Flashback: Ohio State vs. Toledo, 1998

By Joe Beale on September 7, 2011 at 12:00p
The little man packs a big punch.
Winfield: Unmatched in coverage or run support.

Ah, 1998; those were the days. Imagine Ohio State losing their last two games of the previous season and still being ranked number one to start the new season. Imagine being the cover darling of Sports Illustrated's season preview issue, even with the annoying (and unnecessary) asterisk.

Such was the respect that pundits all across the land had for Ohio State football as John Cooper began his 11th season as the head coach. Despite the closing losses, OSU had finished 10-3 in 1997 and had outscored their opponents collectively 394-170. The 20-14 loss against eventual national champion Michigan had stung, but the Buckeyes pretty much beat themselves in that game, tossing an INT in the end zone, having another INT returned for a TD, and giving up a long punt return for a TD.

The man who threw both of those interceptions, QB Stan Jackson, had exhausted his eligibility and that left Joe Germaine to take over the helm full-time. For two long seasons, Germaine had shared the position with Jackson in a platoon. Nevertheless, many fans had long clamored to see Germaine running the ship solo. Now they would get their wish as the team would move forward with an excellent pure passer to distribute the ball to the various weapons of the offense.

And what an offense it was. Four of the five offensive linemen returned, including All-American guard Rob Murphy. At running back, speedster Michael Wiley took over from the departed Pepe Pearson, and freshman senior Joe Montgomery waited in the wings for his chance. David Boston, who had broken Cris Carter's school record for most receptions in a season with 73, returned to anchor the receiving corps. Reliable possession man Dee Miller and towering 6'10" tight end John Lumpkin added more targets for Germaine's passes.

The defense was no less formidable. SI cover boy Andy Katzenmoyer returned for his junior season, coming off a year in which he was 1st team All-American and won the Butkus Award given annually to the nation's best linebacker. Solid senior Jerry Rudzinski returned at one OLB slot while young stud Na'il Diggs stepped up to take over on the other side. Returning All-American CB Antoine Winfield anchored a secondary that was considered the best in the country.

Despite the lofty ranking and the confidence that the team had going into the season, there was still a lingering pain from the end of the 1997 season. Watching Michigan pick up a share of the national title (split with Nebraska) knowing that OSU should have beaten them was difficult. Not only that, but the team had looked slow and over-matched in the Sugar Bowl against Florida State, losing 31-14 despite the profanity-laced pre-game hubris of their head coach. The Buckeyes needed a solid start to shake off the memory of those losses, and they would get it in spades.

The Buckeyes opened the 1998 season on the road in a nationally televised game against #11 West Virginia. Led by QB Marc Bulger, the Mountaineers put up a good fight, but Ohio State was too much for them. OSU ultimately pulled away for a 34-17 win that seemed to validate their #1 ranking. Next up was the home opener against the Toledo Rockets of the MAC.

Although OSU had played several MAC schools previously, the had never played Toledo before. The Rockets were the reigning champions of the MAC West division, but they probably did not expect to win in Columbus against the powerful Buckeyes. Like most of OSU's early season opponents, they were there to make some money for the university and learn something from the experience of playing against a better team. After seeing their team dispatch WVU with relative ease on the road, OSU fans expected to see a mauling of Toledo, and they would not be disappointed.

Ohio State needed only 11 plays and less than 5 minutes to go up 21-0. On their first possession, Wiley took a handoff and burst through the UT defense for a 76-yard TD run. It got worse for the Rockets from there. By the time the gun sounded for halftime, OSU led 42-0. Germaine, Wiley, and the rest of the starters would not see the field again on this day. The Buckeye defense ran roughshod over the Rocket offense all day long, and ultimately 5 different Buckeyes came up with interceptions. The team would finish the game with a 49-0 shutout. 

The 1998 offense was near unstoppable.
Boston had a record-breaking season.

