It was eight weeks ago Friday. Eight weeks since the Buckeyes entered the ring as a decided underdog against supposed heavyweight Miami. Eight weeks since reporters and sportswriters across the nation scoffed at notions that the Buckeye squad belonged on the same field as the vaunted Hurricanes. Eight weeks since talking heads on the television openly joked about the Buckeyes' chances at a victory and hooted and hollered with glee whenever someone dared to predict an Ohio State win. Unfortunately for them, it has also been eight weeks since the boys clad in Scarlet and Gray defeated the Hurricanes and in the process physically mauled them so badly that they literally put not one but two Heisman runners up in the hospital.
In memory of the victory, it might be time to take a look back and examine the thinking behind the reports of sportscasters, writers, and other so-called experts using their own words and arguments.
This series is merely an attempt to scrutinize possible presuppositions and thinking patterns exposed in the weeks leading up to the contest. Such an endeavor is useful because it was these patterns that led to Miami's remarkable transformation from the squad that was being handed their lunch in November by RUTGERS in the fourth quarter to becoming an "unbeatable team."
**** A cautionary note should be sounded before beginning. In no way is this designed to belittle individuals or call out papers, periodicals, journalists, and even television networks for their coverage leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. Since this is the purpose, quotations will not be footnoted or identified with an author when cast in a negative light. A full listing of all articles used will be provided at the conclusion of each day's article. If for some reason any author listed below would like their work pointed out, then I will be happy to do so if contacted by them.
Entering the game, it was a forgone conclusion that Ohio State could not hope to match up with the amazing speed of Miami.
·After citing a Donnie Nickey comment questioning the notion of "Florida Speed" one writer all but ridiculed the Buckeye senior captain, stating, "Sorry, but Miami IS where the speed is. And combined with a quick-strike offense directed by Ken Dorsey, the Hurricanes will sprint away from the Buckeyes, win their 35th straight game and become the second team since 1979 to win back-to-back national crowns."
·Kellen Winslow blithely blurted out, "We're way too fast for Ohio State. What conference are they in? The Big Ten? Ohio State and Nebraska are both power teams. It'll be like Nebraska was last year…"
·A Miami Herald writer defended this assertion, "So Winslow said Ohio State couldn't keep up with his Hurricanes the same way he might say he had cereal for breakfast. It was fact, not boast."
·A Chicago columnist quoted Coker and tacked on his opinion, ''It amazes me how fast they can run,'' Coker says of his players. The speed is napping as the coach speaks. But you have to figure that when it awakens and comes together at the Fiesta Bowl, it will amaze Ohio State, too."
I am a firm believer that multiple items are at work with this notion.
First, the Big Ten and plains teams often employ a style of offense that may encourage the casual observer to perceive them as a "slow" team. Ground based offensive attacks generally run off more time with each score because the clock does not stop between plays (as it does with an incompletion). The yardage gained per rush does not equal the yards per attempt of a passing team, and more snaps are necessary to advance down the field. The direct result is a drive that frequently lasts 4-8 minutes and feels like an inevitable reality. On the other hand, pass-happy offenses in temperate climates are more likely to break off large plays and either score rapidly or lose the ball on downs. This leads to over-rated shock-value statistics like "average time per scoring drive" and leaves the viewer stunned and asking the question, "How in the world did they score so quickly?!?!"
Second, the Big Ten and other traditional rushing based conferences may have identical speed but use the bodies differently. A physical offense necessitates a physical defense to stop it. Therefore, someone who is 6'3, 245, 4.5 who might play at defensive end in the South or against a passing offense (to better harry quarterbacks) would generally be used as a linebacker somewhere like Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Colorado. A 6'2", 275, 4.8 young man might be used as a defensive tackle in a defense designed to thwart the pass or stop a scat-back, but he would most likely be a defensive end if a team has to stop 230 lb backs with a fullback charging in front of him on a regular basis. This changing, but it is a slow process and does not come easily. Big Ten and Big 12 teams must slowly morph the usage of bodies so that they ensure their ability both to win their conference against rushing offenses while still being able to compete in their bowl games. In the end, this is not a question of one region having more speed as much as it is how that speed is used.
