Welcome back to My Favorite Things.
This year is well on its way to being among of the most tumultuous in our country's history - and on top of all of that, sports are on hold. This sucks.
My Favorite Things is an escape to happier days and nights. The philosophy is simple:
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad
So let's do that. Today we're building statues to honor Ohio State's gilded age.
EPISODE 14: 21st CENTURY SNAPSHOTS
If you would like some insight into just how blessed Buckeye football fans have been for the past 20 years, just try to do this exercise on your own. It's too hard to be selective.
So you're not going to find Ted Ginn's gait in here, which would be a crime if Ginn didn't already have his own MFT episode. Will Allen might be the most under-appreciated from both the 2002 and 2003 seasons and here he is again, being under-appreciated - because his fetal position game-clinching INT to end the 2002 Michigan game didn't make the cut.
No Chase Young donning an imaginary Predator helmet? Ezekiel Elliott feeding himself? Carlos Hyde feeding himself? (El Guapo started it; people forget) No Beanie Wells stiff-arming the world into the earth's crust? Yeah, try it. We've been so #blessed.
This exercise required time-traveling meditation and reflection back to 2001 to relive each season one more time - which, in 2020 [looks out window at everything happening] perfect timing.
So for Episode 14, I whittled the first 20 years of the century down to 14 iconic moments - not 14 games or plays or players. Fourteen precise images that captivated us all, where we could freeze the frame, recall where we were, remember how we felt, appreciate what had just transpired - and build a statue out of the instant lifelong memory that occurred during those glorious seconds.
You're welcome to disagree, and this web site allows to you express your displeasure in the comments, which today can be Your Favorite Things.
Here are my favorite images of the 21st century of Ohio State football in chronological order.
2003 - MAURICE CLARETT: THE STRIP
Everything about Maurice Clarett was unfair.
His abbreviated tenure, his ability to see holes before they appeared, how he changed speeds, broke tackles, threaded needles and altered games. He was 18 years old when the 2002 season began and 45 when his freshman campaign ended. Unfair.
The moment Clarett robbed Sean Taylor of what probably should have been a 106-yard pick six changed the course of football history. For about seven seconds, the Buckeyes had no pulse. Their guaranteed scoring drive was now a 10 or 14-point swing in the wrong direction.
Clarett applied the paddles, shocked the game and brought back Ohio State's pulse.
It's hard to find a greater pendulum swing in any single play in program history. This was the final outing of his freshman year, as a Buckeye, as a collegian and in the spotlight. Unfair.
2005 - ANTHONY GONZALEZ: GRAVITY
This was the Michigan game Ohio State was supposed to lose.
In 2005 we were scheduled to return to equilibrium in the series. Michigan had enjoyed the anomaly of the 1990s and Jim Tressel had taken three of his first four shots at the Wolverines, but 2005 was shaping up to end with the Buckeyes in a sleeper hold with the home crowd singing its favorite victory songs.
That team had the talent to break scoreboards, but it had its Ferrari engine delicately placed inside of a Chevy Cavalier Station Wagon frame for most of the season. John Cooper had a habit of saying coaches don't win games; players make plays that win games. He probably watched the 2005 Michigan game and thought where in the hell was this when I was on the sideline.
This was a receiving corps with so much talent, its third option was a 1st round pick.
On a day where Ted Ginn struggled, Santonio Holmes and Anthony Gonzalez did the heavy lifting downfield. This was a receiving corps with so much talent, its third option was a 1st round pick. That third option finished the play of the game, which was started by the icon behind the next moment on this list.
Gonzo in orbit above Ann Arbor and coming down hard with the ball in his possession is one of the 21st century's snapshots. And that little peek in disbelief by Michigan's Grant Mason realizing that Ohio State's third option came down with the ball makes the list as well, by association.
This game broke the series and established the expectation that rivalry equilibrium was a bad theory. It would no longer have any place in Ohio State-Michigan; not this decade or the next one.
2006 - TROY SMITH: THE BULLFIGHTER
Troy Smith's first game in Ohio Stadium had him on the sideline as a backup kick returner. His final game in Ohio Stadium was the capstone for what was the biggest landslide in Heisman history.
It was his third and final humiliation of the Wolverines, where he walked in Tippy Dye's footsteps as a 3-0 starting quarterback in the rivalry while creating paths for Terrelle Pryor (2-0) and J.T. Barrett (4-0) to follow. Beating Michigan once was hard enough. He had already done it twice.
Smith had been marginalized, embarrassed, suspended for petty NCAA violations of amateurism, embroiled in a QB battle which he won in part due to Justin Zwick being injured - and still ended up being the Big Ten's player of the decade. When he came onto the field for Senior Day ahead of the most anticipated Ohio State-Michigan game of all time, the road to here was weighing on him.
He knew what he had overcome. He knew what he had left to do.
So Ohio State's MVP threw up his fist, kicked the last bit of natural grass Ohio Stadium would ever see and then ran to go hug his coach and his family. And then he dug Michigan's grave one more time.