As most Buckeye fans know, the 1998 season eventually became known for disappointment. It was the first year of the BCS and OSU had lead in the BCS standings for most of the season. Unfortunately, they dropped a late November home game against Michigan State that would cost them a shot at the title. They closed the regular season by drilling Iowa and Michigan and they rolled over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

They would never come that close to a title again under Cooper. The next season, sophomore Steve Bellisari would take over at QB and the team would struggle through a 6-6 campaign. In 2000, the team got off to a good start but melted down at mid-season and lost 4 of their last 7 games. They would be routed by South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and Cooper would be fired shortly thereafter.

Of course, none of this was known to us as we watched the Buckeyes rout Toledo on that day. As far as we knew, OSU was going to win it all. I was at the stadium for that game along with my wife (who was 2 months pregnant at the time). I came up with the novel idea of parking at the City Center garage for $2 and then taking the city bus to the campus area and walking to the stadium from High Street. The goal was to save money and not have to fight the typical post-game traffic jam. My plan was working out great until it came time to leave.

The buses were not crowded on the way to the game, because everyone gets to the campus area at a different time (due to tailgate parties and the like). However, on the way back, everyone leaves at once, and so all of the buses I saw were already full by the time they got to me. Ultimately, my pregnant wife and I decided to just walk back. After all, it was only 3.7 miles to walk, and it was a nice day. Just a good stretch of the legs!

I'm sure you're wondering "why are you telling us about that?" Actually, that story was more interesting than the game was. The 2009 matchup against the Rockets was just as lopsided, even if the score doesn't show it. Expect more of the same on Saturday.


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

I still can't believe we lost to Michigan State that year.  Definitely in my personal top 5 of games I want back.  I think we were up 17-3 at the half or something like that, and even though we weren't putting them away, I didn't feel stressed at that point.  ** sigh ** 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Joe Beale's picture

I don't know about halftime, but we definitely went up 17-3 at one point because I remember Brent Musberger then declaring "This team is awesome!" It was the kiss of death.

acBuckeye's picture

As much as Musberger annoys me, he did make up for it with "Holy Buckeye."

Hoody Wayes's picture

Up here in Sylvania - next door to Toledo - Buckeye fans are exposed to Wolverine fans, every damn day. Too many of this species, are from Ohio.

Thus, many of us Buckeye fans up here, view Michigan's loan defeat to a MAC opponent - namely, Toledo - as some form of voodoo...or justice served, at least. Buckeye fans should probably view that game as a great day in American history.

I'm sure the Wolverine fans around here are pining for the Rockets to balance the books.

I just hope the Buckeyes don't take UT, lightly. Beckman's team is pretty good.




buckeyedude's picture

I live off of Alexis Rd, by Whitmer H.S., Hoody. My son went to that game in the Big Shit House. He is a friend of Chris Wormley, ironically.  The parents of a friend of his had an extra ticket, and they invited him.  He was screaming his head off throughout the game for the Rockets and after MU missed that field goal.

Truth be told, I like the Rockets too, but want the Buckeyes to win. 



Jeremy Birmingham's picture

As a Toledo native, I always root for the Rockets to do well - but this weekend, not so much.

buckeyes33's picture

Toledoans are a confused bunch.

AltaBuck's picture

I loved watching Antoine Winfield play. Pound for Pound...the best hitter/tackler in tOSU football history.

I am Groot - Groot

Hoody Wayes's picture

Maybe the best YOU'VE ever seen.

I know quite a few people who saw Jack Tatum. None of them has ever remarked that any other Buckeye crushed dudes, better than him. Nasty!

AltaBuck's picture

I saw Jack Tatum play in the NFL but I was just a kid.  Certainly, the hardest hitting Buckeye ever to play.

What amazed me about AW was that he was only 5'9" and weighed 175 lbs. He had 82 solo tackles in 1997 and he played CB. That to me is just an amazing stat.


