As he began the press conference, Urban Meyer went out of his way to bring up Ohio State's opponent — a rare, but this week, a logical occurrence for the football coach. The opposition means that much to him.
"I want to say a couple of things also about a great school we're playing this week, Bowling Green. I love that school," Meyer said Monday.
Ohio State's current head coach isn't always this forthcoming when he meets reporters to provide updates on his team before its next game. But the football program that doubles as the defending Mid-American Conference Champion forever holds reservations on the island that is Meyer's heart. He remembers the day he told his wife, Shelley, he took his first head coaching job at a place about 25 miles south of Toledo in the upper corner of Northwest Ohio.
"I remember we got, one of those preseason magazines came out, I think we were 129, or 119 or something like that. That was our ranking," Meyer said. "I thought, 'you have to be blanking me' when I saw that. I didn't know there were 129 teams or 119 teams."
Meyer recalled posting that ranking on the walls of Bowling Green's weight room, looking for something, anything, to motivate his team as a 36-year-old head coach trying not to screw the start of his career up. He said he didn't want to make his Monday press conference a trip down memory lane — after all, things have changed quite a bit since he donned the Falcon orange and brown in 2001 and 2002.
Meyer's name is now synonymous with the elite in college football. Just like Ohio State, his current employer, where it is his responsibility to replace 16 starters and 12 NFL Draft picks with a young but talented roster and get back to the top of the Big Ten's mountain in 2016.
"We're excited to get going this week," Meyer said.
That much is certain, but it is difficult to dispel the notion that when Meyer trots out onto the Ohio Stadium turf Saturday for the high noon matchup, he'll fight back a smile or two. His affection for the place and people that gave him his first chance to lead a program runs deep.
"I still remember that to this day, when I think about Bowling Green, it's one of the most tradition-rich programs in the MAC," Meyer said. "A lot of great respect for them."
His first Bowling Green team finished five games over .500 and secured a win at Missouri in its season opener, though Meyer claimed he only had 50 players to take on the travel roster. Among them? "Some receivers who couldn't catch."
"We sat there, I looked at Shelley, what if we lose every game we play, because who knew? She said 'I bet you win tomorrow,'" Meyer said. "I looked at her and I said 'we have no freaking chance of winning this game tomorrow.'
"Something happened in the middle of the night. I remember waking up, our staff and our players thought they'd win it, and they did."
“I'm still extremely close with those players. We had a little reunion up there last year, a fundraiser, and a lot of guys will show up at practice still. And I keep in touch with them.”– Urban Meyer on Bowling Green
The Falcons took down the Tigers 20-13 that day, Meyer's players bought into what he and his staff were selling and won seven more games that season. Nine more victories came in 2002 before Meyer left to be the head coach at Utah.
"I'm still extremely close with those players," Meyer said. "We had a little reunion up there last year, a fundraiser, and a lot of guys will show up at practice still. And I keep in touch with them."
Meyer does the same with the players he coached in his first four seasons at Ohio State. They won 50 games together, in addition to a Big Ten Championship and national title. But those currently on the roster said they had yet to see the admiration toward Bowling Green from their head coach that he showed the media Monday morning.
"For Coach Meyer specifically, I haven’t seen that," Billy Price said, before admitting it is different for his position coach, Greg Studrawa, a 1987 Bowling Green graduate.
"Coach Stud, we mentioned that last week. He said, ‘Oh, those are my boys but not on Saturday.’ It’s competitive, it’s friendly," Price said. "You still have your alumni ties to Bowling Green and we respect it, but with Coach Meyer, we haven’t seen that dynamic yet."
It is unknown how much Meyer will show his team what Bowling Green means to him. He might refrain completely because after all, the Falcons represent the enemy this week.
Meyer speaks often about tradition and keeping what is important in the forefront with this Ohio State team. He did the same thing when he led the Falcons for two seasons.
"Every university he started a tradition and how it was here, he wanted to do that there," defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. "He gave that team a tradition. He just builds off that. He's a very traditional type of guy."
It is untraditional for Meyer to discuss Ohio State's opponent with the media while wearing a smile on his face. He did that multiple times on Monday, remembering that preseason magazine, his first team media guide and a quick fundraiser that allowed his players to receive free shoes and T-shirts even though they were the wrong color.
"I loved my time there and a lot of great people there," Meyer said.
But this is about winning, and winning now. Meyer's eagerness to see what his crop of young talent can do Saturday outweighs the emotions that come with facing off against his old program.
"I'm real excited about them. I'm trying to hold down the excitement because I really am," Meyer said. "I can't wait to watch them play."