2007 - VERNON GHOLSTON: CASUAL MURDER
Cass Tech-to-Ohio State wasn't just the road less traveled, it wasn't a road at all.
Vern Gholston was poached from Michigan back when Ohio's salt was still piled sky high following two homegrown Heismans and four decades of turncoats heading north to the worst possible destination. Nearly a dozen years to the day prior to Chase Young sacking Wisconsin's Jack Coan four times, Gholston pulled a quattro sacko of his own on Badger QB Tyler Donovan. He grabbed Ohio State's season sack record from Mike Vrabel that year, and a few month ago Young took it from him.
Chad Henne went 0-4 in his career against the Buckeyes, which is insulting enough for a four-year starter. But this sack by Gholston in 2007 - a vicious combination of violence and condescension - was that entire Henne/Hart/Long era rendered down to a single image.
2010 - JAKE BALLARD: MALLARDS SHATTERED
This was the Most Tresselball Game of the Tresselball Era.
The scoreboard showed a nine-point win for the Buckeyes, but the stats suggested a blowout: Oregon had the ball for only 18 minutes. The Ducks had 12 1st downs to the Buckeyes' 26. Pryor outrushed LeMichael James. Jeremiah Masoli had 80 yards passing. Nine-point win. Tresselball, the Portrait.
It was because the Buckeyes used maximum efficiency to reduce Oregon's opportunities to the irreducible minimum. When Jake Ballard left earth to snatch a football Pryor had thrown toward...somewhere...it added a precise dose of demoralization to Ohio State's expert lean operation. It said, even with no margin of error on our side - you will still lose.
Oregon has never beaten Ohio State. Few tight ends rarely construct a statue highlight. Ballard will be soaring into the San Gabriel sunset forever.
2011 - SOLOMON THOMAS: THE END
Solomon Thomas picked off Ryan Mallett late in the 4th quarter, which brought closure to the following:
- The 2011 Sugar Bowl
- Ohio State's SEC albatross
- The Tressel Era
- Pryor's college career
Ohio State had never seen conference or rivalry dominance like it had during the decade which had just closed, and everything - it seemed - would be changing; some good but mostly bad. Thomas' pick capped the era, righted an excruciating wrong (0-9 against SEC teams in bowl games that were mostly unwanted on account of missing the Rose Bowl) and gave Buckeye fans their first ironic S-E-C chant.
A precious moment, from a play that saved the game. It was the last bit of euphoria until Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith to win the Wisconsin game in the only highlight of the 2011 season.
2012 - ZACH BOREN: THE BEGINNING
Devin Gardner grew up an Ohio State fan in Inkster, MI. When the Buckeyes zeroed in on Braxton Miller and didn't come through with a scholarship for him, he burned a letter from OSU and posted it on Twitter. The kid who idolized Troy Smith was now radicalized. Uh oh.
That crosses my mind when I think of Zach Boren's iconic sack from 2012, which was borderline targeting, probably taunting and 100% perfect. The Michigan legacy who had weathered the transition from Tressel to Luke Fickell to Urban Meyer, who along with his brothers never should have ended up becoming Buckeyes - mauling the kid who always dreamed of becoming one.
This was a lot more than just a sack and a flex. It was a tribute to the return to normalcy on the final Saturday of the season.
2014 - JOEY BOSA: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
John Bosa was retired from the NFL for three years when Michael Jordan threw up a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ en route to making six 1st-half three pointers against the Portland Trailblazers in the 1992 NBA Finals. Jordan's expression was basically hey sorry, I can't help destroying you. Joey wouldn't arrive for another three years.
His ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ after sacks (or when scoring the second of his two career touchdowns, above) made what Ohio State was doing feel effortless and fun. The 2014 team was dripping with personalities, and even after dropping that game to Virginia Tech it was the characters on the team that diffused any anxiety about coming up short again.
The 2014 Buckeyes didn't come up short. They ran up the score. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ hey sorry, I can't help destroying you.
2015 - BRAXTON MILLER: THE 360°
I was in Lane Stadium the night he spun around the world, and once the guttural sounds of shock subsided, all that was left were the murmurs. Tens of thousands of people just mumbling to themselves.
The traditional ambient noise of a stadium filled with tens of thousands of people was eerily absent, replaced by a random oh my god from a woman's voice you could clearly hear from a few sections away. Everyone in attendance was looking toward the scoreboard to try and see what had just happened, but in slow-motion. And it wasn't just the fans.
Was on the field for Braxton's touchdown and the second best part - other than the touchdown - was the Ohio State bench audibly gasping.— Ramzy Nasrallah (@ramzy) September 8, 2015
We didn't deserve Braxton Miller, and unfortunately the coaches never figured out the optimal way to use him in his final season. But in a career that gave us innumerable moments, this one jarred the earth's rotation.
2016 - NOAH BROWN: THE IMPOSSIBLE CATCH
Noah Brown missed the 2015 season on account of a gruesome leg injury, and that night against Oklahoma suggested that the Buckeyes missed the hell out of him while he was mending.
