The 2002 Buckeyes. I still get goosebumps whenever I think of that season. That entire season packed what seems like a lifetime of memories into 14 games--the arrival of MoC, the Great Escape against Cincinnati, the OT win against Illinois, Holy Buckeye in West Lafayette, Chris Gamble's pick-six against Penn State, the list goes on. Every week, it seemed, Ohio State walked a high wire without a net, yet each week they made it to the other side. By the time The Game rolled around, OSU was 12-0, #2 in the BCS, and a win would secure a spot in the BCS title game against a juggernaut Miami Hurricanes team.
Only there was one problem. We'd been down this road before, more than once in the previous 10 years, and it never ended well. Ever. Although Ohio State had won in Ann Arbor the previous year for the first time since 1987, Buckeye fans were still suffering from Post Traumatic Cooper Disorder, and for good reason.
1995. 1996. 1997. Each year, an Ohio State win over Michigan meant that had OSU won their bowl game, they more than likely would have been national champions. In 1997, they would have knocked Michigan out of the #1 spot, and cost them a national title. But each year, Ohio State found a way to lose, in the most unexpected, (Tim Biakaasdfqwerzdfgdfgfvtwexvcvbnxfgkldjfhjftghbatuka) excruciating, (Shawn Springs slips) or painful way (Charles Woodson Heisman clincher) imaginable.
After running that gauntlet of pain and misery, Ohio State fans had turned fatalistic, waiting for the next shoe to drop and ruin yet another chance at a national championship, something we hadn't seen since 1968.
As the '02 game unfolded, you kind of got that feeling of dread yet again, at least I did. Although OSU's defense was holding tough, the offense hadn't been able to do much of anything, other than a Maurice Clarett TD run in the first quarter. Michigan seemed to score a TD to take a 13-7 lead late in the first half, but an offensive pass interference penalty negated the score, and kicked the FG and took a 9-7 lead into the half.
As the second half unfolded, though, the sideline demeanor of Jim Tressel gave me a sense of calm, oddly enough. He was engaged, intense, always thinking, always in control. It was a far cry from Coop, who looked as nervous as a long tailed cat in room full of rocking chairs. Cooper always seemed to be waiting for the bottom to drop out; Tressel was playing chess. He was two steps ahead of his opponent, and Tressel was the only one who knew it. In the fourth quarter, OSU mounted a drive for the national title game, on the arm and legs of Craig Krenzel. When Maurice Hall went over on the short field option play, the first thing everyone did was look at the clock--how much time was left?
Plenty, over four minutes. But hey, check out Tressel. He's not biting his fingernails to the nub. He's got this. I think. Does he? I don't know. Michigan's driving...FUMBLE OHIO STATE BALL GAME OVER!!!d
Not quite. Gotta punt, time for one last Michigan drive. 1 second left, time for one throw into the end zone. PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE YES WILL ALLEN YES YES YES!!!!!!
One more game remained, against a team that almost everyone thought was unbeatable.
The Flying Columbus Wallendas thought otherwise, and brought home the crystal football in The Best College Football Game Ever Played a few weeks later.
Go Bucks. Beat That Team Up North.