The Abyss: A Toast (and Love Letter) at the End of All Things

hodge's picture
November 26, 2012 at 1:41a

Finally washing away the last of Tatgate

And just like that, it was done.

What started off three hundred and sixty three days ago with the hiring of one Urban Frank Meyer, following the first loss in eight contests with the University of Michigan Wolverines, has finally concluded.  Enduring injuries, a postseason ban, and media irrelevancy, our Eleven Warriors have fought, clawed, scrapped, and willed their way to victory in twelve straight games.  And, as I sit here--staring into the deep brown endless abyss of my Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout--I'm left with the same feeling in my heart that lingers on in my tongue: bittersweet.

Oh What could've been

Well, for starters, this crybaby wouldn't be representing our division with a 7-5 squad, facing off against a team that we hung 63 points on.  But I digress...

As the days wear on, and the high of the season's climax begins to fade, two things will presumably begin to damper the luster of Urban's honeymoon season:

  1. The fact that we've been robbed of the chance at playing for the National Championship, and the fact that winning an AP Championship--our ultimate defiance--is pretty damn near impossible.
  2. The season's completely done.

College football is such an abusive love.  It's a sport that its most ardent devotees hold high above all others; celebrating the sheer variety of play that the sport encompasses, the playmakers who make the game so electrifying, the secular cathedrals in which its played, and the pageantry and enthusiasm that come with following it.  Yet, at the same time its one of the more fleeting sports that we follow; lasting a maximum of fourteen weekly contests--two less than a standard NFL season.  Perhaps the sheer brevity of the game is what makes it so exciting--the fact that a singular loss can torpedo a team's championship chances lends a week-in-week-out excitement that's unmatched in the whole of American athletics--but the fact still remains that the sport we Buckeye fans so lovingly analyze and adore 24/7/365 lasted a mere quarter of the year (bye week included).

No explanation necessary

It's here that I find that the NCAA did the most damage--to the program and fans alike.  Instead of giving us a two game postseason to salivate and analyze over more than a month (and thereby extending this magical season), we've been truncated: docked like the tail of a showdog.  Like it or not, this is the NCAA's method: they want to dishearten the fanbase, lowering enthusiasm for the team and thereby "punishing" the offending programand rendering them nationally irrelevant (or in Ohio State's case, Mark May's fantasy).

I honestly believe that the Bowl ban was largely dropped on us for two reasons: first, to placate the hungry, pitchfork-wielding, blood-in-the-water-smelling, opportunistic sports media masses; and second, because for the first time in history, a team stood to actually improve their national standing in the aftermath of such a scandal.  Had we re-hired Fickell, I doubt the NCAA levies the ban.  But, since we actually stood to use Tressel's ouster to lure one of the three of his contemporaries that were actually superior to him (the others being Carroll and Saban), the NCAA couldn't merely sit idly by; especially if they--GASP--ran the table in 2012 and won the title.  How would the NCAA's supposed moral crackdown--which had effectively kneecapped USC's reign--look to those bloodthirsty blowhards?  No, OSU would be made to be irrelevant--if for only one season.

But, quite honestly, I'm not all that upset.  I've long made peace with all of this, and you should too.  Braxton probably won't be a Heisman finalist (though, if he were playing in South Bend, it'd be remarkable how fast people would have forgotten about Manti Te'o), Roby--probably the most dominant single player on the team (except possibly Hankins)--isn't going to win any hardware, Meyer's going to lose Coach of the Year to a man who was directly responsible for the death of a student, and we're not winning an AP championship (Hell, SB Nation's supposedly "transparent" blogpoll is even giving us the shaft).  As of today, the season's over for me.  I'll still follow and watch a few games, but--as BB King famously said--the thrill is gone.  Are you happy now, NCAA?

perfection: Music to my ears

If I could sum up this season in a word, the above header would be it.  Harkening back to the famed squad of ten years prior, these Buckeyes simply refused to accept defeat; displaying a heart and soul that I last saw when Tressel accepted that crystal football in January 2003.  From the initial suspensions of the "Tat-Five", Tressel's ouster, the 2011 Walrusball debacle, and all the way until those last seconds ticked away Saturday afternoon in Columbus, this saga has been wrought with drama--a veritable roller coaster of emotion--leaving all of us Buckeye faithful emotionally exhausted.  In a lot of ways, this season has been the light at the end of the tunnel; a reassuring bath of sunlight that reminds us not only how good it is to be out of the darkness, but also to be thankful of the relatively short amount of time we spent there.  


Heroin addiction and musical genius not included.

In a lot of ways, I liken these last two years to one of my favorite records of all time, the Rolling Stones' seminal 1972 double record, Exile on Main Street.  Though they didn't exactly intend it, the album tells the tale of the dangers of excess, the lows wrought by them, and the redemption possible in the end.  Thinking about this season as I stare into the impending abyss of my pint glass (this Bourbon Barrel Stout is exceptional, by the way), I'm reminded of the record's penultimate track (and one of my all-time favorite songs), "Shine a Light".  A dirge for drugged-out former bandmate Brian Jones, the song begins--like this season--standing on one faulty leg, Mick Jagger's strained vocals seeminly echoing Braxton Miller's early-season heroics.  Yet, as the song (or season, if you will) progresses, the accompaniment builds; be it from Billy Preston's Hammond organ (the same that he played on this song's kissing cousin, "Let it Be") and piano, Keith Richards's cutting guitar work, or Charlie Watt's perfectly timed drumming, the orchestration grows to an all-out gospel climax.  Shimmering with a full chorus, this song is no longer a dirge of the dead, it's a celebration of the living.  Of all that can be, even when things seem at their lowest.

If this seems an apt metaphor for Ohio State's season, it's not by mere coincidence.  Like the Buckeyes, the Stones were also disconnected: tax exiles living in a rented mansion in the South of France, dealing with the culmination of the excesses, mistakes, and self-destruction they had wrought upon themselves.  The songs are not their best, but the mood that they evoke is among the finest that music can create.  Sure, you may not be blown away by the consistency (as you would with--say--the Clash's London Calling), but that's not the point: you feel  these songs, listening with not only your ears, but the full depths of your heart and soul.

Sure, Ohio State has brighter days ahead, that much has been echoed by many a pundit and fan alike.  Urban's recruiting, and stellar quarterback have all but ensured that our beloved Buckeyes will stay in the national picture for quite some time.  But, you know what?  I couldn't give a damn for that right now.  This season is worth celebrating.  Like Exile on Main Street, it's so much more than the mere sum of its parts.  It may not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it meant the most to us--the fans whose emotions are so inexorably intertwined with the team they cherish.

Perhaps we deserved what we got, perhaps we didn't.  None of that matters anymore, as we're in the midst of our sentence.  The one thing that you can count on, though, is next year.  Oh, how the "narrative" will sound: Urban Meyer leading his scandal-ridden program back to greatness; it will be quite the redemption story, I can see the headlines now.  The worst part of it, though, is that it's feeding right into the NCAA's hands.  Just as much as they wanted us silenced for a season, they wanted us to come back with a vengeance.  Ohio State is a massive brand in college football--ask ESPN, we move the needle--one that the NCAA desperately needs to leverage amidst dwindling attendance numbers and a massive playoff TV deal on the horizon.  Be it through ticket and concession sales, TV ratings, or merchandise purchases, we grease the the sport's pockets better than just about anybody else.  Next year could very well be our year, and the hype machine is already a-chuggin' in that direction.

Seriously, to Hell with that.  I'm not going to live on the Emmert's terms.  I watched my beloved team get dragged through the mud through one terrible season, and then chided and ignored throughout the midst of a perfect campaign, all because of one man's decision to not report that five of his players got free tattoos?  Forget the pundits who said we'd fail, forget the haters who say that we cheated, and forget the very body that tried to render our team irrelevant by giving them nothing to play for (and the hacks in the media who continue to perpetuate that by leaving OSU off their AP Ballots); they've all said more than enough.  The 2012 Buckeyes may be finished, but they'll forever live on in my memory as my favorite team to ever suit up in the Scarlet and Gray.  A team that's had the deck stacked against them for more than too long, and yet still managed to defy everyone and succeed.  No, these Buckeyes may not be remembered by anyone outside of our fanbase--the powers-that-be have more than done enough to ensure that--but they'll forever live on within me and the rest of my fellow fans.  A team that shouldered the collective hopes and expectations of an entire fanbase, and proceeded to produce a perfect season--even when the expectation was predetermined from the outset.  These men will forever live on in our hearts, and in doing so is the greatest revenge one can ever have at those responsible for denying them the chance to forever enshrine themselves as national champions.

Bittersweet indeed, but oh how sweet it has been, and how sweet it is going to be.  Here's to you, my fellow fans; it's been an absolute pleasure to experience this with all of you, in every facet: the agony, angst, and fustration of the last 23 months have only served to amplify the joy, excitement, and sheer euphoria we're experiencing now.  I look forward to experiencing much more of the latter over the rest of our head coach's tenure.



