It's bad enough that I failed to recognize an important anniversary of Ohio State football. (That would be the 115th anniversary of the Buckeye's first game – a 20-14 win over Ohio Wesleyan on May 3, 1890).
Yes, that's oversight enough. But to skip comment on Yogi Berra's 80th birthday would be egregious, indeed!
Why Yogi? Because he is every sportswriter's holy grail. Eminently quotable and so startlingly funny and original that he makes any pundit covering him seem startlingly funny and original. He certainly didn't say all the things that were accredited him ("I didn't really say everything I said"), but he had so much fantastic and spontaneous material that it doesn't matter. (Asked once what time it was, he responded, "You mean now?") And he has given me some advice to which I still adhere ("Never answer an anonymous letter").
You might ask, how does this ugly mug of a Yankee baseball player fit into an Ohio State football column? Well, I could stretch to point out that George Steinbrenner fired Yogi and that George is a staunch Buckeye loyalist. But, no, that wasn't what I was thinking…
I was thinking how much the Yogi Berra phenomena reminded me of the Woody Hayes phenomena. I will posit right here – and over and over again – that the fabulously funny and original Woody wasn't intentionally funny at all. Much like Yogi. Think of all the strange and hilarious things that Woody said and did. How many were intended to be humorous? In fact, some might say that Woody didn't have much of a sense of humor. That his unintended "funnies" were really serious monologues gone goofy.
It is said that there is a distinct difference between a "comic" and a "comedian". A comedian says funny things and a comic says things funny. Woody was a comic. Jim Tressel can be a comedian. Maurice Clarett is a comic. No, wait, make that a buffoon. I guess you can slip over the edge in this unintentional comedy stuff…
But that's another story for another time. Later in this column…
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A class so good – they might just skip that year…For many recruiting seasons, fans longed for an offensive line class that would eventually provide a group of starters and would yield quality back-ups from the get-go. The class last year seemed to be just such an example: a "project" in early-arriver Steve Rehring and some tough front-line kids in Ben Person, Kyle Mitchum, and Jon Skinner. But in the "life is timing" proposition, guys have to fit in between other classes and the right positions have to present themselves. There is a possible scenario in which this entire group – unquestionably talented and superior to the groups in previous years, might not start at all!
Here's how: For 2005, OSU seems to be going tackle-to-tackle with Sims-Datish-Mangold-Downing-Barton. The aforementioned 2003 boys are basically all in the two-deep right behind them. Then next year, Mangold and Sims are gone but Jim Cordle could be the center of the future while Alex Boone seems destined for that left tackle spot. The other three '05 starters are back: Datish and Downing as seniors and Barton as a junior. Then, in 2007 (when the '03 class will be one senior and three juniors…), the 2006 class could be ready. If we are lucky enough to land the likes of Aaron Brown and Conner Smith and others this year, you've got your tackle and guard replacements right there. And that's without any other additions (Lee Tilley, an out-of-state grab, Super Frosh, etcetera) in between.
The likelihood, of course, what with injuries and developmental issues, is that 1-4 of the '03 class will find plenty of time toiling in the trenches. In fact, Ben Person could be a starter for a long time. But football presents many unknowns. Like Maurice Clarett. But that's for later in the column…
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Does leaving early help Buckeye players?… No, I'm not talking leaving the Buckeyes early, I'm talking leaving high school early. In recent years, we have had more of the latter than the former. And while a Chris Gamble or a Derek Ross depart prematurely, Ohio State has a tradition of high school seniors skipping their prom and getting in an extra half-year of workouts with the college guys. Maurice Clarett started this tradition, it seems, coming in with high hopes, a dinged thumb and a set of small problems that grew into overwhelming problems (hey – you can look it up, but that's for later…). But he did start his first game in his "officially" freshman year. And that started a party orgy of a season from which we are still suffering hangovers.
The following year saw heralded Donte "Lights Out" Whitner and unheralded Ashton "Sheik" Youboty arrive on campus a semester early. Both of these kids saw a ton of action their first full season and both seem destined for big-time stardom. Michael Roberts also emigrated from Canada early. Then the next year? Steve Rehring was on campus early. His work ethic, size, ability to learn, size, efforts, and size vaulted him – in a sizeable surprise, into the two-deep as a freshman tackle. A pleasant surprise, that is. Marcus Freeman and Tony Pittman came in early and both got huge jumps because of it. And now Lancaster's Jim Cordle is an early-arriver. The buzz? Hot. This kid, with the fabulous first step, could be a long-time fixture at center for the Buckeyes. Mangold is leaving, Datish is more of a guard and – getting started early – has proven timely for Buckeye players these past few seasons.
BTW, expect Chris Wells to be an early guy next season. And expect great things. Maybe he can re-claim, and then redeem that #13…
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You can feel the draft from here…Ohio State had a relatively quiet Day at the Draft on April 23-24, with the only surprises being Clarett (more on that later…) drafted so early and Fraser not drafted at all (talking about polar extremes of character…). The Buckeye draft experience seems to be an every-other-year impact with a treasure trove one year (2004) and bare representation the next (2005)
Which got me to thinking: The 2002 team will go down in history as one of the greatest ever; it already holds the distinction of having the best record in the history of college football! But from a draft perspective, how many players off that team have been drafted? I'm not talking about free agents and the like – I'm talking about players that were taken (drafted) in the first two days. And this is what I discovered:
Players already drafted off the 2002 team: Will Allen, Tim Anderson, Drew Carter, Maurice Clarett, Adrien Clarke, Mike Doss, Dustin Fox, Chris Gamble, Cie Grant, Ben Hartsock, Michael Jenkins, Donnie Nickey, Mike Nugent, Shane Olivea, Kenny Peterson, Robert Reynolds, BJ Sander, Darrion Scott, Will Smith, Alex Stepanovich and Matt Wilhelm.
