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Jim Tressel's fiery eyes flashed as he scanned the young men dressed out in scarlet and gray Ohio State football gear that sat or stood, or even bounced on their toes, all around him. Some of the players could not sit or stand still; some were listening intently to his every word; some already had drifted off into their own private world of mental self-motivation. Kickoff against the Miami Hurricanes was only twenty minutes into their future. A national championship would be at stake.
In his heart of hearts, Tressel knew he already was looking at a championship college football team -- a team that he had molded, prodded, and flat-out coached into this game for the ages. But first there was the matter of some unfinished business against an opponent that hadn't lost a game in more than two years, in front of millions who mostly didn't give the Buckeyes a snowball's chance in hell of winning. Tressel knew all of that, too, and knew how to get his players to feed off those facts like the hungry underdogs that they were.
"Men," he started out in a low voice, "tonight you embark on the last portion of a journey that you started twelve months ago when we walked off the field after our last bowl game. Part of the journey involved some of our friends leaving us for various reasons to go their separate ways.
"But those of you who remain are a part of something special here at Ohio State University. You stayed for a reason."
Tressel paused for effect. Then he went on, his voice slowly rising.
"You stayed on because you cared about the school, what it stands for, your teammates, and yourselves. All of you recognize that you are part of something special here to-night. You recognize that you've come a long way from last January. I encourage you to savor it. Absorb this moment -- and seize it! Embrace it and take it in the direction that you want it to go.
"There comes a point in each person's life when he or she asks himself or herself: How do I want to be remembered?"
Tressel had known for years how he would want to be remembered. He simply had kept redefining his legacy -- upgrading it -- at every available opportunity along the way. Critics would charge at times that he sometimes did so at the expense of others, sticking his head in a pile of sand he called morality. But Tressel always plodded ahead toward the goal, figuring that whatever methods he employed, the ends usually justified the means. This was the grandest of all opportunities he had been presented, one that really began roughly two years earlier when he was named the twenty-second head coach in Ohio State's glorious but sometimes tumultuous history.
Like the legendary Woody Hayes more than half a century before him, Tressel overcame tremendous odds to beat out better-known candidates to land the job in the first place. Most thought the position would go to Glen Mason, the head coach at the University of Minnesota, who had played for Hayes in the early 1970s and later served as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes for eight years. Other more high-profile candidates had included Jon Gruden, then head coach of the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League; longtime Ohio State assistant Fred Pagac, who also had played for Hayes; and one of the greatest and most popular players in Ohio State history, Chris Spielman.
When Hayes became Ohio State head coach in 1951, he beat out Paul Brown, among other notables of the day, for the position. Brown had won a national championship as coach of the Buckeyes in 1940 before leaving the school to join the U.S. Navy, and was almost akin to a politician seeking reelection with the considerable dual backing of important alumni and respected former players. Hayes at the time was a relatively unknown candidate who had made his mark at smaller schools: first at tiny Denison and then at Miami -- the university in quaint Oxford, Ohio, not the behemoth in Florida that later would stand in Tressel's path on the biggest night of his coaching career.
Like Hayes, Tressel gained the job by winning over a panel of Ohio State bigwigs. First Tressel wowed an eight-member advisory committee and then, in a one-on-one interview, he had greatly impressed school president William E. Kirwan. School officials would later say that what had convinced them the most about Tressel was his plan not only to make the Buckeyes winners on the field, but also to emphasize improved player behavior off the field and the pursuit of academic excellence as well. More than anything else, Tressel was thorough and prepared.
Plus Tressel had deep Ohio ties, perhaps the single most important quality any head coach needed to succeed at Ohio State University. He had played at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where he was a quarterback for four years under his father, Lee, a firm coaching disciple of Woody Hayes. Jim Tressel did not become head coach at Division I-AA Youngstown State until he had served as an assistant coach at Akron, Miami of Ohio, and then on Earle Bruce's staff at Ohio State, where for three years he coached quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs. In 15 seasons at Youngs-town State, he won 135 games, lost 57, and tied 2, winning four Division I-AA national titles in the process. His résumé was impressive enough that Jim Stillwagon, a former Buckeyes teammate of Mason's, had written to Kirwan recommending Tressel, and not Glen Mason, for the job. Stillwagon and others who recommended Tressel figured it didn't matter that he hadn't played for the Buckeyes.
"Woody Hayes wasn't a Buckeye when he came here. He didn't go to school here and he had never coached here," Stillwagon noted. "And he went on to become one of the greatest Buckeyes of all time."
Spielman, who wasn't called back after his initial interview with athletic director Andy Geiger and associate athletic director Archie Griffin, applauded the hiring of Tressel, recalling Tressel's tenure as an assistant coach while Spielman was chasing down opposing ball carriers for the Buckeyes.
