I’m not a big crier. Not that there is anything wrong with crying, it’s just not a natural reaction for me. I didn’t have parents who told me it wasn’t ok to cry or anything like that, it just isn’t a way I deal with sadness, or even happiness for that matter.
Anyone who follows my Twitter feed would find it hard to believe that I’m actually not nearly as emotional in real life. Not that I don’t feel things, I just don’t let it show that much when I’m around others. Whether that is healthy or not, that’s a discussion for another day and somewhere other than here.
So on the rare occasion when I do cry, it’s like on Seinfeld where Jerry is crying and is confused and asks “what is this watery discharge?”. That’s pretty much me. Then to top things off I start yelling “SERENITY NOW” like I’m Frank Costanza. Oh yeah, I’m definitely not healthy when it comes to showing my emotions.
Over the years, one of the few things that has made me feel many emotions is Ohio State sports. From the win over Miami in double overtime of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, to the loss to Florida in both the football and basketball championship games in 2007, followed by a loss to LSU in the 2008 BCS Championship Game, and much more over the last decade. To say it has been a wild ride as an Ohio State fan would be quite an understatement.
No night was that more true than on Jan. 1, 2015 when Ohio State took on Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. Seeing that it was New Years, the day started out with a hangover from ringing in 2015 the night before, but thankfully the game didn’t kickoff until around 8:30 PM EST, giving me plenty of time to clear out the cobwebs.
At the time, I was living in northwest Columbus and my preferred local watering hole was at Dub Pub. I made my way over there around halftime of the Rose Bowl, which saw Florida State and Oregon battling for the other spot in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Not only was I able to find one of my usual seats at the bar, but some of my nervousness for Ohio State’s game was tabled for a time by the hilarious adventure that was Jameis Winston playing quarterback in that game. The Ducks would end up running away from the Seminoles, clearing the way for the night’s main attraction.
When the pairings were first announced, I was thrilled Ohio State had made the playoff, but I wasn’t all that confident about the Buckeyes beating that buzzsaw that was Alabama. Ohio State had not only lost quarterback Braxton Miller prior to the season to a shoulder injury, but they also were without J.T. Barrett, who suffered a broken ankle in the win over Michigan, leaving Cardale Jones as the starting quarterback after being the third-string quarterback of the Buckeyes just months before.
Jones inspired some confidence with his performance in the 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, but Alabama was at a different level than Wisconsin. The Badgers were a solid team in 2014, but Alabama was looking like a whole different animal. The Crimson Tide entered the game as a touchdown favorite over Ohio State.
The Buckeyes looked like they came to play early on, getting the ground game going with Ezekiel Elliott early. On Ohio State’s first drive, Elliott broke off a big run, taking the Buckeyes down to the Alabama 5-yard-line. Ohio State wasn’t able to cash in though, settling for a 22-yard Sean Nuernberger field goal to take the early lead. Much like recently when the Buckeyes were settling for field goals in the semifinal against Clemson, I knew Ohio State couldn’t waste opportunities went they got near the end zone.
The first momentum shift of the game took lace when Elliott fumbled the ball away in Ohio State territory, giving Alabama a short field. The Crimson Tide took just two plays to score, as Derrick Henry ran 25 yards for the touchdown. This was more like the Alabama team that I had been expecting to see in this game.
Ohio State responded by taking the ball even deeper into Alabama territory, sitting just a yard away from putting a touchdown on the board, but again the Buckeyes couldn’t find the end zone, settling for another short field goal from Nuernberger. Not scoring a touchdown on that drive was magnified when Alabama scored on their next drive as Blake Sims found Amari Cooper for a touchdown.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for Ohio State, they did. Cardale Jones was intercepted by Cyrus Jones, who returned the football to the Ohio State 15-yard-line. The Buckeyes weren’t able to keep the Crimson Tide from the end zone, as T.J. Yeldon scored to give Alabama a 21-6 lead that felt insurmountable at the time. This game had the feeling of the latest Ohio State failure against an SEC team.
Then Cardale Jones started to find his rhythm. Jones completed five of his seven passes on a 12-play drive that was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by Elliott to give the Buckeyes a little life. Alabama then went three-and-out on their next drive, which gave Ohio State another crack at putting points on the board before halftime.
While even a field goal before halftime would have been huge for Ohio State, Urban Meyer had other ideas. The Buckeyes used a little trickery to pull even closer to Alabama. Evan Spencer found Michael Thomas in the end zone to cut Alabama’s lead to 21-20 at halftime. By this time I was a mess after the roller coaster of a first half. I had no idea how I was going to handle the 30 minutes of football after halftime.
The second half started just like the first half ended, with Ohio State taking it to the Crimson Tide. After receiving the second half kickoff, the Buckeyes scored a third unanswered touchdown when Jones found Devin Smith for a 47-yard touchdown, giving Ohio State a 27-21 lead. How I wish I knew at the time that Ohio State wouldn’t trail again in the game.
As if we hadn’t been raucous enough at the bar to close out the second quarter and in the third quarter, things got turned up a couple notches when Steve Miller went abracadabra and returned an interception 41 yards to give Ohio State a 34-21 lead. That’s when it started to creep into my mind that Ohio State might actually be able to pull off the upset.
Alabama would respond shortly after with a touchdown to close the gap to 34-28 and the jubilation of the Miller touchdown was quickly replaced with more nervousness. Then a bit of a stalemate would take place, as the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide did nothing with the next six possessions of the game. Only two of those drives totaled more than 10 yards, and the longest of those drives was only 21 yards.
As much excitement and celebration as the Miller touchdown created not only at Dub Pub, but all around Buckeye Nation, paled in comparison to what happened when Ezekiel Elliott ran it down Alabama’s throat for an 85-yard touchdown. Elliott’s score came with just over three minutes left in the game and everyone was sensing that Ohio State would be able to shock the world and take down the top seed in the playoff.
But Ohio State didn’t make securing the victory easy. Alabama scored again to cut the deficit to 42-35 and they forced the Buckeyes to punt with around 1:30 left in the game. The Crimson Tide moved into Ohio State territory but any doubt in the result was put to rest when Tyvis Powell intercepted a pass from Sims as time expired.
Between the alcohol, exhaustion of the ups and downs of the game, and the camraderie of being in a bar packed with so many other Buckeye fans, the emotions really hit me when the game ended.
For everything that had happened over the previous five months to Ohio State football: Losing Braxton Miller to injury, the ugly loss to Virginia Tech at home, and then rebounding from the loss and becoming a better team. Then just when all seems right, J.T. Barrett breaks his ankle against Michigan as he was in the midst of a year that was likely to see him invited to New York City as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Then to see Cardale Jones step up and Ezekiel Elliott put the team on his back. It was all just too much to keep inside.
After surviving the Sugar Bowl, the title game against Oregon a couple weeks later was a piece of cake. The Buckeyes didn’t suffer a letdown against the Ducks, which allowed me to celebrate the national title without tears. Once the Buckeyes got past Alabama, it felt like a win against Oregon was inevitable. Even though the Sugar Bowl wasn’t the title game, it certainly felt like it.
It’s strange how when it comes to the 2014 season, everybody remembers so much more vividly from the semifinal and not the championship game. It’s probably because of the adversity Ohio State faced not only leading up to the game, but in the game itself. I know it’s certainly a night I will never forget.