Finally, this lack of speed stereotype relies on the false presumption that this is always true for every team from the Midwest or Plains. Clearly that is not correct. Nebraska absolutely humiliated Spurrier's and Fulmer's teams in the 1990's and had at least equal if not superior football speed when needed. Apparently Michigan had enough speed to win a national title in 1997. Ohio State sent a bevy of burners to the NFL during the 1990's including Joey Galloway, Shawn Springs, and Robert Smith. Granted, there have been years in which cold weather programs looked like Don Corleone had encased their feet in cement the evening before the game. However, stereotypes are just that - stereotypes. To accept them without question is perilous at best and foolhardy at worst.
Swallowing the Press Clippings and Swelling the Head…
Miami was a fabulous team over the past 3 years. There is no denying this fact. Say what you want about them playing in the Big East and not facing top competition, but the Hurricanes defeated all comers. Since the second half of the 1999 football season, this is a program whose record was 42-2 entering the Fiesta Bowl. Nobody else even approaches that mark over the same span. They should have been favored. However, they apparently became a victim of their own success by reading, believing, and swallowing too many press clippings without spitting out the hook. As a result, Ohio State gigged them like some hapless frog caught in a spotlight.
·"Asked what he thought of Ohio State, defensive lineman Jerome McDougle said he hadn't seen enough to form an opinion. A reporter asked McDougle if he would please talk some trash, just for fun, and without smiling McDougle said, "We're real humble. We talk with our helmets and our play. We're a different Miami team. Old days, Miami would beat you up and tell you. We're just going to beat you up."
·"Someone asked Miami defensive lineman Vince Wilfork about Ohio State freshman running sensation Maurice Clarett. "He's just a guy," Wilfork said. And Miami is just a team. That's what everyone thinks. Now it's Ohio State's turn. Miami awaits."
·Wilfork was further quoted in another article as saying, "I've seen (Clarett); he's just another guy. He's no better than any of the other backs we've faced."
·Romberg apparently forgot that the game was on January 3, 2003 and that they needed to win first and then be fitted for jewelry; "We've been unstoppable the last three years," said All-American center Brett Romberg. "We should have three rings. But we'll take two any way we can get them."
·Gore played the role of Clarett for the Miami scout team but refused to wear #13 in an ultimate show of disrespect because he believes he is a better tailback. "He is a good back," Gore said of Clarett, "But if our defense can stop me in practice, they can stop anybody. And they pretty much have been doing a good job against me. But don't think I'm not tearing them up. You know I'm going to do my thing. But I've got quicker and better moves than Clarett does. No disrespect, but I'm quicker and faster."
·"You'd have to be crazy to pick against us," says Miami tailback Willis McGahee."
·The Sportscenter Game Day crew reported that before taking the field, Miami players said that they intended to run up the score on Ohio State to prove they were the best team…
The issue here is not just that Miami bought into their own hype but that the media did as well. By building Miami up as an unbeatable dynasty, they actually contributed to the arrogance of the Hurricanes squad. Then, in a move that can only be labeled circular logic, the writers imbibed the stories they penned and the braggadacio the Hurricanes exuded (again - which the media helped create). This belief in turn led to a similar spat of behavior by reporters who frankly should have known better when they ridiculed Ohio State's chances and cited the quotes of the Miami players as fact rather than opinion. The attitude appeared to be a classic syllogism: (1) The Hurricanes do not think they can be defeated. (2) WE, the media, do not think they can be defeated. (3) Therefore, they cannot be beaten and anyone who dares disagree with this sentiment is a hopeless fool or a Buckeye homer worthy of scorn.