"I remember him as a detail guy, a go-getter, and that's why I think he will do a good job," Spielman told the Columbus Dispatch at the time. "And I think it's important that everybody in the state get behind him and back him. I know I'm going to."
They were backing him tonight. This was the national stage. Though Tressel had been in six national title games at Youngstown State, winning four, he knew this was dramatically different. The world was watching this time. More important, so was the whole state of Ohio. Tressel knew the speech he was giving now was one of the most important of his life.
"The reality is that so few people have the chance that you have tonight," he told his players. "You have the chance to affect the answer to the question of how you want to be remembered. The moment is at hand. It is not about tomorrow. It is not about yesterday. It is not about what you did ten minutes ago. But part of your future and how you'll be remembered will be shaped by you over the next three and a half hours!"
By now Tressel was almost shouting when he hit the high notes, and his players were responding like ardent followers listening to their favorite preacher at a gospel revival meeting.
"Look around this room and look at the person next to you. How do you want that guy to remember you? How do you want him to remember the way you played in this game? How do you want your parents, family, and friends to remember your performance on this night? Will you be remembered as ordinary or extraordinary?
"Thirty years from now when you have your team reunion, you'll see many of these faces again and you'll shake hands. Wouldn't it be nice to grasp the hand of that teammate thirty years from now and look down and see a giant ring on his finger? You'll reminisce and you'll soak up the common bond that you have with your teammates that can never be broken."
Finally, after touching several key points, which included imploring the team to "play with heart and passion" and to "play like champions" who weren't afraid to win, Tressel was ready to wrap up the biggest pregame speech of his fifty-year life.
"Own the championship, men! Claim it!...Don't let anyone take this moment from you! Not the press! Not the fans!...And certainly not the Miami Hurricanes! Go out there tonight and show the world what Ohio State football is all about!
"We talk about the tradition that exists here! We talk about great men such as Hayes, Kern, Griffin, Pace, and Paul Brown...You're not alone on that field, men! The ghosts of Ohio State will be with you!"
Tressel had always loved the ghosts at Ohio State. When he arrived on campus as an assistant coach years earlier, he wanted to learn as much as he could about the grand traditions that surrounded the program. There were so many of them. Because he hadn't attended Ohio State as a student-athlete, there was much to learn.
There was the tradition of placing the Buckeye Leaves on players' helmets, which had made the Ohio State helmets unique, and among the best recognized helmets in college football. It was a tradition started by Hayes in 1968 when he and Ernie Biggs, the longtime trainer, decided to change the look of the Ohio State uniforms. The new look included placing the names of players on the back of the jerseys and putting a wide Buckeye Stripe on the sleeves. The Buckeye Leaves were awarded on a weekly basis, given for outstanding plays.
There was the tradition of the Victory Bell. Located 150 feet high in the southeast tower of Ohio Stadium, the Victory Bell is rung after every Buckeyes victory by members of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, honoring a tradition that began after Ohio State beat California on October 2, 1954. It is said that on a calm day the bell, which weighs 2,420 pounds and cost $2,535 to install, can be heard five miles away.
There was the tradition of Buckeye Grove, where since 1934 a buckeye tree has been planted in honor of each Ohio State player who is named an All-American. Located in the southwest corner of Ohio Stadium after being moved when the Horseshoe was renovated in 2001, the trees usually are planted in a ceremony prior to the annual spring game. Buckeye Grove long ago had started to resemble a small forest. One hundred twenty-eight trees had been planted from 1934 through 2001, and four more would be planted the following spring in honor of four players on the 2002 team that was getting ready to play Miami for the national title -- strong safety Mike Doss, punter Andy Groom, placekicker Mike Nugent, and linebacker Matt Wilhelm.
There was the tradition of the Captain's Breakfast. Also begun in 1934, this annual event held on homecoming weekend features all past captains being invited back for a breakfast where the newest captains are welcomed into their exclusive fraternity for all time.
There was the tradition of the Gold Pants, an almost silly-looking gold charm replica of a pair of football pants awarded to each member of the team and staff following wins over archrival Michigan. This also was begun in 1934 when Coach Francis Schmidt, in his first year on the job, responded to a question about the supposedly superior team from up north thusly: "They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else." Schmidt's Buckeyes then proceeded to hold Michigan scoreless the next four times they played.
There was the tradition of the Senior Tackle. This one began in 1913 and for many years was held following the last practice prior to the regular season finale against Michigan. Seniors are invited to hit a tackling dummy, or more recently a blocking sled, one last time in a symbolic gesture signaling the impending conclusion of their college careers. Depending on the Buckeyes' bowl obligations, sometimes in recent years the ceremony has been held at the last home practice before the team departs for a bowl. It was never more emotional, however, than in 1987 when players urged Coach Earle Bruce, who already knew he was being fired, to participate before departing for Bruce's final game in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"He tried to kill the thing," Chris Spielman recalled of Bruce's assault on the blocking sled.
