected every single person he came in contact with.”
She plans to grow the foundation into something even bigger.
“(The foundation is) my purpose,” Karen said. “It’s my purpose going forward to keep Michael’s name and legacy out there and do the good things for other people that he would have done had he lived.”