I am Groot - Groot

Pam's picture

I was lucky enough to see Jack Tatum play while he was a Buckeye.  But, what I most remember is when I went to a party at my BF's dorm. My GF and I were on the elevator when the biggest scariest looking dude I have ever seen to this day, got on the elevator with us. We figured he was a football player, but when you see these guys up close and personal rather than on TV, they are just HUGE! Jack's neck could have had it's own zip code.

toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

I doubt my alma mater can beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, but I hope the Rockets offense can put up a touchdown on the scoreboard. It's tough to watch them go scoreless against OSU for three straight times. I saw the game in Cleveland. The Buckeyes, my second-favorite team next to Toledo, were dominant and they probably will be again in this game. If the final score goes by a numerical progression of 11 less points per game, OSU wins 27-0. [49-0 in 1998, 38-0 in 2009, then 27-0 on Saturday.]

And to Hoody Wayes in Sylvania, when will those Wolver-weenies give Toledo a rematch, now that scUM is going to play App State again? Or are the Wolver-weenies afraid to lose to the Rockets again?

gravey's picture

Glad to hear a Rockets fan stand loud and proud.   I always hated when folks from other schools in Ohio rooted against their own school when they played the Buckeyes.  I think you got it right.


Hoody Wayes's picture

They won't, Jim.

Hopefully, all of Ohio's college teams will each, beat Michigan, once.

Irricoir's picture

If you noticed the stats, it was TP everything in 2009 against the Rockets. We will see what our TEAM has in store for them this Saturday. I agree, I hope that we don't take anybody lightly. I was extremely pissed when we were "scared" by Ohio University a few years back. I felt like they were taken lightly and that we were not prepared.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

ToledoBuckeye's picture

Although I am a huge Buckeye Fan I had to cheer for my Alma Mater in 2009.  I was at the game in Cleveland and was surprised by how viscious our Buckeye fans can be to opposing teams.  I was wearing a UT/Ohio State shirt and a UT cap and I got spit on at least 5 times.  Also, people kept yelling profanities at my wife and I and commenting on how small our band was blah blah blah. 

I can now understand why people complain about OSU fans.  I am sure it is like this for most big time programs but I would expect a little more class from our fans.  Everyone knew that OSU was going to win that game and rather than being respectful and enjoying the game people had to ruin it.

I know I am going to try to be much more respectful to opposing fans in the future.  Especially, those from Ohio schools who have beat Michigan in the big house!

"Anything easy ain't worth a damn." - Woody Hayes

buckeyefanatic's picture

Ugg ... that sucks, sorry to hear about your experience.  Looking at it from a sane viewpoint - OSU is the better team, has the better band - you name it.  Why do people have to be idiots and act like that.  I would FLIP THE #$%& OUT if someone spit on me.  Sheesh.

Having traveled all over in the military and leading a life away from Ohio ... I take pride in all Ohio teams really, couldn't imagine treating visitors to the stadium like that.  I guess I am just old now.

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

buckeyefanatic's picture

Prediction:  38-6

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

buckeyes33's picture

If Toledo has enough time to throw the ball it could be more like 14...If they have time to throw. Buckeyes D line needs to have a big game.

Baroclinicity's picture

Looking at the DB picture, I miss the days of having gray on our scarlet jerseys.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Josh's picture

Montgomery was a senior, I think.

Joe Beale's picture

You are correct; he might have seemed like a frosh to me since he was coming back after missing significant time with a serious injury. Thanks for the tip.

acBuckeye's picture

I still have that issue of SI. Hah, i actually still read it sometimes. Every time i see the Sparty season preview page, i want to tear it out. They were ranked to start the season, but wildly under-performed, except for one damn game.

None of Tressel's teams were as talented as that team was, IMO. From '95-'98, the talent that went through Columbus was off the charts. Should have won at LEAST two NC's during that time, and maybe even 3, although the '95 squad wasn't as strong defensively. As bad as the MSU loss hurt in '98, the '96 loss to scUM hurt even more. I still think OSU earned at least a share of the NC with Florida that year. I also still believe that the '96 and '98 squads were the best in the country. If only they didn't have a coach who choked.