Four touchdowns, including this one - which any receiver comes down with maybe once in 1,000 simulations. Brown was largely absent from Ohio State highlights after that night in Norman, but it only takes one flirtation with immortality to become a legacy.
For a horrible example of how this works, check out the 1995 Michigan game. (hey, don't)
2016 - CURTIS SAMUEL: THE BROOKLYN DAGGER
A pair of these iconic moments foreshadowed two of the worst endings in program history.
Smith's bullfighter was a prelude to Ohio State's second 1 vs. 2 victory of the 2006 season. The third, in Glendale, would poorly define the program for nearly a decade. Curtis Samuel's gallop into the north endzone in the second overtime of the 2016 game sent the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff without heading to Indianapolis first. Two trips to Glendale; two catastrophes in the making.
It can never be dark enough for Michigan football, and The Brooklyn Dagger cut all the power.
Yet these two moments are suspended in time. Two players who went 3-0 against Michigan; the one who owned them and the play that ended them. The Brooklyn Dagger - the poster boy for this series - is a trichotomy of player euphoria, set against visitors' anguish, set against a stadium euphoria.
Moments prior to this moment, Michigan thought it had finally cracked the code. The Wolverines believed they were due for a turnaround in a series they still led on account dominance over a club team from 100 years ago. This isn't a blip, and Samuel's romp emphatically closed the door on the idea of fairness and equilibrium in a series this important.
It can never be dark enough for Michigan football. The Brooklyn Dagger cut all the power.
2017 - DENZEL WARD: HURT MY FEELINGS
What Denzel Ward delivered on that play against Maryland was perfect in every respect.
The perfect position, the perfect hit, the perfect result - all ruined by officiating and replay review. Even the broadcast booth call by Gus Johnson was perfect. In the end, the officials erased a fumble recovery and a touchdown, and the replay booth erased Ward from the game.
But the play was too perfect to die on the vine, as with Boom Herron's TD in 2010 against Michigan called back by an egregious holding call on Dane Sanzenbacher, or Ginn's kickoff return in Bloomington negated by a hold 40 yards behind him. Neither of those counted, both are still celebrated - and Ward's barbecue hunt is still lauded on its merit, like a perfect game erased by a bad call at 1st base on the final out.
Fortunately this disastrous sequence of officiating fuckery from the replay booth would never happen again, as Ohio State football has permanently paid its debts to the officiating gods. Especially on Jordan Fuller touchdowns. Yeah, especially those.
2018 - TERRY MCLAURIN: THREE THE HARD WAY
Terry McLaurin was a locker room guy for the majority of his Ohio State career. Speed and character; hands would have been nice but for the better part of his playing time he seemed to drop more balls than he caught. Didn't matter; we all loved Terry.
It was growth, development, a new position coach - or all of it coming together, but McLaurin went from Fast Locker Room Guy to the NFL Rookie Veteran in a matter of months. His Beaver Stadium bowling night was the most memorable block by a Buckeye wide receiver since Evan Spencer took out Alabama's linebacking room during the Sugar Bowl.
Im telling you we take pride in blocking for our brothers https://t.co/R1bIx8QwWi— Terry McLaurin (@TheTerry_25) September 30, 2018
One of the easiest Buckeyes to root for, ever. Maybe the most impressive wide receiver without the ball I've ever seen. When he figured out the ball stuff, he entered a whole new stratosphere - and tax bracket.
2019 - JK DOBBINS: DUNK MICHIGAN
For the better part of my childhood I heard about the 1968 game when the No.2 Buckeyes beat the No.4 Wolverines 50-14 and Woody explained that Ohio State went for two at the end of the game because he couldn't go for three. I don't care if the story isn't 100% authentic because it's a great story and the final score was authentic enough.
I just wished I had been born a decade or more sooner so I could have experienced it.
OHIO STATE SCORED 118 POINTS AGAINST MICHIGAN OVER THE PAST TWO GAMES, WHICH Is just shy of what THE BUCKEYES SCORED AGAINST THE WOLVERINES IN THE 1990s.
Fifty points! Against Michigan! I was in college from 1991-1995, when the Buckeyes scored a grand total of 38 points over four games en route to an 1-2-1 record in that fucking game. Fifty points on a single day? That's impossible. As we've said before in this series:
Pornography isn't supposed to be realistic.
This century has been beyond anything I could have conceived growing up in Columbus.
On the 50th anniversary of Because I Could Not Go For Three the Buckeyes outscored the 1968 team by double digits in a game that Michigan was favored to win. A year later on the 50th anniversary of the Upset of the Century, the ultimate revenge game that spawned the Ten Year War - Ohio State ran up the score again, bringing its two-year total to 118 points.
If you like context, consider that the Buckeyes scored 145 points against the Wolverines during the 1990s. The final touchdown of the second humiliation was JK Dobbins throwing down a dunk to posterize the entire state and extend Ohio State's lead to 29 points (which, again, is more than they scored during my four years in college).
Phenomenal moment. Amazing century. JK All Day, especially in the paint.