Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Big Ten Memories - Ohio State

Ohio State has never been a favorite place of mine to play. The Hawkeyes record in Columbus hasn't been good over the past fifty years, and I've been fortunate to be with the team for one of those very few victories. My first trip to the Horseshoe was a memorable 28-0 loss in 1989. That was as close to miserable as it could get. But that was eclipsed six years later in 1995. On a warm rainy morning the score became 35-0 very quickly. I can still see Eddie George flying past our line outrunning them down the sidelines. I walked into the locker room at half time with players and coaches searching for answers.

My one victory was in 1991. It was a very different feel to this game than any other. We left Iowa City on a blustery November 1 only to arrive to our hotel and see the national news of a story from the Iowa campus. Gang Lu, a disgruntled graduate student started a shooting spree through campus taking the lives of five and paralyzing another. This was the days prior to cell phones or email and we were trying to call friends to make sure they were alright. Rumors were spreading throughout the team. "The shooter was still at large," "He's on top of the Dental Building," "All University Buildings are in lock down," were among those I remember. However being far from the incident, it didn't completely hit home with many of us.

The next day the decals were stripped from the helmets. Coach Fry was able to focus the team on the Buckeyes and although it wasn't a crisp performance, the Hawkeyes played with much determination.

Two moments from the game stand out. The first was a fifty plus yard pass from Matt Rodgers to Alan Cross for a touchdown. Cross was wide open on the catch and run, and that play was thanks to defensive assistant and former Buckeye, Bo Pellini. Pellini played under Ohio State coach John Cooper and this game was very important for him to win. Pellini, knowing the Buckeye defense inside and out, knew this one play would work.

Late in the game, Matt Rodgers became injured in what appeared to be a rugby scrum. His teammates were pulling players from the pile while Buckeyes gave much resistance. Rodgers limped to the sidelines to a murmur of boos from the scarlet and gray crowd.

But our recent trip to Columbus was one of the best games in the series. The winner would get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, with the loser holding slim hope to being co-champs of the Big Ten Conference. It was senior day and the Hawkeyes were starting a freshman quarterback, James Vandenberg. It was a classic which had outstanding plays on both sides of the ball for each team. But this one was decided in overtime and the Buckeyes scored the game-winning field goal after the Hawkeyes turned the ball over on downs. In the loss, the game had the atmosphere a title fight.

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