Ah, 2009. It was a much simpler time, wasn't it? Tattoos were on bodies and were, as far as anyone in the public knew, paid for in full. Jim Tressel was putting the finishing touches on what would probably become a fine Buckeye afterlife as a Senator*, and Chris Cicero was still gleefully practicing law in the 614. Life was good.
*note: I honestly thought, at least until the last few years, that Jim Tressel could have successfully run for Senate seat in this state. Voter turnout would be massive in Columbus. And his downfall would have been even bigger. In hindsight...maybe I'm glad it didn't turn out this way.
But it was a bit murky for the Ohio State football team. I still remember 2008 as being a forgotten year, despite a BCS bowl invitation (and eventual loss to Texas), mostly due to the curb-stomping applied on the Buckeyes by Southern Cal early in the year. With the chance at redemption in 2009 in the friendly confines of the Horseshoe (and as a night game, to boot), the Buckeyes came up just short, as Joe McKnight and USC ran a drive for the ages to win. And we can't forget the Purdue game of 2009 either, try as we might.
Sitting at 5-2 and barely in the top-20, Ohio State would have to right the ship, and hope a few others would fall off course along the way if they wanted to win another Big Ten championship. I remember thinking that the Buckeyes would have to run the table to even have a chance to share the Big Ten title and possibly grab a Rose Bowl berth, with the BCS National Championship game firmly out of reach.
After the Purdue loss, the 2009 squad did exactly that, reeling off three impressive wins in a row, 38-7 against Minnesota, 45-0 against New Mexico State, and 24-7 in Happy Valley against Penn State. As luck would have it, only one other team was in a situation to control its own fate for the Big Ten title. That team was Iowa.
And they were next on the schedule.
Despite owning the Big Ten under Jim Tressel, his Buckeyes' coach had not been to a Rose Bowl since the 80s when he was an assistant. Plenty of other BCS games (2003 Fiesta, 2004 Fiesta, 2006 BCSNCG, 2007 BCSNCG, 2009 Fiesta) were fine replacements, but the Rose Bowl is the Granddaddy of them all, and Ohio State hadn't been to Pasadena in January since 1997. If they beat Iowa, they would head to the Rose Bowl for the first time in a decade. If they lost, Iowa would likely represent the Big Ten on New Year's Day. The stakes were high for the 3:30 kick in the 'Shoe.
And I was there.
Now, truth be told, this game should not have been as close as it was. Iowa was starting redshirt freshman James Vandenberg, filling in for American Hero Ricky Stanzi. Ohio State looked all powerful, running up the score and leading 24-10. Brandon Saine went insane, putting the Buckeyes up 10-3 on a great 22-yard run in the end of the first half, and gave Ohio State what should have been an insurmountable 14 point lead with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, on an impressive 49-yard run. The fans in the crowd (I was in B Deck in the Northwest corner of the stadium) were giddy; the Rose Bowl was all but locked up and all the Buckeyes had to do was stop Iowa and get a few first downs.
But things got much more difficult on the next play of the game.
This game probably marked the beginning of the Buckeyes recent woes on special teams that have reared their ugly heads over the last few years. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos received the kickoff after the Saine touchdown and promptly took it back 99 yards for a score. Just like that, Ohio State's huge lead was sheared in half, and the 105,455 Buckeye Nation denizens went dead quiet. The thoughts of the Pasadena sun in January were suddenly replaced by one horrible thought: what if Ohio State blew this lead?
But Ohio State would have a chance to answer. After an Iowa personal foul, Ohio State would find itself in great position at their own 40, and would call on Boom Herron to kill as much clock as possible. In standard Tressel-ball fashion, Herron was the star, running on six consecutive plays, and getting to the Iowa 27 before taking a loss and coming up on fourth down on the Iowa 30. Devin Barclay would come on to try and manufacture a two possession ballgame, but his kick of 47 yards was left wanting, and Iowa would take the ball back with the chance to even up the score line.
Four and a half minutes later, and the game was tied. I vividly remember the sound of 105,000+ going, again, dead silent, like the wind just got knocked out of all of them at once. Ohio State would get another chance to to win the game, but would end up punting to Iowa, who was more than happy to go to overtime in the 'Shoe.
I had never seen an overtime game in person, let alone one with a Rose Bowl birth on the line. It was quite an experience, especially considering the sun was going down, the lights were on, and the crowd, despite the Iowa punches, refused to be counted out for good. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard a louder sports environment in my life than when Vandenburg was utterly crushed by Doug Worthington on Iowa's first third down in overtime, taking away any Hawkeye chance at a field goal.
With Iowa failing to score, all Ohio State needed was to keep the ball and put it through the uprights. And after three Herron rushes netted three yards, it would be up to Devin Barclay, who had to get over his previous miss in the fourth quarter, to boot a 39 yard field goal for all the Roses. He did not disappoint.
The world probably isn't going to end today. At least I hope not. There's plenty to look forward to: Christmas, New Years, Alabama beating Notre Dame, and certainly 2013 Buckeye football. But if - IF - it does happen, I will always be able to remember the time I saw Ohio State beat Iowa in a game for the ages, for a chance to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time in over a decade.
Take that, Mayans.