30 May 2012
On December 23, 2010, during a broadcast of the MAACO bowl, Kirk Herbstreit broke Tatgate to the nation (outside of Columbus). I remember it like it was yesterday, having a drink at the bar, and sitting in a daze of what I just heard. I promptly closed my bar tab, put on my Ohio State fleece, and snuck out unnoticed.
At one point in the evening, I was both listening to Columbus radio and hounding the Internet. Betrayal became the prominent word. Buckeye Nation had been back stabbed, not only because it involved some of the most important awards in Ohio State lore, but it involved superstar players. As the days went by and the scandal was regurgitated to death, the nation laughed at us (especially the SEC). I assume a large part of the laughs stemmed from jealousy of the three years of beat downs of those involved in the Tat5. The laughs turned to rabble-rabble as the Tat5 were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl (funny how it seemed much more vocal than that of the Cam Newton loophole).
Sides divided in the Buckeye world as well, sit them or let them play. They played and what followed was one of the most intense games of the 2010-11 Bowl Season. After the game one of my friends, brave enough to watch the game with me, said, "You look like you have been to hell and back." Sweater vest covered in beer, a couple of blood stains on my rolled up sleeves, you know, normal people stuff. Aside from the 2002 title, this was one of the most personal and vindictive wins of my OSU sporting fan life. It meant everything. 30 years of oppression at the hands of the SEC was resolved.
As a couple months passed, I would wear my Sugar Bowl Champs shirt without a care in the world. OSU flag hanging proudly in the dead of the miserable Midwest winter. The Tat5 would serve their 2011 suspension and that was that. Little did we know that EVERYTHING was about to change.
On the March 7, 2011, Robinson and Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports dropped the nuclear bomb. Jim Tressel knew and did not properly disclose it to his employers. The media world went into hysteria (so did we) and particular agenda-machines fired up. Blood was officially in the water. On March 8th, JT and OSU announced a suspension and monetary fine. However, that was not good enough. This bylaw breaking finally gave sports writing blow-hards something negative to press about The Vest. The same Vest that answered every single interview question with a politically correct answer. Conservative and successful was not the way to fly in this day and age of TMZ style sports coverage. Untested, unproven, and anonymous hearsay came out of nowhere. My old pal, George Dohrmann, accused Jim Tressel of rigging raffles at football camps. He also tried to accuse other current players of free tattoos. The NCAA stormed in and nothing turned up. One can only hide behind a Pulitzer for so long. Dohrmann proved to be nothing more than a man trying to sell magazines and striking while the iron was hot, journalistic integrity be damned. I would love to have a beer with Dohrmann and ask him what it is like to be getting schooled by actual journalists (Yahoo! released their masterpiece Miami scandal report a couple months later). Unfortunately, the pressure and talking heads had no sign of stopping. Jim Tressel had broken NCAA bylaw 10.1 and this was a million times bigger than Bruce Pearl. Aside from the sensationalistic media hounds, the survival of breaking bylaw 10.1 was, historically, not the easiest of routes (I could go on for days regarding the reasons of breaking the bylaw, ranging from Federal Government agents to the disgraced attorney Cicero).
Something had to break.
The news came on a Monday, May 30th. James Patrick Tressel had resigned. The Roman Empire had fallen. Buckeye Nation was numb, lost, humbled and humiliated. Lyrics from a Michael Stanley song stuck in my head in between private breakdown sessions: "It seems so easy climbing to the top, you better know your way back down." The Vest that we built our Spring hope, Summer dreams, and Fall passion was no more. The entire Ohio State world went into its' Stages of Grief, while the nation rejoiced (That rejoicing really bit them in the ass on November 28th). The lone solace was that JT had long-time assistants that could right the ship. Meanwhile, ESPN still had its' agenda machine on DEFCON 5.
ESPN had been chomping at the bit to get their agenda attacking the prized possession of the Big Ten (The conference that stiffed them and formed its' own television network causing ESPN losing out on some serious money). You name it, it ran for days and days, hours and hours. Bar stool sports fan ate up (I bet 1 in 5 sports fans do not realize that ESPN is currently in the Ohio Supreme Court vs. OSU). My neighbor's brother's cousin's sister told me that TP was getting free cars and OSU players had specials with car dealerships for years. Thaddeus Gibson was even dragged into it. Ohio government agencies stepped in to check it out. Nothing turned up. The NCAA had nothing, much to the anger of many talking heads. Talking heads began subjectively comparing violations of previous schools, complete with ignoring the actual comparison violations, as some sort of plea to the NCAA for USC style sanctions. Journalistic integrity be damned again. However, ESPN did its' damage. The Ohio State University Football Program's public image was destroyed. Their relentlessness of anonymous sources and coverage became comical and transparent. In all reality, the meat of the story started and ended with Jim Tressel breaking NCAA Bylaw 10.1. It was the worst Winter, Spring, and Summer that any sports fan could ask for.
Emotionally and mentally exhausted, we headed into the Fall. Luke Fickell took the unenviable job of becoming a first time head coach and leading one of the most storied programs in all of NCAA. Dude has Buckeye balls of steel and we love him for it. The Bucks struggled through the worst season since 1897. Minus a miraculous win against Wisconsin and a finger length loss to scUM, brighter days had disappeared. Unfortunately, a first time head coach is probably not the best method for a program like Ohio State. A one-time sworn enemy was waiting in the wings.
Then Urban Meyer accepted the job as Ohio State’s Head Football Coach on November 28, 2011. That quickly silenced scUM fans' celebration of finally beating the Buckeyes once again. There is really no need for me to discuss Urban's track record. The entire nation knows it. Urbanization came quickly. He staffed himself with some hungry, youth-filled, and talented coaches (Fickell included). The introduction of Fickell at halftime of the Indiana basketball game was a thing of beauty. Top recruits started flocking to Columbus again. Minus a road bump with the 2012-2013 Bowl ban (I am not going to argue against it), brighter days returned. The Ohio State University is once again one of the most feared programs in the country. BCS title talk has already started for the 2013-2014 campaign. Order has been restored in the world.
In the end, we lost one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the program, on and off the field. We enjoyed a glorious decade with some of the best sporting moments that some people dream of and ended up with a black eye. I tell you this, I can not wait for the day when JT ‘Dots The I’ during a game that Urban Meyer coaches. I will be there proudly in my sweater vest, standing, and thanking Jim Tressel for everything. You will be doing the same.