Prior to the arrival of a Minneapolis native in 2005, #33 was all about the fullbacks. Even farther back than that, it was all about the center of the line. While some jersey numbers belonged to one or two standouts in a team's history, today's edition of our countdown to kickoff is an embarrassment of Buckeye riches, with five All-Americans and at least seven NFL draftees on the all-time roster (I stopped count at seven, there could be more).
From 1934-1937, the Buckeyes' starting Center wore #33 (NCAA rules no longer allow this, of course), starting with Gomer Jones. Jones anchored the line in '34 and '35; as a team captain in his final season, he earned All-American and All-Big Ten honors. Although he was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the 2nd Round of the 1936 NFL Draft, Jones instead opted instead for a career in coaching, serving as an assistant under Francis Schmidt until the head coach's resignation in 1940.
After stops at John Carroll University and Nebraska, he found a home in Oklahoma, working for Bud Wilkinson an assistant coach for 17 years. Jones helmed the Sooners for two seasons in 1964 and 1965, compiling a disappointing record of 9–11–1. He was athletic director at Oklahoma from 1964 until his death in 1971, and was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1978.
Following Jones' graduation, Ralph C. Wolf took over the leadership of Ohio State's offensive line, and like Jones, earned All-American and All-Conference honors while serving as a senior captain in 1937. Also like Jones, Wolf was a team MVP in his senior season - can you imagine a Center earning MVP honors today? Times have certainly changed.
Wolf was known in no small part for his "heroics" during The Game in '37. Then, as during the Jim Tressel era, Ohio State pulled off a string of victories in the storied series. For the fourth straight year, Ohio completely routed and overwhelmed its oldest and most bitter Big Ten rival, becoming just the second team in history to defeat Michigan four times in succession (Minnesota had done so earlier in the season).
The Buckeyes won the 34th installment of the rivalry by a score of 21-0, and effectively ended the tenure of Michigan head coach Harry Kipke, who had compiled a solid record of 46-26-4 in nine seasons. Winning The Game was clearly an important trait, even back then. Wolf was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 10th Round of the 1938 NFL Draft; while I couldn't find much to say about his NFL career, as with Jones, the draftee ended up in the ranks of college coaching, joining the Youngstown State University staff of Dwight “Dike” Beede in 1937 and serving alongside him for 31 seasons. He was inducted into YSU's hall of fame in 1985.
If you thought a pair of All-American Centers was impressive, let's talk about a trio of All-American fullbacks. Oliver Monroe "Ollie" Cline joined the Buckeyes' football roster in 1944, becoming the primary fullback on an unbeaten team that finished the season ranked second in the nation. He was Big Ten MVP in 1945, rushing for 936 yards as Ohio State built up a 7–2 record and earning All-American honors (oh, and in case Mark May is reading this, the "Blonde Bomber" rushed for 229 yards that season against Pitt, a school record that would stand for more than two decades, until the arrival of one Archie Griffin).
Pvt. Cline spent 1946 serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, returning to the gridiron in 1947. Though he led the team in rushing once again, '47 was a disappointment, as first-year head coach Wes Fesler led the team to a miserable 2-6-1 record. Even so, Cline's exploits were enough to garner the attention of NFL scouts, and we was selected in the 14th round of the 1948 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, foregoing his final year of eligibility because he was getting married and needed to start making money.
Instead of signing with da Bears, however, Cline signed with the fledgling Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), a team coached by former Ohio State coach Paul Brown. "I plan to be married in June," Cline said at the time. "I feel I have a great opportunity with the Browns, and I've always wanted to play for Paul Brown. I feel that I have made the only logical decision."
Although the legendary Brown's tenure as Ohio State's head coach predated Cline's years in Columbus, Brown said he had followed Cline with interest. "Ollie isn't big, as pro fullbacks go, but he can run – and I like 'em when they can run," Brown said. Serving as a backup to fullback Marion Motley, Cline ran for 129 yards in 1948, when a stacked Cleveland went undefeated and won the AAFC championship for the third year in a row.
Despite Cline's to Brown's beloved Ohio State, Cleveland traded him to the Buffalo Bills after the season. He responded by turning in the best year of his professional career, running for 518 yards and three touchdowns. The Bills faced the Browns three times that year, tying twice and losing once in a playoff game, finishing the season a middling 5–5–2. When the AAFC folded in 1949, Cline was taken in the 1950 dispersal draft by the Giants, but was promptly traded to the Lions. He spent four seasons in Detroit; led by quarterback Bobby Layne and halfback Doak Walker, the Lions won the NFL championship in 1952 and 1953, beating the Browns both times.
In six years of pro ball, Cline averaged 6 yards a carry on 281 attempts and scored 7 touchdowns. He spent the rest of his life as an educator, and was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame and named to the Ohio State Football All-Century Team in 2000; he passed in 2001.
A decade after Cline left the Buckeyes, another impressive fullback took up his old jersey. Loren "Bob" White played for coach Woody Hayes from 1957-1959, serving as linebacker until Hayes plugged White into his offense with good results. White was an integral part of the '57 team, piling up 163 yards against Michigan in the season finale to give Hayes his fourth victory against the Wolverines in seven years. The 31-14 win propelled the Buckeyes to their 3rd undisputed Big Ten title in four years and sent them to the Rose Bowl, where they beat Oregon 10-7 and earned Ohio State its third national championship.
