In case the picture doesn’t show it, I am an Ohio State fan. Not just a fan because I grew up in the state of Ohio, although that is a big portion of the folks who make up the ‘Buckeye Nation.’ No I am a very proud graduate of this institution. My final football game as a student was the greatest moment in the football team’s history for at least the past 40 years and possibly of all time. The 2003 Fiesta Bowl. This is the game that brought home the Bucks first consensus national title since 1968 and culminated with a dispatching of the defending National Champion Miami Hurricanes who were a 14 point favorite coming into that contest. I know there was controversy in overtime, however, I counter that with the fact that had replay existed for college football in 2003 then Michael Jenkins is ruled in bounds and Miami never kicks a game tying field goal. Also, Miami had 1st and goal from the 1 in the second OT session and couldn’t punch it in. If you can’t do that then you shouldn’t be champs.
As great as January 3, 2003 was, January 1, 2015 is probably a very close second to this moment. Unlike 2003 I regrettably was not in the stands for this moment. No I was hunkered down on my couch in Atlanta, GA. No bars for me that night. Maybe I was a bit timid to face the scrutiny of SEC fan. They
are were the B.M.O.C. when it comes to intercollegiate football contests. The thought of being in one of Atlanta’s copious establishments of booze slinging and sports watching amongst these rabid folks maybe just proved to be a bit too much for me. The other prevailing thought is that damnit, I was just too nervous to move. Leading up to this game I had many offers to head down to the Big Easy to catch the event with some of my fellow alumni. However, those were passed on as well. Too much time in the car, had to fly to Dallas over the weekend for work, my excuses were plentiful. Deep down I think I didn’t go because the SEC mystique got into my head. OSU is 0-10* against the SEC in bowl games they tell me. Alabama is just too good. SEC speed is unmatched by those sloths from up north.
Yes, the Bama hype got to me. All through the holidays I discussed how this Bama team was the one for the taking. A QB who will occasionally make mistakes. A weaker than usual secondary. Still stout on the defensive line, but this is the one team that can be had. Then somewhere around December 27th I started to question it all. Could OSU find a way to run against the vaunted Tide defensive front 7? Would they be able to dominate the line and force Cardale Jones into making the type of mistakes that a guy in his second start might be prone to do? Was Blake Sims better than I thought? Could OSU stop the Alabama dual headed rushing attack? Questions galore. Enough to keep me from spending a lot of money on tickets and a hotel in New Orleans to find out in person. Regret.
January 1 arrived with a whimper in my world. I stayed up late enough to see the ball drop in NYC but not much more. No sense in heading out to the bars with the amateurs. No need for that kind of revelry in your mid 30s. No bigger fish were there to be fried on January 1. First game Wisconsin v. Auburn. I don’t subscribe to the intraconference love fest of the SEC, unless the Big 10 is playing the SEC. This one qualifies. A back and forth game. For every Auburn score there was a Melvin Gordon answer for the Badgers to the tune of 251 yards and 3 touchdowns. This one goes to overtime. Wisconsin first with the FG. Then Auburn sputters out of control and shankapotamous on the attempt at the tie! One in the bag for the good guys and the vaunted SEC West goes to 2-4 for the bowl season. MSU v. Baylor up next in the Cotton Bowl. A home game for Baylor and they come out of the gates that way. Baylor goes up 34-14…I go to the store. I come out of the store late in the 4th…MSU driving, cuts it to 6 with a Langford TD. 41-35. Now Baylor’s turn. FG attempt to ice it with about a minute left and BLOCKED! Sparty has a chance! 45 yards in one minute. Cook is Cool Hand Luke and drives them down for the winning TD! Final MSU 42 Baylor 41. The Big Ten is rolling.
After Oregon dismantles FSU in the first national semifinal, the time has come for the show. OSU v. Alabama for a chance to meet Oregon in Jerry World on January 12th. I am locked in. Nerves are shot by the opening kick off. Bama with the ball first…three and out. The Silver Bullets have come to play. OSU now making progress on the first drive, then ZEKE! Ezekiel Elliot rips off a 54 yard run to the Alabama 5. The drive stall there, OSU up 3-0. Bama another three and out. Zeke again! 17 yards and…NO. Fumble. Two plays later Bama is in the end zone. OSU answers! Jones to Smith 40 yards to the Alabama 1! OSU stalls again. 7-6. Field goals will not cut it in this game. OSU has to punch it in. The Tide roll right back with a long drive. They finish. Cooper the Mr. everything WR with the TD. 14-6. OSU needs to answer I tell myself. OSU punts. The defense holds. OSU back on offense. Jones is picked off. Not again. Turnovers are death in football. Alabama knows how to finish 21-6 now. Things are bleak for the Buckeyes.
The OSU offense isn’t helping, nothing so far on this drive and now 3rd and 10. 3rd and 10 is nothing to Cardale Jones as he rips of a 26 yard pass. 3rd and 9 now, Jones don’t care. Another 26 yard pass. The big ‘mo’ is shifting. OSU once again inside the Alabama 5, Zeke makes sure they finish this one. 21-13. OSU gets the ball back with 1:32 in the half. Jones with a nice QB run for 27 yards. OSU is in business and WR pass back! Touchdown Buckeyes! They close the half down 21-20, but momentum has completely shifted in New Orleans! The second half opens with a huge 47 yard touchdown pass Jones to Smith! The Buckeyes don’t lose when Smith catches a TD, 27-21 back in front. Bama and OSU trade punts, Bama back on offense and #PICKSIX! Steve some people call me a space cowboy Miller runs it back. OSU in front 34-21! I am rolling now. Never could I have expected this. Still tons of time left to play. OSU never makes it easy…and Bama quickly answers on the next drive, 34-28.
We move to the 4th quarter. Trading punts, another Sims interception but OSU does nothing with it. Under 5 minutes now but OSU is deep in their own territory. A few runs get it out to the 15 and ZEKE AGAIN! This time no one is catching him. 85 yards to the house. OSU coverts for 2. Now up 42-28!
The texts are running fast and furious at this point. I warn that the game isn’t over. Bama makes sure of that with a quick score to cut the lead to 7. OSU recovers the onside kick. Two minutes to go. Three runs, make Bama use their timeouts and run a little clock…that’s the smart play, right? Nope, OSU goes for the home run, but the pass falls incomplete. I am cursing at Tom Herman now. Disbelief. OSU runs the ball twice, forcing Alabama to use their remaining timeouts. Still they will get the ball with plenty of time left. 1:33 to go and Alabama on their own 18. Two short passes and Alabama is wasting clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. My foot is in constant motion. Nerves are on end. Two first downs and Bama has crossed the 50. They need a TD. Tick. Tick. Tick. Not much time. Bama has to go for the house here. INTERCEPTION! Game. Set. Match.
I am in stunned disbelief for a bit. I am wired and cannot sleep. I stay up watching the trophy presentations. Watching the celebrations. Watching Mark May and the rest of the national media eat crow. It’s well past 3am. The texts have died down now. My friends must have found the confines of their own beds. Maybe some had to work on Friday. I enjoy a celebratory two fingers of Highland Park 18. The taste is sweet. I finally retire after sending my bosses a text to inform them that I will need the 12th and 13th off of work. I am going to Dallas. There will be no regret for the final stop.
*This was the technical record prior to this year’s Sugar Bowl as the 2011 victory over Arkansas has been vacated as Mark ‘the hack’ Schlabach always loves to point out. However, I was at that game. I know the outcome.