Any data that did not go along with such notions was dismissed. Any quotes that disagreed with the idea that Miami was unbeatable was rationalized away. Sadly, even when one article reported "Rasouli was asked if Ohio State could play with Miami. "Of course," he said. "We were losing in the fourth quarter to Rutgers," the article itself ignored the remark (and evidence). Like others, it took the direction that Miami had too much talent for Ohio State to even dream of competing and that the close calls against Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Florida State were just a mysterious string of aberrations much like the Bermuda Triangle.
The perils of such a move should have been apparent. "Unbeatable" Miami teams fell to under-rated underdogs in both 1992 and 1986. In both instances, the same sports media acted in a nearly identical manner. They first built up the Hurricanes as an invincible team with an awesome offense, then helped foster an environment of arrogance, and finally eschewed and belittled Penn State and Alabama as hopeless underdogs.
When will the sports media learn from these mistakes? Instances like this season, 1986, and 1992 (not to mention 1997 Michigan, 1998 Tennessee, and 2000 Oklahoma) should be professionally embarrassing. Unfortunately, instead of learning from the debacle by reassessing faulty presuppositions and methodology, they all run for cover. Finger pointing begins where reporters take cover behind their collective ignorance by saying that "nobody" knew this could happen when this is patently untrue.
There were plenty of journalists, fans, coaches, and obviously 100+ players for Ohio State that felt that this result could happen. Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, Michigan fans - I had plenty of people telling me to just ignore what folks wrote and said because Ohio State stood a fine chance of winning this football game. There were even articles written by nationally known journalists that either picked Ohio State to win it all or hold the game close until the fourth quarter.
To say that "this must be an upset of epic proportions because nobody thought it could happen" is simply untrue and an attempt to justify poor work rather than simply admitting - "Hey, I blew it. Ohio State had more heart, talent, coaching, leadership, and discipline than I realized. Miami on the other hand was clearly not all I made it out to be."
The Buckeyes Should Have Saved Themselves the Embarrassment…
In a sad display, multiple writers proved that it is possible to share the same brain even if one is not born a Siamese twin.
·"Attention, Ohio State. There is one hope Miami won't turn you into bean dip at the Fiesta Bowl. Brain Death."
·"The only way Miami will lose this game is if it beats itself. Given the outstanding senior leadership this team has with players like Romberg, Dorsey, guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli and defensive end James McDougle - that seems unlikely."
·Yet another writer apes these thoughts, taking it a step further with barbs directed at Craig Krenzel and the entire Big Ten conference; "Ohio State's resurgence is a great story, but the story will end badly in the Arizona desert. The Buckeyes aren't going to come within three touchdowns of winning this game. Not with a quarterback who couldn't start for any of the five Division I-A teams in the state of Florida. The Buckeyes, bless their boring Big Ten hearts, couldn't throw change into a tollbooth receptacle."
·After discussing items that would be dissected in great detail before the game, one article concluded, "All those give Ohio State a chance, which is like saying Miss Uzbekistan can win the Miss Universe contest. Anything can happen if it comes down to Larry Coker in the swimsuit competition, but let's be honest. Miami is a football monster rippling with muscles and speed. Ohio State's only chance is for the organ controlling those functions to go on the fritz."
·One set of rankings issued in a nationally known newspaper on December 12 placed OSU second in the nation with this caveat in the caption; "Only chance Buckeyes have in Phoenix is if one of the Insight Bowl teams shows up by accident."
Each of these comments employed incredibly flawed logic. It is one thing to write that Ohio State has a slim chance at victory, but it is entirely different to assert that the Buckeye's singular hope is that Miami does not show up. Applying this line of reasoning to past sporting events, the Amazin' Mets should have never taken the field against the Orioles in 1969. The Miracle on Ice with the 1980 United States Hockey team would never have happened because clearly the most reasonable course of action would have been to forfeit to the physically superior USSR squad. The 1992 Crimson Tide and 1986 Nittany Lions should have stayed home during the holidays and missed their shot at a national title against two other "unbeatable" Miami teams that ultimately whiffed on a full count. In 1990, Buster Douglas should have saved himself the jetlag and embarrassment of facing Mike Tyson in Japan. N.C. State should have acted in their own interest and bowed before the magnificence of Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma instead of having the cheek to think they could claim the 1983 NCAA Basketball Championship.