Earlier in the '57 campaign, White helped Hayes upset the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes, carrying the ball on nearly every play of a late 80-yard touchdown drive to give the Buckeyes a came-from-behind 17-13 victory. White seemed to be at his best against Iowa, as he racked up a stiff 209 yards rushing against the Hawkeyes the very next season. His 1958 exploits earned him first-team All-American honors, and he finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting that season; the three-time Academic-All Big Ten selection was also named Academic All-American Player of the Year.
Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 8th Round of the 1960 NFL Draft, he played a single season for the Houston Oilers.
From 1973-1976, the Buckeyes fullback was a bruiser named Pete Johnson. The Georgia native made his mark as a true freshman when starting fullback Champ Henson was injured. Converted linebacker Bruce Elia was named to start in Henson's place, but by the end of the season, Johnson had worked his way up the depth chart. In 1974, Elia returned to the linebacker corps and Henson and Johnson alternated at fullback.
Johnson's best season was in 1975. Even though Heisman2X Griffin led the team with 1,450 rushing yards, Johnson still rushed for 1,059 yards and set OSU single season records for rushing touchdowns (25) and scoring (156 points). One of Johnson's more notable performances that season was gainst the University of North Carolina Tarheels. While Griffin rushed for 157 yards, Johnson rushed for 148 yards and set a school record with five touchdowns.
He finished his career at Ohio State with 2,308 rushing yards and a school record 58 touchdowns, which was also a Big Ten record. His 348 points was a Buckeyes record until it was surpassed by kicker Mike Nugent's 356 points in 2004. Despite being passed over for the All-Conference and All-American teams, Johnson was nonetheless drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2nd Round of the 1977 NFL Draft, and played for eight seasons in the league.
The Bengals picked up an excellent talent in Johnson: he was the team's leading rusher for all 7 seasons he played in the Queen City, scoring 12 or more rushing touchdowns in 3 different seasons. His best season was in 1981, earning a Pro-Bowl selection while setting career highs in rushing (1,077 yards), receptions(46), receiving yards(320) and touchdowns(16), leading the team to a 12-4 record.
Johnson performed superbly in the post-season, as the Bengals defeated Buffalo to record the franchise's first playoff victory and then toppling the Chargers to earn the team's first AFC Championship and SuperBowl berth. Though the Bengals were subsequently beaten by the 49ers in the final game of the year, it was a solid year all the way around for the big back.
In 1984, Johnson was traded to the Chargers in exchange for running back James Brooks. He left Cincinnati as their all-time leader in rushing yards(5,421), touchdowns(70), and their second all-time leading scorer with 420 points. He retired following his single season in San Diego. He has had a number of legal issues in the ensuing years, but his time in Columbus and Cincinnati were all good for fans of both teams.
Moving quickly through the a pair of Buckeye running backs, Butler By'not'e and Joe Montgomery each put in great seasons for the Buckeyes in the '90s. By'not'e accumulated 1,742 all-purpose yards from 1990-1993, and scored 11 touchdowns. He was selected in the 7th Round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and played in 16 games during his brief professional career.
Montgomery was with the team from 1996-1998, rushing for 1,331 yards on 216 carries and scoring 9 touchdowns. He led the Big Ten in yards per carry in 1998 at 6.5 yards, on the back of an outstanding game at Iowa that season: his 80 yard rushing touchdown underpinned an 160-yard effort that game. Drafted by the Giants in the 2nd Round of the 1999 NFL Draft, he spent three seasons in New York and a fourth with the Carolina Panthers, rushing for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns his rookie season. He would add only 24 more yards and a single score for the duration of his career in the league.
Although Montgomery finished his degree at Ohio State in 2005, he sued the University in 2010 for defamation, claiming that football trainers reported medical conditions to NFL scouts that hurt his draft status, and prevented him from collecting workers compensation and disability benefits.
So, about that Minneapolis native mentioned earlier... James Richard Laurinaitis, affectionately known as "Little Animal" in reference to his father's professional wrestling moniker, is one of the greatest linebackers in Ohio State history. Playing for head coach Jim Tressel from 2008-2008, Laurinaitis was a three-time All-American, All-Big Ten, and Academic All-Conference selection.
In four seasons with the Buckeyes, he accumulated an astounding 375 tackles, including 159 solo grabs and 24.5 tackles for loss. He also dropped opposing quarterbacks for 13 sacks in his career, picking off 9 passes and defending another 16 in the process.
As a true freshman in 2005 he played in all 12 games, eventually reaching No. 2 on the depth chart at strong-side linebacker behind Bobby Carpenter. After Carpenter broke a leg on the first play from scrimmage in the rivalry game against Michigan, Laurinaitis played the rest of that game, and also started in the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
At the end of the 2006 regular season, Laurinaitis led the team in tackles (115) and interceptions (5), and also had 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks; he won the Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player, and was also named a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik awards. He would go on to win the Butkus Award for most outstanding college linebacker in 2007, and was a consensus first-team All-American.
He won the Jack Lambert award in both 2007 and 2008, won the Lott Trophy as Defensive IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity) Player of the Year in 2008, and that year also earned the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award as the outstanding senior NCAA Division I Student-Athlete of the Year in football. In other words, Little Animal was a stud on the field and a scholar and a gentleman off the gridiron.
Selected by the St. Louis Rams in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Laurinaitis has made the most of his four years in the NFL thus far. Playing in 64 games, he's recorded 518 combined tackles, including 427 solo takedowns on top of 8.5 sacks. He's defended 21 passes and picked off 7 interceptions.
Friends, it doesn't get much better than that.
So that'll do it for today's installment of the countdown. If you've missed it so far, here is the archive of the series for your reading/viewing enjoyment: