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
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:
- 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.
- 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).
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.
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.