Buckeyeneer's picture

Great write up, Hodge. One perk, albeit a small one, is that this team gets to join the ranks of the greatest teams ever to not get a shot. We are blessed being Ohio State fans, usually when we have a team that is under consideration, we get the nod. When people talk about who the best teams all time were to get left out of the NC this team has a legitimate argument.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Brutus Forever's picture

Per someone who has worked directly with the team and coaching staff at OSU since (at least) 2002 : the NCAA has been looking to hit OSU hard since 2003 (mo clarett). In his opinion, had Jim Tressel not won the NCG that year there's a good chance they would've got some significant penalties then. With "tatgate" (god I hate that word, or any uncreative term of the form "word related to scandal"+gate), they were finally able to give significant penalties to OSU, more than were necessary. Again, in his opinion, that's why the bowl ban was levied. It makes sense to a certain extent because the punishment didn't fit the "crime" (as scUM fans would call it). feel free to disagree with him, but don't shoot the messenger. There are some details here that I'm missing but I can't remember them all. When I go back to work at OSU next summer I'll talk to him more about it and hopefully get more details that will lend more credibility to his story.

"I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age.” – Urban F. Meyer

hodge's picture

That's a very valid opinion, as well.  Though, I wonder, why wouldn't the NCAA have investigated Clarett's claims ex post facto?  Perhaps its for the same reason that they've been reluctant to go after the Cam Newton nonsense. 
Personally, I can't help but feel that if we'd stuck with Fickell (or hired a Pellini or comprable guy), the NCAA would've deemed that coaching "downgrade" punishment enough.  Instead, we trolled everyone by pulling in the biggest fish of all--turning the tables on one of the scandal's casualties.

Brutus Forever's picture

I totally agree with you. The fact that Fickell was replaced with UFM could very well have played a role in the punishment they levied. Either way, nice write-up. It's a great time to be a Buckeye fan! (then again, when is it not?)

"I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age.” – Urban F. Meyer

cajunbuckeye's picture

As smooth as a "Bourbon Meyer". Well done, Hodge.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

LouGroza's picture

Very nice work Hodge. That took some effort good sir. The fact that however this season ends up there will forever be "what ifs" with OSU and the 12-0 record out there. We can take solace in the fact that all that could be done, was done. The question will be there for us and other teams as well for eternity. What about Ohio State? They were never beaten, you know...

hodge's picture

Exactly.  It's kind of special in a way, as well.  That unblemished record, though never taken to fruition (in the postseason), will remain unblemished.  Without chance of a BCS humbling (ask yourself, how special would that '06 team have been, had they not played in a bowl? And how much of that lustre wore off after that 41-14 shellacking?), these guys will forever remind me of Woody's fabled 1961 squad, an undefeated (but not untied) team that the university denied a date with immorality in Pasadena.
I think these men will live on in Ohio State lore in much the same way as their bretheren from 51 years ago; forever remembered for the unfortunate circumstances with which they were dealt, but also by the fact that--regardless of what the powers-that-be had to say about their Championship expectations--they rose to the occasion and delivered perfection.  That kind of success is almost as special as winning it all--to me, at least--and no one can take that away.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Hodge lead this piece off the way a great lead off hitter sets the table for his offense. Sir, your lead off hitter was the mention of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel beverages. Wednesday I enjoyed the Ale for the first time and at $5 a per snifter at my local brew house I found it to be a great value.
As for this season, I don't really know how any of us can't feel anything buy joy and pride. Its been a common theme here around these parts with fans asking 'what if' about Smith and Co's decision to let last year be as normal as can be. I'm not inviting that discussion as its pretty clear the NCAA was going to do what it did no matter what. Of course I, like all of you, would love to see Ohio State and Notre Dame set for an epic clash of Heisman candidates, historic programs, irresistible forces (Miller and the O), and immovable objects (Te'o and the D). The added cherry on that sundae would be the fact that this weekends SEC title game would be potentially rendered useless as OSU (one would assume) would be heavily favored over Nebraska, but alas, that can not be. We have to enjoy this season for what it is-a reminder to the rest of the nation that a team coming off the most chaotic off season in program history finished the year unblemished. This year will always remind us of the time a group of guys who by their own coaches admission never quite met his unrivaled expectations but still went undefeated.
You defiantly feel bad for Sabino, Williams, Boren, and Fragel because they deserved more-given Sabino finally living up to some of his otherworldly expectation, Williams coming back after a series of injury set back, Boren and Fragel for selflessly learning new positions and thriving in them. Of course all of that hurt is probably magnified when you think of a guy like John Simon who probably would have at least one more game left had OSU been able to participate in the post season but was relegated to team cheer leader because of an injury he suffered during his best game as a Buckeye.
This season also serves as a reminder of the things to come. Look at what we learned....
1) Braxton Miller will be 1 or 1a to Johnny Football's 1 or 1a in next year's Heisman race.
2) Carlos Hyde can absolutely be a feature back in a system that doesn't require one but can be unstoppable when it utilizes said back.
3) Philly Brown and Devin Smith are the legit game breakers The Herban System (SIC) absolutely needs.
4) The losses of Boren, Sabino, Williams, and Simon will be softened a ton by Perry, Washington, Spence, and Schutt.
5) There is no better winner in this conference, and probably the nation than Urban Meyer-This OSU team found itself in a hand full of dogfights and his team never faltered. Michigan State, Nebraska and PSU (early), Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan were all games that could have gone the other way. Winning coaches set their teams up to do all of the little things needed to ensure the game ends in a W and with the exception of some emotion driven brain farts against Michigan, OSU was ALWAYS the superiorly coached team.
This season will always serve as the warning shot to the rest of the nation that this OSU team, under this regime, is going to be an absolute force for a long time.