Then the Buckeyes tried to kill Michigan, as they did every year. Donning "EARLE" headbands, they upset the Wolverines 23-20 that year in Ann Arbor, carrying Bruce off the field afterward.
And of course, that was the greatest tradition of all: playing Michigan every year in the final game of the regular season. There was nothing quite like it, and Tressel had long ago come to understand that as a native of Ohio who for years had watched the game every year with his father and extended family. Amazingly, his predecessor at Ohio State, John Cooper, never fully understood the enormity of the rivalry -- and therefore never fully understood why he would be fired after posting the dismal record of 2-10-1 against the Wolverines in his 13 seasons of wandering in the Ohio wilderness.
Tressel understood and embraced all of it. When he landed the head coach's job in Columbus, he invited scores of former players into his office to ask not what he could do for them necessarily, but what they could do for the Ohio State program. They were thrilled to be asked.
Tressel had always heard about the legendary 225-member Ohio State band -- long ago dubbed "the Best Damn Band in the Land" -- and their Skull Session that they held at St. John Arena prior to every Buckeyes home game. But he had never experienced it. So he arranged to have his staff and players go by and witness what essentially is the rowdiest pregame pep rally in college football. They all loved it. The Skull Session, which begins ninety minutes before kickoff, now is regularly attended by more than 10,000 fans. At its conclusion, the band marches out of St. John Arena and across Woody Hayes Drive to the big Horseshoe, Ohio Stadium, where they march in and perform "Script Ohio" and oftentimes have had someone famous, like a retired Woody Hayes or comedian Bob Hope, come out and "dot the i" in Ohio.
The band, of course, also played a part in the relatively new tradition of singing "Carmen Ohio" after victories. The bigger the victory, the more boisterous the performance. Tressel, who had begun this tradition after arriving as coach, soaked up these moments and fully participated -- singing his lungs out.
Oh come let's sing Ohio's praise
And songs to Alma Mater raise
While our hearts rebounding thrill
With joy which death alone can still
Summer's heat or winter's cold
The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship...O-HI-O!
Tressel hoped to sing it again, more passionately than ever before, after beating the Miami Hurricanes in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 3, 2003.
Not everyone was all that excited to see the Buckeyes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, battling for a national championship. In fact, the nationwide consensus seemed to be that the Buckeyes didn't belong on the same field as Miami, the defending national champ that was riding a winning streak that had stretched to 34 games.
A headline in the Washington Times blared: "Siesta Bowl? Awesome Hurricanes could blow away Buckeyes early."
The accompanying article insisted that "the Buckeyes better start praying for a fluke." It quoted an anonymous NFL scout who gushed about a Miami defensive line that included "seven guys in their eight-man rotation that will play on Sunday." He didn't mean the following Sunday. He meant every Sunday in the NFL. Then the scout added: "Right now, I'd say Ohio State might have seven guys on the whole team who are future draft picks."
But Jim Tressel wasn't worried about who was going to be drafted into the NFL. Cooper, his predecessor, had made that mistake. Then the emphasis on the program seemed to be different, which Dave Foley, a team captain on the Buckeyes' undefeated 1968 national championship team, had duly noted upon Tressel's arrival. Foley had watched and smiled as Mike Doss, a strong safety with enormous talent and sure high pick in the NFL draft, had decided to forgo the pros for a year to try to come back and do something special as a senior with the Buckeyes. That had rarely happened in Cooper's era.
"I think that one of the keys to this great year [in 2002] was Michael Doss coming back for his senior year," Foley said. "Prior to that, it seemed like every great player Ohio State had in recent years would leave early for the NFL. It seemed like the recruiting pitch must have been, 'Hey, come to Ohio State. We're going to put you in the weight room. We're going to make you bigger and faster and stronger. We're going to give you national exposure. And we're going to get you into the pros.' Now I don't know for sure if that was the pitch or not. But to a former player looking on from the outside, it seemed like that was the pitch.
"The pitch now seems to be, 'You come to Ohio State and you've got the opportunity to play for the greatest college football program in the country. And we want you to graduate. And then after that, you can make your own bed because you've got the education and the football experience.' It seems like they've put things back in perspective, as far as Ohio State being the focus of the deal compared to just being an ends to the means for these guys getting to the pros.
"I think that's what Tressel has done. He's put the spirit back in college football. Obviously the fans in Columbus are going crazy. If you live in Ohio and you don't wear scarlet and gray now, you're an oddball. And it used to be that you could go around town even in Columbus and see a bunch of people in Michigan shirts...And that's horrible, isn't it?"
