"What we do over here is a lot of fun, and I'm sure people recognize Ohio State football and all of that, but it's not as recognizable as that flag with the stars and stripes."
Jim Tressel always had the men and women of our armed forces on his mind, finding any way he could to honor them, going so far as to create a position on his Ohio State staff for a Director of Military Appreciation. He honored the armed forces both publicly and privately, through his highly visible position within college athletics, and he always did it with class.
His father Lee, who had enrolled at Ohio State to play football in 1943, participated in his first spring game before choosing to enter the United States Navy. He served in the South Pacific before returning to play his college football at Baldwin-Wallace. That dedication to his country was never lost on Coach Tressel.
"I recall vividly, as I learned more and more about my dad, that serving his country came first to him, even more than his football playing and wanting to live a civilian life."
Among many other things, that appreciation to the United States Armed Forces was something Jim Tressel shared with his father. In August 2010 Tress was honored with the Patrick Henry Award, along with his Director of Military Appreciation Bob Tucker, which recognizes "local officials and civic leaders who, in a position of great responsibility, distinguish themselves with outstanding and exceptional service to the Armed Forces of the United States."
Coach Tressel knew the importance of his position at The Ohio State University, but he also recognized it as a platform that would allow him to actively seek out opportunities and channels through which he could support our military members, especially the hometown heroes from the great state of Ohio. But his efforts weren't limited to only the state for which he was employed.
In 2009 Jim Tressel accepted an invitation to be part of a an overseas coaches tour of sorts, along with a handful of others, which saw him pay visits to US military installations in Djibouti, Africa as well as Germany, Turkey and Camp Victory just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It was that trip into Iraq, where the coaches needed helmets and bullet-proof vests, that really showed Tressel's love for what he was doing. A quote of his from a Dispatch story on the trip summed it up nice and tidy:
"We'd had very good response at the previous places (bases in the U.S., Germany and Turkey), but now we were 'down range,' as they say. Now we were in Iraq. We had rolled in there wearing our bullet-proof vests. This was the right place to be."
Many might participate in such a trip out of nothing more than a feeling of responsibility, but coach Tressel really got into his 'work' during the tour. At one point, while coaching up some of the soldiers in 100-degree heat on a football field made of nothing but dirt, rocks and chalk lines, Tressel could be found celebrating with a pretty damn enthusiastic chest bump with a young man who had made a nice catch.
In short, he wasn't over there to get his name on some list or into a newspaper headline. He was there pay tribute to our armed forces and to help the morale of our young Americans who were on the front line of a global war, and that was just like Tress, but it didn't always take a trip half way around the globe for coach Tressel to honor the efforts of our troops.
Last year's spring practices, the final spring of coach Tressel's Ohio State career, saw the Buckeyes wearing gray, digitally camouflaged helmets with the standard issue red, white and black helmet stripes in honor of our armed forces. While never worn during a game (thankfully) the Bucks sported their camo throughout the spring, ending the helmet's run after the 2011 Spring Game on 'Military Appreciation Day,' closing out practice for the summer.
This wasn't the first time Tressel helped to integrate a military theme into the Buckeyes' wardrobe. A year prior they took their appreciation for our service men an women, painted it on their chests Nike Pro-Combat style, and welcomed That Team Up North into the Horseshoe for their annual beat down. But for Jim Tressel, that uniform was special.
Ohio State has teamed up with Nike for the last three seasons to design a special uniform, which the behemoth shoe company has tagged as 'the Nike system of dress,' and designated one game each year to don the special threads. In 2009 it was the white, bright red and charcoal gray version that marched into Ann Arbor in late November. 2011 saw the Bucks sporting a Scarlet and Gray version while pulling off an epic upset of the Badgers on a cold Saturday night in the Ohio Stadium. But the 2010 version, red helmets and all, were designed in honor of the 1942 National Champion Buckeyes, with one man in particular sitting front and center within the design.
Charles Csuri was a lineman on the 1942 Ohio State team that brought the university it's first football national championship, and was awarded with the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player Award as well as being named an All-American, but his career in Scarlet and Gray was put on hold for a while when he was drafted into World War II in 1943.
Csuri entered the war during the Battle of the Bulge and at one point, when communications failed between the front lines and his artillery unit, he took it upon himself to cross enemy lines in order to get information back to Allied headquarters. In the process Csuri had both his belt strap and helmet shot off, but made it safely to his destination. He was later awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his heroism.
Enter Jim Tressel.
Before the 2010 season, Csuri's daughter had pulled that old medal out of storage and given it to Tressel, who proceeded to display it at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on campus. When it came time for the unveiling of the 2010 Nike Pro-Combat uniform design, honoring Csuri's 1942 team, Tress decided he wanted Csuri himself to head to New York to present the uniform to the media gathering. Reluctant at first, Csuri headed east.
While he knew the purpose behind the design, he didn't know why he was specifically chosen to present it until after he had given his speech to the press who were their to cover the event. As he walked off stage, after having stood next to the uniform for nearly a half an hour, a Nike spokesman pointed out a design that had been placed on the back of the helmet in Csuri's honor (pictured to the right, via the-Ozone). It wasn't until then that he realized coach Tressel and the university had worked with Nike to have a graphic put onto the helmet to replicate the Bronze Star Medal he had earned nearly seven decades earlier.
While coach Tressel had a history of honoring the military, his biggest show of public support may have came on Saturday, September 5th, 2009 - the opening weekend of the 2009-10 college football season.
Most of us remember that game for the nail biting finish that had Navy lined up inside the Buckeyes' 3-yard line looking to punch in a 2-point conversation to tie the game late, only to have LB Brian Rolle intercept the pass and rumble 98 yards for two Ohio State points to would prove to be clincher for the Buckeyes. But it was the events leading up to the game that afternoon that moved Buckeye Nation.
While pregame is generally meant to get 105,000 screaming Ohio State fans ready for kick-off, complete with the team running out onto the field to the roar of the crowd, that ceremony went a little differently with a branch of the armed forces in town. Coach Tressel decided that instead of releasing his team onto the turf of the Horseshoe alone to receive all of the praise, he would invite the young men of the Midshipmen squad to join them in spite of the fact they were just minutes from squaring off head to head for three and half hours.
The two teams came out of the tunnels simultaneously, created two single-file lines, and greeted each other with a handshake along the back side of the endzone - not something typical within any pregame ceremony we had seen. Once done, they grouped back up with their respective teammates and coaching staffs and entered the field as one. Running between throngs of Ohio State band members, with two of the Navy players leading the group with American flags waving, both teams took the field together (video) to the roar of support from 105,092 in attendance that day. It was show of respect from Tress and the university, and it was one more example of the class of man we simply knew as The Vest.
On May 30th, 2011 Jim Tressel resigned his position of head coach at The Ohio State University. It also happened to be the morning of Memorial Day. Now nearly a year later we're reminded of our former coach who did so much for the fans, the community, the university and the men and women who have served our country. There's one thing we can be certain of today, and that's that coach Tressel isn't sitting somewhere thinking of the year anniversary of his resignation. Instead he's somewhere honoring those who have given so much more - just as he's always done.
- Honoring Our Heroes (Buckeye House Call)
- Tressel Tribute - One Year Later (The Silver Bullet)
- Remembering Tress - The Coach I Knew (The Buckeye Battlecry)
- Jim Tressel and TBDBITL (Our Honor Defend)
- Remembering Tress - Roy Hall (The Buckeye Battlecry)
- Remembering Tress - Fire and Nice (The Buckeye Battlecry)
- Remembering Tress - Billy Brewster (The Buckeye Battlecry)