Such thinking and logic is almost unforgivable for sports journalists. One would think that of all classes of people, they would know better. These are men and women who claim to be paragons of expertise on sporting events past and present. Prattling off lists of great upsets comes as naturally for them as lying for a politician and indecency to Christina Aguilera. Until the game has been played and the clock winds down to zero, it is professionally perilous and even irresponsible to proclaim that one team has no chance and should save itself the embarrassment by not showing up.
Tomorrow - Part II: More Assumptions Unmasked
Tim Brando, "Some Things are Worth Seeing Twice." The Sporting News, November 20, 2002.
Bob Wojnowski, "Hey OSU Fans: UM Would do you a Favor by Winning." The Detroit News, November 22, 2002.
Ron Rappaport, "Ohio State could be Toast-itos in title game." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 25, 2002.
Rappaport, "Name callers aside, OSU fans know the Truth." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 27, 2002.
Martin Fennelly, "UM can be beat; Now It's Ohio State's Turn to Try." TBO Sports, Dec 8 2002.
Matthew Zemek, "Monday Morning Quarterback: Attention, Big Ten Fans: Look to Stillwater and LA." College Football News, December 2, 2002.
Dan Lebatard, "With So Many Stars, Call Them Team Heisman." Miami Herald Dec 8 2002.
David Whitley, "Who Can Beat Miami? Only ‘Canes Themselves." Orlando Sentinal, December 8 2002.
Rick Telander, "Miami will Run Away With It." Chicago Sun Times, December 9, 2002.
Dick Weiss, "Miami: We'll bowl ‘em Over." NY Daily News. December 9, 2002.
Jay Mariotti, "Empty Bowls -- Again." Chicago Sun-times, December 9, 2002..
Jon Saraceno, "Bowls Botched Again." USA Today, December 10, 2002.
Tim Brando. "'Canes Have it All Over the Buckeyes." The Sporting News, December 11, 2002.
Chris Dufresne, "The Time's Rankings." L.A. Times December 12, 2002.
Jeff Miller, "Buckeyes use the Rhetoric of Big Underdogs." Miami Herald, December 17, 2002.
Wann Smith, "28 Minus 1 Equals 0…and Smith's Bowl Picks." Pigskin Post.com, December 18, 2002.
Omar Kelly, "UM's Gore Just Being Frank." Orlando Sentinal, December 24, 2002.
Scott Martineau, "Fiesta Bowl Game Plan." Miami Insiders Network. December 27, 2002.
Mike Bianchi, "Warning Flags up for Ohio State." Orlando Sentinal, December 29, 2002.
Darryl Richards, "Stallings believes in the Buckeyes." Foxsports.com. December 29, 2002.
Chris Bello, "It's Still a Canes Thing…" Miami Insiders Network, December 31, 2002.
Matt Hayes, "Part 1: It's the Buckeyes' Party." The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.
Matt Hayes, "Part 2: It's the Buckeyes' Party." The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.
Stewart Mandell, "Marquee Matchup: CNNSI.com's Stewart Mandel Breaks Down the Fiesta Bowl." CNNSI.com, December 31, 2002.
Pete Fiutak, "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: 13 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win." CFN, No date provided.
John Donovan, "Blowout City." CNN/SI.com, Jan 2, 2003.
Stewart Mandel, "Closer than you think," CNNSI.com, Jan 2, 2003.
Richard Rosenblatt, "The Case for Miami: Speed Kills Buckeyes in 41-14 Loss." AP writer. January 3, 2003.
CFN staff "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: Ohio State vs. Miami" CFN, January 3, 2003.
Jim Donnan. ESPN chat. January 3, 2003.
* Joel Bushbaum - who worked for Pro Football Weekly. Prior to his tragically young death on December 29, his last prediction was OSU 26 and Miami 24.
E-mail C.B. at email@example.com