But on this night, anyone wearing anything with Miami on it was the enemy. The Hurricanes came in as 11-point favorites to become the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to repeat as national champions. The Buckeyes had won several close games, some of them in, well, quite ugly fashion throughout their undefeated season.
What Ohio State needed to do, Tressel told his team, was create some turnovers on defense. And that is precisely what it did in the first half, forcing five in all and converting two of them -- a Mike Doss interception and a fumble forced by Kenny Peterson that was recovered by Darrion Scott -- into first-half touchdown runs by quarterback Craig Krenzel and tailback Maurice Clarett for a 14-7 halftime lead.
The Buckeyes were clinging to a 17-14 lead and appeared ready to put the game away in regulation when Chris Gamble, who doubled as a wide receiver and a cornerback, apparently caught a pass for a first down. But officials ruled that he had been juggling the ball as he went out of bounds, and the Buckeyes were forced to punt. Miami's Roscoe Parrish returned the punt 50 yards to the Ohio State 26-yard line, setting up a 40-yard field goal by Miami placekicker Todd Sievers that tied the game as time expired.
Gamble later would argue that he caught the ball for the first down and therefore the Buckeyes should have been able to run out the clock, but that's not the controversial play everyone would be talking about at the end of the game.
"They said I juggled the ball going out of bounds, but there's no way. I made that catch. The replays showed it," Gamble insisted. "So if you look at it like that, it should never have even gone into overtime. No one talks about that. But if I get that call like I should have, we could have run the clock out. I had that ball right in my hands."
No one talked much about that later because the two overtimes that followed took what had been a rather average national championship game and turned it into one of the best of all time. Miami struck first in overtime, with quarterback Ken Dorsey flipping a seven-yard touchdown pass to terrific tight end Kellen Winslow, one of 11 passes he would catch on the night for 122 yards.
The Buckeyes didn't score quite so easily on the other end when it came their turn to take the ball at the 25-yard line. They had to make two fourth-down conversions, the first coming on fourth-and-14 when Krenzel hit wide receiver Michael Jenkins for a first down at the 12. Then, on fourth-and-three from the five, Miami's Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference while covering Gamble in the end zone.
And that was the play everyone wanted to talk about afterward. At the least, though, it appeared that defensive holding should have been called -- and that would have given the Buckeyes a first down near the goal line. As it was, the interference call set up a one-yard touchdown sneak by Krenzel on third down. After an illegal-procedure call on the Buckeyes added some more drama, placekicker Mike Nugent delivered the extra-point kick that sent that game to a second overtime.
This time, the Buckeyes had the ball first and drove quickly to set up a five-yard touchdown run by Clarett, the enigmatic freshman who had often carried the team during the regular season and, some would argue, later tried to kill it. Even though Clarett had been held to a mere 47 yards rushing on 23 carries against the Hurricanes, he still scored two touchdowns and capped a remarkable freshman season by making one of the most memorable plays of the night. Midway through the third quarter, Miami's Sean Taylor killed a potential scoring drive by the Buckeyes by picking off a Krenzel pass in the end zone. But as Taylor zipped up the left sideline, Clarett raced up from behind on a great hustle play and pulled the football from Taylor's embrace at the Ohio State 28-yard line, stealing possession back for the Buckeyes and setting up a 44-yard field goal by placekicker Mike Nugent that gave them a 17-7 lead. His later touchdown in overtime was less spectacular but more important, and when Nugent added the extra-point kick it was 31-24 Ohio State.
When the Buckeyes' defense subsequently held on the other end, the final blow being delivered by linebacker Cie Grant to force a bad pass from Dorsey on fourth down from the one-yard line, it was time to cue up "Carmen Ohio." Buckeyes fans, who far outnumbered Miami fans, stormed the Sun Devil Stadium field to celebrate. Ohio State had won more games than any previous team in the school's history. It had gone 14-0 and won the national championship, no doubt stirring up cheers from the ghosts of Ohio State's storied past.
Jim Tressel was pretty certain how this team would be remembered.
Copyright © 2005 by Joe Menzer
Excerpted from Buckeye Madness by Joe Menzer Copyright © 2005 by Joe Menzer. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 25, 2013
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"I thought he rped three. Leopardpaw said he spent all his time with someone. I feel bad for Tigerlily. Now i know why she is so upset... either someone is stealing her mate or he needs to get on at least once a day not every few days."Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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Wakes up from the pain in his side. He looks around the den, and is suddenly attacked by his vicious memories: the naming day, the eagle flock, hiding under his parent's body to escape the eagles, the eagle grabing his tail and flying off with him.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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Posted August 24, 2005
This book really delves deep into Buckeye football and is a must have for any sports fan. The history and stories are interesting and made me appreciate the sport and team even more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.