Truth be told, we simply don't know what to do with him.
Statistically he's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever wear the Scarlet & Gray. He was a freakish athlete who racked up thirty-five wins in just three seasons in Columbus, never lost to the hated Michigan Wolverines in three starts against the maize and blue - and won three B1G championships along with two BCS bowl games. Oh yeah, he was named MVP of both of them, one as a giant underdog to the Oregon Ducks - who many thought were the best team in the country - the other versus the SEC's Arkansas Razorbacks in a win that would ultimately be vacated due to some of the personal choices made by Pryor himself.
Unfortunately, at least in many circles, none of those accomplishments would be listed first on the Ohio State career résumé for Terrelle Pryor if our fan base were tasked with creating one. Instead you might find bullet points naming him as an Overhyped Underachiever. After all, he never won a Heisman trophy, yet he was the number-one recruit in the country coming out of Jeannette, Pennsylvania in 2008 playing a position that the Heisman Trust loves. You might also find other negative associations strewn throughout the document - Selfish, Embarrassment, Self-Centered, Careless, Untrustworthy. Worse yet - Traitor.
But somewhere within you'd have to scroll through line after line of statistics and awards:
- Big Ten Freshman of the Year
- 146.50 passing efficiency to lead the B1G - as a freshman
- Second OSU true freshman to start at QB (Schlichter, now Miller)
- 2009 Fiesta Bowl Sportsmanship Award
- 2008 Honorable Mention B1G (media) - Freshman
- Archie Griffin Award (outstanding offensive player - coaches) - Sophomore
- B1G All-Academic - Sophomore
- 2009 Honorable Mention B1G (media) - Sophomore
- 2010 Rose Bowl MVP
- 2010 Honorable Mention B1G (media) - Junior
- 2010 B1G MVP Runner-up
- 2011 Miller-Digby Award (Sugar Bowl MVP)
- 6,177 career passing yards - 57 TD's
- 2,164 career rushing yards - 17 TD's
- Three B1G Championships
Many finish that list and immediately think of what could have been in 2011. Some admire the body of work on the field and leave it at that. Most would scroll right past it, choosing to be blind to the 'accomplishment' side of things and allowing the bitter ending to overshadow three years worth of work.
Terrelle Pryor puts a fan in a tough spot. No one individual is bigger than the institution, yet Pryor's name dominated the headlines on a daily basis throughout the 2010-11 turmoil that encompassed The Ohio State University. His was the first name to come out when we began learning of NCAA violations. When more started to reveal itself - from tattoos to memorabilia to cars and equipment - Pryor was immediately named the 'ringleader.' On Memorial Day 2011 our beloved head coach Jim Tressel resigned his post as head coach and program leader. That was Terrelle Pryor's fault as well. A few chapters later he would forever become the face of the entire story, start to finish.
It didn't matter that the actual rules broken were called into question by everyone with a little bit of common sense. After all, the items sold DID belong to these student-athletes, right? It also didn't matter that Terrelle Pryor wasn't alone in this mess. What about DeVier Posey, Boom Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas? Can't Thomas be the face on the cover? And what about Tressel's resignation - or worse yet - the lies he told to cover up the wrong doings of these guys?
During every peak and valley of the story someone was there to tell you that Terrelle Pryor got Jim Tressel fired. The day the investigation broke - Terrelle Pryor. Memorial Day 2010 - Terrelle Pryor. Twelve wins vacated, bowl money returned, scholarships lost - Terrelle Pryor. More scholarships taken by the NCAA, and an institution banned from a bowl game - Terrelle Pryor.
Is that because of the $40,000 he earned by selling his autograph with some memorabilia? No, it can't be. That was never proven or even part of the final NCAA discussion. Maybe it was all of the 'borrowed' cars he was driving down Allegation Street during the heat of the investigation. No, no that can't be it. No rules were broken, therefor no punishment was doled out for the cars. Oh, I know. It was the jobs he was collecting pay checks from valued higher than the work he had done. Wait, no. That was Posey, Herron and Marcus Hall - you know, the guys who returned to a rousing ovation from the Buckeye faithful.
Posey was even, unexpectedly, given five extra games of suspension, leaving him only two games to play as a senior, which even had his attorney Larry James screaming those two 'awful' words: "I believe they think he was probably dirtied by Terrelle Pryor. I think that's the reason they simply would not believe anything we said. What else could it be?"
So now what. What do we do with Terrelle Pryor with regards to standing, legacy and more importantly - how he's remembered? It's an extremely unclear picture if you look and listen to fan reaction whenever his name is brought up. Opinions, as with most anything, vary a great deal. They stretch from supportive to neutral to hatred - to flat out bitter. You don't see the same dramatic distinction between voting parties when it comes to Jim Tressel, or even a name like Art Schlichter. The most legendary - and beloved - head coach in Ohio State's history exited in shame after physically assaulting a student-athlete, from the opposing team, on national television. Yet our fan base isn't torn on opinions about Wayne Woodrow Hayes. Hell, he's 'Woody.' We named our state of the art, 78,000 square-foot athletic center after him.
You can argue that Pryor brought everything upon himself, which he did. Nobody would deny that. But to become the single focal point for most of an enormous fan base to aim their venom seems a bit off. He was an Ohio State Buckeye - he is an Ohio State Buckeye - and he'll always be an Ohio State Buckeye. Like it or not we have photos, video and record books to prove it. I'm just not sure 51% of the fans will ever again embrace him as that, and to me that's extremely unfortunate.
So what say you? I asked that very question to groups three different times in the last two weeks and the amount of offense and defense played within the heated conversations that followed would rival even the best of college football programs. A few showed undying support:
"I give him a pass on the stupid stuff. He's a kid. I have a kid of my own.....and was one at one time. Kids do really dumb stuff."
"One of the best OSU quarterbacks ever. Strong, fast, amazing. I miss him and wish him the best."
"As a young kid in college I made a few choices I'm not exactly proud of. One day he'll have regrets and he'll have to reconcile that."
"He could have truly left as a legend and I would love to have seen that happen. I love how he played his heart out against that team up north."
"He f*cked us big time. Screw TP."
"He gets no respect from me. As far as Ohio State history is concerned, he's dead to me."
"I knew TP was a thug when he supported Vick on his eye black."
One thing is clear - the legacy of Terrelle Pryor won't be etched in any type of stone for some time. Ultimately the question will be answered a decade from now when we have separation from the emotions that came with the investigation and subsequent punishments. What will you think then? Will it still be about tattoos, cars and scape goats - or will you remember highlights, wins, losses and statistics?
I hope you remember Terrelle Pryor versus the University of Oregon Ducks in Pasadena, California. The same one that took down Wisconsin on a last minute drive - and Michigan - a year earlier as a freshman. I like to think we'll remember the Sugar Bowl MVP that took out Arkansas, giving Ohio State it's first bowl win over an SEC team. Vacated? My ass. I watched it.
I have my own opinions, all of which are in support of whatever is next. That doesn't make me better than those who refuse to forgive and forget, it just makes me (and many others) different. It's really just a choice. You'll never find a statue, plaque in honor of, or any type of shrine on campus honoring Terrelle Pryor. That you can be sure of. But hopefully - eventually - you'll find a peace within the fan base that allows him to have a positive legacy in the memories of fans. We sure did root our asses off for him while he played, no?
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