In This Era, Rose Bowl Still Lofty Goal

Ohio State has been to the national championship game three times since its last Rose Bowl appearance in 1996, and perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder. The Buckeyes questioned this week, prior to this week's de facto Big Ten title game against Iowa, talked about Rose Bowl memories and what it would mean to finally take a trip to Pasadena.

In 1996, Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth with a nail-biting, closer-than-expected win at Indiana in the season's penultimate game. Two years ago, the Buckeyes thought they had punched their ticket to Pasadena by clinching the Big Ten title on the Michigan Stadium field.

The common thread between those two games? The Buckeyes' traditional rose celebration took place on the opposing field.

On Saturday, 10th-ranked OSU can bring the Rose Bowl celebration to Ohio Stadium. The winner of the game between the Buckeyes and No. 15 Iowa will earn the Big Ten's bid into the BCS, and barring a colossal shake-up of the top 10 in the BCS rankings, the plane tickets to Pasadena.

"You come to Ohio State to win Big Ten championships and get an opportunity to go to the national championship, but if that doesn't quite work out the Rose Bowl is definitely up there," Ohio State senior Jake Ballard said. "It's something Ohio State hasn't been to in a while, and it's something that I think the Buckeyes need to bring back to Columbus."

Ohio State's last trip to Southern California for a bowl was after that 1996 season, so long ago that most of the players on the team were less than 10 years old. As a result, many of them are too young to remember the raucous celebration that took place on Indiana's Memorial Stadium field after OSU's 27-17 win against Indiana that season.

Thousands of Buckeye fans – who hadn't seen their team qualify since the 1984 season – raced onto the field to celebrate with the players and haul down south end zone goalposts. The cover of Buckeye Sports Bulletin that week featured a large photo of tailback Dimitrous Stanley holding a rose in his mouth, and game star Matt Finkes said that the Buckeyes had "finally realized (their) dreams."

Ballard said he did not remember that outpouring of emotion, but he did remember watching the Buckeyes come from behind to beat Arizona State in the actual bowl game thanks to a late touchdown.

"I was at Disney World and my dad and his buddy were watching it," Ballard said. "I wasn't really watching much of the game, but seeing how excited they were when they won it, it shocked me that it was just a football game. I think that's when I started realizing Ohio State and started paying attention a little more."

Many associated with the Ohio State program – especially those from Ohio – have similar recollections of the game from their childhood.

"That was always a bowl that I watched as a kid growing up," said wideout DeVier Posey. "My mom really likes bands and everything like that, and she always made us sit down and watch the parade, and we would always watch the game. I've watched it almost every year I've known about football. It would be a dream come true for me."

That goes all the way to head coach Jim Tressel, whose father Lee was a longtime fan of the game in addition to working as a college head coach himself.

"January 1 in our house, (we had) two black and white TVs set up side by side, that old 30-pot coffee, that little silver thing – my dad never got off the couch," said Tressel, who is yet to coach in a Rose Bowl. "Man, we were taking him coffee and switching stations. Shoot, you were living on January 1."

When Tressel was younger, the bowl – the first postseason game in college history when it debuted in 1902 – stood out for more than the fact there weren't the 34 bowl games that Division I-A teams will go to after the '09 season.

In addition to the parade and pageantry, the national championship often was on the line, and it allowed football strongholds in the Midwest/East and West Coast to measure themselves. For years, the only bowl a Big Ten team could go to was the Rose Bowl, and Ohio State has made 12 appearances overall.

The game's importance in the college football calendar has waned with the rise of the Bowl Championship series and the lengthening of the bowl season; nine games – including the BCS National Championship Game hosted in Pasadena on Jan. 7 – will take place after New Year's Day, compared to the five on Jan. 1.

"I suppose the BCS has added something to your overall thinking, something to your set of goals," Tressel said. "But it's a big deal and I don't know that the BCS minimizes what excitement you would gain from that and what an honor that would be."

Ballard would know, having been one of the Buckeye players to celebrate in Michigan Stadium with roses in 2007. Ohio State thought it was headed for the Rose Bowl after entering that weekend ranked seventh in the nation, but a fortuitous chain of events instead sent the Buckeyes to the BCS title game.

Looking back on that party two years ago, Ballard said the emotion of having secured what they thought was a trip to Pasadena was real.

"We were really excited," he said. "It was something special. You always see pictures of players with the roses after the game. At Michigan, it was great to celebrate with our friends and family. We were fortunate to go to the national championship game that year, but we were excited to go to the Rose Bowl."

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