The lifeblood of universities throughout the country is alumni. Ohio State is no different, and with more than half a million living alumni around the world, OSU is able to have a footprint that rivals the British Empire – the sun never sets on a Buckeye.
Through countless actions, alumni contribute to the betterment of Ohio State, nearly all of which goes to education. Similar to the mission of the academic side of the university, the athletics department also revolves around the past. Former players provide donations, time, lessons and support. They bridge a gap in time and connect the past eras to the present.
The fraternity of Ohio State football players – former and current – is a tight-knit, amalgamation. In the wake of the scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job – and former player-turn-attorney Chris Cicero his law license – players rallied around one another and referred to the bond they shared as a “sacred brotherhood.”
Urban Meyer was hired as Ohio State’s head coach on November 29. Less than four weeks later he wrote a stirring letter to former players, telling them they were welcome inside the program anytime and promising a product they’d be proud of.
As the new Head Football Coach of The Ohio State University Football Team, I extend a special welcome and invitation to all former Buckeye players to join us whenever your schedules allow. The greatness of The Ohio State University and its proud and hallowed traditions come from your contributions and your continued support and attendance of any events that you wish to attend which emphasizes the importance of the great Buckeye Nation.
I also urge you to renew acquaintances and memories of your time in Columbus. While attending The Ohio State University, you contributed to making it a premier academic institution that ranks in the top 1% of colleges and universities in the nation. As you tour the campus, the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility and Ohio Stadium, I am sure that you will feel the energy and excitement of our student athletes and staff, and see the continued growth of Buckeye Football consistent with the tradition that all of you contributed to building.
The tradition of the Big 10 Conference and national championships at The Ohio State University are consistent with the expectations of all former players and alumni. I know that such expectations were a part of the legacies of great Hall of Fame coaches Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper and future Hall of Famer Jim Tressel.
I can only commit to you that I will recruit the best student athletes, coach them as hard as possible to give the maximum effort for four to six seconds on every play in every game on every Saturday that they represent “The Ohio State University.” With intensity and emotion, I am confident that your Buckeye Pride along with your support and loyalty will be rewarded by a hard hitting, dedicated and tough effort from your Buckeye Football Team.
Former Buckeye players and Buckeye alumni and friends everywhere built the great legacy of The Ohio State University. Your loyalty, contributions and sacrifices are sacred and appreciated by all of us. Shelley and I welcome you and pledge to you that your 2012 Buckeye Football Team will add to the legacy of Ohio Stadium.
The gesture was well-received, as the Buckeye Twittersphere immediately blew up with amazement from former players after the letters arrived. Players were encouraged by the warmness, confident in Meyer’s commitment and shocked that he tracked them down.
“I didn’t think you could reach out like you used to be able to,” former OSU running back Pete Johnson said. “The NCAA has all these rules now.”
Johnson wasn’t the only former Buckeye to ponder the NCAA’s foolhardiness. Dave Foley, a captain on the 1968 national championship team, has felt a tinge of animosity toward the giant bully since murmurs about rules violations began in December 2010. Some 18 months later, Foley is squarely in the corner of Team Meyer, but he still isn’t keen on how his program was treated, as if it were a peasant in North Korea.
“I was disappointed with the way the situation evolved,” Foley said. “I have fairly strong feelings against the NCAA. It seems like whatever the regulations are, they over enforce the small things, and they will only find a big thing every four or five years, and then they come in and regulate it and ruin the schools’ program. But the violator is long gone, so I think the actual punishment and the wrongdoing don’t much up.”
While a segment of the fan base has trouble overlooking Meyer beating Ohio State over the head repeatedly to win the 2006 national title, former players are decidedly in favor of Meyer coming back onboard in Columbus.
“He’s doing the right things at the right time,” former All-American linebacker Ike Kelley said. “He’s got a lot on his plate right now. I played in the Buckeye Boosters golf outing Monday and he and his assistant coaches were there, and they are passionate about what they’re doing. Listening to them speak, you can tell this is something special coming on.
“I’m very excited about the season. We couldn’t have found a better coach. He’s got a great resume, and they’re paying him a pretty good dollar to be there, but I think he’ll produce. He’s produced everywhere he’s gone.”
Nothing revs up fans like winning, and Meyer did it often at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. The frequency he racked up victories – similar to the rate at which the Big XII loses members – contributed to his popularity. But Meyer’s outreach to fans and former players also won him legions of supporters. After he took each job, whether it was at a tiny Northwest Ohio outpost or a dusty crossroads in Utah, Meyer incorporated alumni.
Growing up in Ashtabula on Lake Erie, Meyer watched the Woody Hayes-coached Buckeyes run roughshod over the competition. An appreciation for the groundwork laid at Ohio State became ingrained in Meyer during a two-year stint as a graduate assistant in the 1980s. When you serve an apprenticeship under Earle Bruce – a man who revels in OSU’s past glory with a twinkle in his eye like Old St. Nick – you begin to bleed Scarlet and Gray. It was that passion and admiration that led Meyer to the players who helped make Ohio State a bastion of football might.
“We had invitations to go to any spring practice,” Foley said. “We’re having a golf outing this weekend for former players. One member of the coaching staff is at each hole, so we get a chance to meet every member of the staff and have a conversation with them. It’s a really nice way for old players to be connected to the program.
“I’m very excited about this season. I think the Buckeyes are definitely on their way back. You could feel that energy at the spring game.”
It was at that game in April, on a gray, dreary day in Ohio Stadium, where Meyer, again, was introduced to the devotion of Ohio State’s followers. More than 80,000 of them showed up for a glimpse at the guy who was the subject of so many whispers – was he indeed a curer and miracle-maker? World peace and an end to poverty hasn’t come out of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center – yet. But one can imagine Meyer is trying all he can.
Meyer’s previous trip to the old Horseshoe came on Sept. 3, when he was in the booth for ESPN calling the season opener versus Akron. When the band performed its traditional ramp entrance, Meyer admitted tears began rolling down his cheeks. The affection for Ohio State poured out of Meyer as if it were Niagara Falls. It happened again – twice – at the spring game, first when the band played “Hang On Sloopy” to usher in the fourth quarter and again when the team gathered in the south end zone for a rendition of “Carmen Ohio.”
Said Johnson, “When you’re a Buckeye, you’re a Buckeye for life.”