If you're keeping score at home, that's a remarkable 21 players from that remarkable team that were drafted by the pros. I know you are used to reading remarkable things in this column but that's truly standout stuff. And…wait! Even that team of greats will tell you that the smaller contributors (on scout team, partial players, the three-deep) all contributed in some critical way. And who were those players, players that also should get drafted by the Big Boys? How about: Bobby Carpenter, Mike D'Andrea, Ryan Hamby, AJ Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Mike Kudla, Nick Mangold, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley and Rob Sims. That doesn't even include guys that red-shirted that year such as Justin Zwick, Troy Smith and Marcus Green (or Anthony Schlegel, who was playing at Colorado Springs in 2002).
Add those likely draftees to the former list and you get the astounding total of 31 players off of one team that will play professional football. I would like someone to put up a Miami or a USC or an Oklahoma list to see if they can top that…
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Another modest proposal…We know the Buckeyes are going to miss this set of linebackers. When you look at Hawk/D'Andrea/Schelgel/Carpenter, you are looking at the best group in the nation. And probably the best group that ever played at Ohio State, which is a rich history, indeed. But let's look down the road a bit. And the future looks good there, as well.
Marcus Freeman is a monster and would start on almost any other team in the Big Ten. Duane is already comparing Hoobler to the Big Kat (perhaps prematurely, but you get the idea) and both Brandon Smith and Curtis Terry have the type of talent to get you excited. So here's the question: Hoobler burned a year of eligibility last season on just a smattering of plays – why burn another one this year?
At best, Chad gets mop-up time behind Schlegel and D'Andrea. Plus, there's John Kerr if we get injury prone. Plus (II), I love the idea of putting the huge fast Carpenter in the middle and letting Freeman roam the field with Carpenter and Hawk. Is the minimal playing time Hoobler will get worth the loss of a year? I say, red-shirt Chad this year so that he can be Da Man for three more glorious seasons. And – don't forget – Ross Homan is coming. And if I have my way, so is Thuper Thaddeus Gibson…
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Tradin' paint and swappin' ends…I say that OSU football will give a football scholarship to Josh Chichester to create a free basketball player for Thad Matta if Matta gives them first dibs on having David Lighty play football without burning a schollie for Jim Tressel. It all seems simple enough to me.
Lighty is probably the best WR in Ohio. But he isn't playing football. The only hair in this theoretical soup is the "James Aston Example". In that example, wrestler/footballer James Aston is to accept a wrestling schollie and then walk on as a football player. If he plays, the scholarship counts against the higher revenue sport (football, natch…). I think the same choreography covers my creative David Lighty/Josh Chichester example, unfortunately…
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Hey ESPN, I've got your apology right here…Right here on page 93 of your tabloid rag. After splashing your fabricated indictment on Page One, I will allow that you can use that same sense of journalistic integrity you have exhibited thus far by burying an OSU apology in the back of your sleazy magazine. That would give you some plausible deniability. That would allow you to talk about "sports journalism" in the traditional hushed tones without smirking. We could talk about "yellow journalism", but that's another story. And one you wouldn't see fit to print…
I know that other apologists have covered this item this week but I'm still hot. And I don't like the line of reasoning that, gosh, if Clarett would have been "more cooperative", we would have dug up some dirt. He brought this dirt in and handed it to Tom Friend once. Then, he was credible? Now, he's not?
Hey, Maurice Clarett and Steve Feldman: I've got your apologies written for you, too. After besmirching Coach Tressel and impugning Andy Geiger, you can now come clean. Feldman is the agent/Henry Higgins that turned "Mo Crap" into "Mo Money", allowing Maurice to wallow publicly in the trash and tripe he spewed, and then squeezed out hundreds of thousands of dollars at the expense of the university he maligned. It's not sports, is it? It's spin. It's ESPiN. It's PR for dollars.
ESPN can't put the toothpaste back in the tube after splattering the Buckeye reputation all over the tube. Along with co-conspirator and sister sycophant ABC, the ESPN organization made a living off of half-truths, the sly implication and Buckeye bashing. ESPNuendo. For the one (self-reported) charge that did stick through this whole sham, Troy Smith made but $500 inappropriately off the football program. ESPN and ABC made millions.
And Tom Friend of ESPN the Magazine made a reputation built on trashy reporting. Again, at the University's expense and betrayal. Then after he got pantsed publicly this week, Friend had the lack of grace to say that Ohio State intimidated witnesses. He is the story. The story is about the story he conjectured. How about e-mailing Tom (no Friend of mine…) at email@example.com and telling him what you think? Make it personal. Make it truthful. See if he can tell the difference.
We'll wait for all the apologies to roll in now that the DNA has cleared OSU for the crimes they didn't commit. Yeah, we'll wait. We had more bad exposure last year than the Michigan player who couldn't keep his pants up. That incident, by the way, turned out to be more heinous than all the media lies and implications brought against Ohio State combined. But who will remember?
The Buckeye Nation should remember. And remember on September 10 when ESPN shamelessly – and with no hint of irony – brings their Gameday Crew to Columbus. Remember when they jump on the bandwagon next year like a proud spouse just after wiggling off the domestic abuse charge. Remember their corporate credo: If you don't like the real news, go out and make up some of your own.
And remember what my daddy used to say: It's not what they call you, it's only what you answer to. Right now, ESPN has a lot to answer to.
Hey ESPN. Where is that apology?
If you want to either call or answer to Mr. Bucknuts, try him at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com