Do I come off as arrogant? Shame on me, I was hoping it would be more obvious.

Doc's picture

Well done Hodge, you are wise beyond your years.  Exile is an excellent album.

I'm hiding baby and I'm dreaming
I'm riding down your moonlight mile

Alhan's picture

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is delicious happiness in a bottle.

the fact that a singular loss can torpedo a team's championship chances

...unless you play in the SEC.
Great post Hodge!

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

jthiel09's picture

Nothing goes better with a 12-0 season than a little Bourbon.


Dougger's picture

bravo. that's a lot of work you put into this hodge and i commend you for it. tool time indeed. we could also replace mark may's with mark emmerts... 
one of my favorite things from last year was the fact that UM fans couldn't even relish in their victory over a poopoo 6-6 team because we hired one of the only human beings who could possibly be better than what the vest did (is that possible? i hope so). and this year all they can say is good luck in your bowl ban.. good luck getting curb stomped by florida. or georgia.
I feel bad for the guys on the team because they've done everything that can do by winning every game, and yet absolutely no respect from the nat'l media. whatever. at least they have another pair of gold pants. Boren, Sabino, Williams, Simon are some of my favorite buckeyes because of what they helped start at our great university. i hope the splash from this springboard is as big as an atomic bomb, and we leave absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that this year and next is one of the best in college football history.tall order but the glass can be half full can't it?!?!
EDIT: i don't know how it can be any more full right now, but here's the next year! and BEING UNDEFEATED AND 12-0!!!

I like football

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Nice piece, Hodge. I've shared many of the same or similar thoughts and feelings about this amazing season, the NCAA, mainstream sports media, etc. 
Like you, I entered the season at peace with its circumstances. I have zero respect for the NCAA, but also like you, rather than dwelling on that clown show, I decided to approach this season as a "purist" Buckeye football experience - completely ignore all the BCS calculations, the talking heads, the scores involving teams Ohio State played earlier in the season (because of computer ratings), and so forth. I normally fixate on such things.
In that sense, the 2012 season was incredibly refreshing - sort of like going on a four-month hiatus from all the noise and hype and the eSECpn-ization of college football.
I'd almost liken this season to one of those remote "unplugged" resorts that ultra-busy CEOs visit to "digitally detox" - i.e., no cell phones, t.v. sets, or other electronic gadgets allowed. You wouldn't want to live at the resort long-term. Before long, you'd be itching to get back to your I-pad and digital surround sound, but it's a spiritually invigorating process.
Next season, I'll go back to fixating on BCS rankings. Obviously, I go into every season wanting/hoping the Buckeyes will win the NC, but this season helped me to reaquaint myself with the true essences of what makes Buckeye football so special.
In the telecast of The Game, Sean McDonough was speaking to every viewer except Buckeye fans (who presumably made up like 40 or more percent of his audience). It didn't occur to him that 97 percent of Buckeye fans still love JT; or that Buckeye fans were not interested - in the midst of a victory against our arch-rival to cap a special season - in rehashing how the university (and Gene Smith) handled the NCAA clown show. Such attempts to stir up espn talk-show controversies were furthest from our minds.
I wasn't even annoyed at McDonnough, though. More like bemused. He was doing his job, which this year meant talking around us, not to us, because we didn't care about his bullshit. We were too busy enjoying the pure joy the players and coaches have for Buckeye football. That's something the NCAA clown show and eSECpn can never sully.
Next year, we'll climb back into the noise chamber with them. For this one special year, though, the roars of Buckeye fans juxtaposed with the silence from the noise machines was truly music to my ears and soul.