On the morning of July 26th, the following thoughts invaded my brain space and began smacking around into each other:
1) I learned that the Chicago Bears, who hold Most Favored NFL Team status with me along with the Cleveland Browns, signed America's Wide Receiver™ Dane Sanzenbacher to its fall roster.
2) After I finished squealing (I was at the bank when the good news shot across my phone) and regained my composure, I began to wax nostalgic about the only player in Ohio State football history to claim the team MVP and the Bo Rein Most Inspirational Player Award in the same season. [smile]
3) Sanzenbacher's pro contract served as another sad reminder that he would not be available for the Buckeyes this fall. [frown]
4) Replacing both DeVier Posey for five games as well as the reigning MVP/Team Captain/Warfield Award Winner/leading receiver/Bo Rein Most Inspirational Player with a small group of players only defined at this point by potential would be an arduous if not an impossible bar to clear.
5) MVPs are nice, but Bo Rein Most Inspirational Players make everyone better and have an immeasurable impact on positive team culture.
6) Bo Rein. I've said and seen that name dozens of times in my life. Bo Rein. Bo Rein.
7) I can't believe that I have never bothered to figure out who Bo Rein was.
8) Who is going to inspire this year's team?
Total elapsed time: Eight seconds.
This Buckeye roster is at least as talented as every team it will face this season, even through the first five games that carry suspensions. Too many teams have proven that you cannot win on talent alone. Luke Fickell is one of the best young assistants in the country. Jim Heacock still owns the defense.
The program has been slaughtered daily since February. It's very hard to succeed on negative energy alone, especially within a program culture that was deliberately constructed on positivity. MVP candidates will emerge on the field while millions take note. The Bo Rein winner will emerge when no one is watching.
It's always been my favorite team award. The only national press the Bo Rein winner gets is after that player is signed by an NFL team - the local press, in an attempt to better trumpet the worthiness of the acquisition will point out that his own team voted him as its most inspirational player.
It's not political, nor is it a popularity contest like other awards often are. The Bo Rein award is possibly the most genuine and authentic honor an Ohio State football player can earn.
Especially coming off of this offseason, the player who is voted most inspirational will hold a special place in history where the transition from Jim Tressel to Future of the Program is concerned. If you're not paying attention to Bo Rein candidates this season - on the sideline, in the press or at practices - you should be.
And just as importantly, why don't I know who Bo Rein was?
the art of being better than you should be
Our reader survey last month taught us a lot about you. All of you are handsome, intelligent and either wealthy or potentially wealthy. A lot of you are my age (37) or younger. That means a lot of us never got to see Rein play or coach, and I have no interest in competing with Jack Park.
This means that if you know the story of Bo Rein, it was because you happened upon it or deliberately sought out to learn more about him. Rein isn't the only player to win two Heisman trophies. He wasn't a racial pioneer in pro football. He didn't win those awards that garner coverage in the national press.
You're not continually told of the legend of Bo Rein the way you are other with other titans of Ohio State football history. Yet every year the most inspirational player on Ohio's most inspirational team wins an award that carries his name.
Rein was a great baseball player at Ohio State in the early sixties who also played football. Today, that would make him a baseball player exclusively. He won three football letters from 1964 to 1966.
He started at halfback for three years and led the team in receptions once, which in a Woody Hayes offense was sort of like being the skinniest manatee. As a senior he led the team in rushing. Rein never won any team awards, though had the Bo Rein Most Inspirational Player Award existed when Bo Rein was on the team, well, you know.
Baseball was a different story. Rein played in left and at shortstop, depending on where the coaches felt they needed him most. At the plate, he would deftly knock the ball to the opposite field for what would be a routine single for most players, except that "routine singles" for Rein usually weren't good enough. He was that guy who stretched singles into doubles, because he could.
As you can see in the photo above, Rein was #45 ten years before Archie Griffin was. (And now you can name four #45s in Ohio State history. The one you're forgetting is Herbstreit's father. You're welcome.) Despite not being a true superstar, he was drafted by both the Baltimore Colts as well as by the Cleveland Indians.
Rein led the Ohio State baseball team to the national title game his junior year, where they fell short. The following year he led them back again where they took the championship. Rein led the team in scoring, doubles - many of which should have been singles - and steals (despite all of those doubles). His roommate was Greg Lashutka, who eventually became the mayor of Columbus.
But there's only so much you can learn from Google searches, so I picked up that relic of the 20th century - the "telephone" - and called some of my trusted football elders to ask about Rein. Even among separate conversations there was significant overlap with what I was told.
"Bo would have been another Bo (Schembechler)," I was told by a former Columbus attorney. "As a coach, he was Woody Hayes, incarnate. One of Lou Holtz's guys at Ohio State who got his start coaching for him but then was too talented to stay an assistant. Ask an NC State fan about him."
I don't know any NC State fans. BACK TO THE INTERNET!
Rein had been an assistant at NC State until Holtz left to take the New York Jets job, at which time he was promoted to head coach. The Wolfpack got progressively better in his first two years, winning the Peach and Tangerine Bowls and culminating with the 1979 ACC title.
That's still NC State's most recent conference championship. LSU decided it wanted Rein, and he accepted the job. This is where that "significant overlap" quickly turned into a full consensus: Bo might have become another Bo, but he was definitely Payne Stewart before Payne Stewart.
Shortly after the 1979 season, Rein got into a Cessna Conquest for a recruiting visit as LSU's new head coach. Shortly after the plane's pilot navigated around a storm heading east, air traffic control lost radio contact.
The plane climbed as high as 40,000 feet, and military jets were scrambled to investigate, where they reported back no presence in the cockpit, suggesting that the plane had depressurized and incapacitated its occupants. It eventually continued its flight path undisturbed out over the Atlantic Ocean where it ran out of fuel and disappeared. No wreckage or bodies were ever recovered.
Rein was dead at 34. LSU vouched to pay for his children's college educations at the universities of their choosing. In 1979, news didn't travel as quickly as it does today. Many NC State fans only learned of Rein's passing at the Wolfpack's basketball game the following day when they were asked by the arena PA announcer to observe a moment of silence.
Plane crashes have an interesting way of overreaching into how a life is defined. Think of a famous person who died in a plane crash, and their death is one of the first ways they are described. Before Rein was to lead LSU back to prominence, he was NC State's championship coach.
Before that he was a rising, well-respected assistant. Before that he was a two-sport letterman at Ohio State who wasn't bigger or more athletically gifted than any of his teammates. He was one of those guys who couldn't be described without the expression "pound for pound" or the word "heart."
Guys like that inspire others just by how they operate and conduct themselves. The attitude is infectious and their work ethic is contagious. Suddenly, other players try harder, work longer and get better. That's why Ohio State's Bo Rein award is called that. You might have known. Now I know.
the many faces of inspiration
Rein isn't forgotten by any stretch. There's Bo Rein Memorial Stadium in Niles, OH. NC State gives its own Bo Rein award to the player making the the most vital contribution to the team in an unsung role. And there's the guy at Ohio State every year who inspires the most.
There is nothing formulaic about winning the Bo Rein award at Ohio State. Recently, Dan Potokar valiantly battled cancer. Tyler "Tank" Whaley did it with sheer effort. Tyson Gentry won it with grace and attitude.
Current Nebraska coach Bo Pelini won it with energy. Antonio Smith won it with perseverance. Troy Smith won it with resilience. Mike Nugent won it for being more than a kicker.
Every type of player you can imagine has won, from the physically gifted to the physically incapacitated; the full-time star and the part-time specialist.
This past season Sanzenbacher took it in an unprecedented double: No one had ever won the Bo Rein award and the MVP in the same season (Troy Smith won as a junior; he was the team MVP as a senior).
The fate of the 2011 Buckeyes, not short on coaching, talent or adversity, will rest on how they find and exploit inspiration. Someone is going to have to lead by example, get a little dirty, a little selfless and without vanity, cameras or microphones.
You win with people only if you have a winning culture. No team's culture has taken more shots this offseason like Ohio State's. It won't be fixed from the outside. The kind of healing that's required has to come from within, and there's a limit to what coaches can do. It's got to come from a player, preferably several.
The success of this year's Buckeyes will be largely dependent on who is going to fill the inspirational void left by Sanzenbacher. That's a lot more unpredictable, complicated - and in many ways, more important to the broader football culture - than simply figuring out the depth chart.
The preseason narrative about this year's Ohio State personnel has focused largely on which quarterback is going to fill the void left by Terrelle Pryor. Like all depth chart quandaries annually, that one will eventually take care of itself: It's going to be one of four guys. They will find their next quarterback. They have to find their next Bo Rein.