Voice of God

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 29, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Think of your all-time favorite Ohio State football moment.

It's burned into your memory, whether it's Ezekiel Elliott racing 85 yards into the heart of the South, Archie Griffin bouncing like a pinball off of every single USC Trojan or Troy Smith stuffing the entire Michigan defense into a trash can (this is multi-year catalog and all of items in it are worthy).

Mine is everything but obscure. It's the Krenzel-to-Jenkins teardrop on 4th and 1 in West Lafayette 17 years ago, and for a whole bunch of reasons:

  • Circumstances - BCS dreams were on the line with very little time remaining in both the game and in November
  • Paradox - it was the least Jim Tressel play in Jim Tressel play history
  • Aftermath - the rest of the season went very well. Younger readers, you can look it up.
  • Sensory - this was not only a generational moment of Buckeye lore etched into the mind's eye, it was also accompanied by an unexpected and timeless audible epitaph.

And that last bit is what preserves it as a state monument. Brent Musberger's authenticity and surprise, spontaneously cobbled into words, was every last one of us:

They're going to show the I-back behind the fullback here on 4th down...could be up to the offensive line? No! Krenzel's going to throw for it. Gotta get it off. They go for the ballgame...TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN! MICHAEL JENKINS! ON 4TH AND ONE! WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? CRAIG KRENZEL STRIKES WITH A MINUTE AND A HALF LEFT!

Brent thought it was going to be a running play. You thought it was going to be a running play. Purdue thought it was going to be a running play. Everyone thought it was going to be a running play.

It wasn't, and in a show of vulnerability - Brent's surprise and disbelief became the audible, and arguably defining memory of the moment. Holy Buckeye is some mutant combination of Hail Mary and the Ohio State offense's dramatic departure from its normal form. It's hard to say if those two words were ever said in succession prior to that 4th and 1 play in 2002.

Say those two words in succession and your brain completes the rest of the memory.

clarrett strips sean taylor
Maurice Clarrett strips Sean Taylor during the BCS Title Game on Jan 3, 2003; an immortal play that deserved a better soundtrack.

I thought about Holy Buckeye over the weekend when Rod Bramblett and his wife Paula were tragically killed in a car accident. Bramblett was the voice of the Auburn Tigers, which means you might be familiar with some of his work. This was literally the first Auburn football play he ever called. Click that link; it's worth 19 seconds of your time.

That play is called Go Crazy Cadillac. Bramblett spontaneously named it the first time he ever put his words on a moment. That's all Auburn fans have to say to complete the memory.

Bramblett leaned into what I've always believed to be the optimal balance for a sports team's play-by-play voice: Walter Cronkite for mundane moments of information transfer or when the team is losing, seamlessly transforming into Bobcat Goldthwait doing snow angels in a kiddie pool filled with cocaine for moments of triumph. Younger readers, you can look them up.

Because that's how emotions flow when you're living and dying with your team. J.T. Barrett completing an impossible comeback at Penn State's expense, Tyvis Powell prompting 100,000 Michigan fans to spontaneously surrender cobra, Clemson assuring you in the 2nd quarter that the Buckeyes are not going to score a single point in the national seminfinal. Goldthwait. Cronkite.

If you're having trouble imagining what this might sound like, here's Bramblett coming off several grueling minutes of booth review that did not go Auburn's way, resulting in a determination that there was one second left on the game clock. This allowed Alabama to attempt a game-winning field goal against the Tigers.

Bramblett's surprise and disbelief became the audible, and arguably defining memory of the moment. What you hear should match what you're feeling. Simply applying ALL CAPS to the conventional announcer dialogue does not connect to what the fans who are living and dying with the outcome are feeling in the moment. His shock and vulnerability were what made his call perfect.

Krenzel-to-Jenkins was one of dozens of pivotal plays from a harrowing yet triumphant 2002 season; that Ohio State team hung on to win more times than it was able to comfortably discard its opponents. But that play - which helped the Buckeyes thwart an upset bid from a forgettable team with a 4-5 record - was immortalized by a voice that was as off-script as the moment it described.

Anyone can describe what is seen. It takes an uncommon, biased and hopelessly invested talent to spontaneously speak what is being felt. Auburn is gonna win the football game.

I'd have to look up how long Krenzel's pass was, which high school he went to or how many catches that gave Jenkins for the game. But I know exactly how I felt at that moment. I relive the delirium and exhilaration every time I rewatch Holy Buckeye.

And that's mostly because I can still hear it.

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