Escape from Perfection

By Ramzy Nasrallah on January 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm
excape from perfection
Joe Montgomery runs away from Texas A&M in the 1999 Sugar Bowl

You're still not over it, huh.

It's not hard to tell, going by the forced smirk that appears every time you're told only entitled assbags fail to find joy in a 12-1 season that concludes with the Buckeyes piling up 86 points at the expense of Michigan and Notre Dame.

Nobody wants to cop to being an entitled assbag but that smirk is still all you can muster. Wanted more, expected more, needed more, got less. And now everyone is declaring for the NFL draft with eligibility to spareSmirk.

ohio state michigan 2015
Sorry, I'm too old to ever take this for granted.

Watching the buildup to the second-ever College Football Playoff gave you a touch of nausea, and then seeing Michigan State and Oklahoma getting throttled made you sick. You were instructed like a good soldier to get excited for the Irish in a New Year's Six bowl game anyway. Wanted more, expected more, needed more, beat up the Irish and made Glendale a happy place for the first time ever. That's good! Smirk.

Lots of you bought tickets and made pilgrimages to three postseason games last season. This year the appetite for just one of those trips wasn't nearly the same. Regular season, Big Ten championship, semi-final, national title. This itinerary was cast in stone and as soon as it was cancelled we were lost in a fog. It's Ohio State, so really the trips were just postponed. Mechanical failure or something.

This year's team was supposed to be invincible. No one was beating it; we had to engage in time travel to think up formidable challengers from the past just to pose a threat. The 2015 team garnered comparisons to the greatest Buckeye editions of all time before playing a single game in its title defense. 

One of the overlooked problems with time travel is that Greatest Buckeye Teams of All Time were all honored ex post facto. The 1967 team started the season 2-3 with a 41-6 loss at home. The 2001 team went 7-5. When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in early 2014 the Buckeyes had lost three of their past four games. Legendary teams generally show up unannounced. 

Nobody was getting a jump on crowning the 1968 or 2002 teams. They crowned themselves.

So here's what we know: 1) You're still not over it, and you'll never fully be over it - these are the emotional pitfalls you signed up for when you decided to make Buckeye football matter more than it should. 2) Ohio State failing to win its third national championship in 14 years isn't catastrophe. 3) The smirks of 1998, for those of you old enough to remember, were far more painful.

It's been so much smirkier than this. Yeah, 1998. Until now those reflections had been centered around losing to Michigan State, except there's some more important and damaging context we've been conveniently forgetting.

First, Ohio State was on a crippling 1-8-1 stretch against Michigan under John Cooper when the invincible 1998 team arrived. The previous season it held the eventual national champion Wolverines to 42 yards on 42 carries, literally handed them the game-winning touchdown [Ed: don't click that] and came as close as it ever had to finally winning one up there.

Nearly the entire team returned from 1997 along with seniors that had never beaten Michigan. Second, this was the first year of the BCS which delivered the first-ever official national championship game. The timing could not be better for what was expected to be the most dominant Ohio State team since 1969. It was the preseason #1 and played like it from the moment it hit the field.

And third, it had the best players in the conference nearly across the board: Joe Germaine beat out Drew Brees for 1st team QB, Michael Wiley (and Ron Dayne) were consensus 1st team RBs - and Wiley's backup Joe Montgomery would be a 2nd round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Both guards Rob Murphy and Benji Gilbert were all-Big Ten, as were all three starting pass-catchers David Boston, Dee Miller and John Lumpkin.


On defense Antoine Winfield won the Thorpe while Damon Moore, Andy Katzenmoyer and Na'il Diggs all made the 1st team. Ahmed Plummer was a 1st round draft pick. Even Brent Bartholomew was drafted despite Ohio State rarely punting. It was loaded with hungry, focused stars that played like a team. The Buckeyes beat five ranked opponents by an average of 30-14 and won their five road games by an average blowout score of 39-10. They simply mauled teams.

We don't need to revisit how the Buckeyes inexplicably lost to a 6-6 no-bowl Michigan State team that season, but we should remember what happened afterwards because it's relevant to your smirk in 2016: Ohio State took out its frustration in Iowa City the following week and then tore apart #11 Michigan on Senior Day to create a three-way tie for the Big Ten title.

Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl since Michigan and Ohio State had been more recently, Michigan got the Citrus and Ohio State got into the inaugural BCS with tickets to New Orleans for the second straight season. The Fiesta Bowl served as the national title and it chose undefeated Tennessee and one-loss Florida State, whose bad loss to NC State safely occurred on the road in September, rather than at home in November.

So Ohio State easily handled Texas A&M in its BCS bowl and watched the Volunteers survive the Seminoles - and we couldn't help but wonder what might have happened had the Buckeyes been forgiven for their slip-up. After all, the Big Ten went undefeated in its bowl games that season while the SEC needed Tennessee to win to finish the postseason at .500. Mississippi State won the West and finished with five losses. That's what stood between the Vols and the title game.

Here's how badly we didn't get over the 1998 team failing to win it all, as we had all expected for a solid year in advance: Kirk Herbstreit got on Columbus radio with whoever he was doing Columbus radio with at the time (forgive my lack of details; I've worked very hard to forget this ever happened) and did a live, real-time broadcast of Ohio State playing Tennessee on Sony Playstation. [lowers voice] That happened.

the one who knocked
Still the danger in 2016. Nothing stops this train.

And in a stunner, Ohio State won and claimed the pretend national championship. On Columbus radio.

A couple weeks ago I went to the Pinstripe Bowl featuring Indiana and Duke teams just happy to be anywhere but home. After the game I was in a subway car packed with Hoosiers, several of whom were lugging large, clear plastic bags stuffed with every Pinstripe Bowl souvenir they could get their hands on. Their team had just lost its seventh game.

Ohio State was days away from playing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and these IU fans looked much happier than I felt about the Buckeyes' upcoming consolation prize. Indiana football isn't the standard for anything worth celebrating but the point is we have breached championship saturation. Anything less than a title feels like something was stolen. And that's no way to enjoy what the Buckeyes have done over the past year, four years and current century.

Smirk all you want - if you're still failing to enjoy what Ohio State delivered in 2015 then you deserve nothing good (and I'm saying this to me too, because I need it). This is the fight against joylessness. It's not like getting blown out by Florida after 2006. It's losing something we constructed in our minds that was too beautiful to exist.

Over the next eight months you're going to read about the bright promise of a whole bunch of newish Buckeyes who have been waiting impatiently to get on a field that was blocked from them by way too many former teammates, most of whom will be millionaires before football starts up again. There's going to be absolutely nothing resembling The Grind in 2016, and this might make you happy because you're still smirking at how Ohio State's 2015 ended up ending up.

But you shouldn't. And I shouldn't. Because no one wants to be an entitled assbag.

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