Jim Tressel arrived in Columbus with a bang, levying the halftime of a basketball game to present a prognostication. A prognostication that we as Michigan fans scoffed at. We owned them then. No 1AA coach was going to come in here, incite us, point at us, guarantee a win a year in advance, and pretend to understand this rivalry. But he did. He understood what Michigan vs. Ohio State was all about.
And he won...often.
I remember 2002 vividly, the first loss I experienced live in Columbus, as John Navarre turned it over twice in the final minute and the Scarlet and Grey clad fans rushed the horseshoe field. And I watched a month later as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (with a little help from the refs) against a far superior Miami squad, claiming a National Championship, and anointing Maurice Clarett as a hero.
Maurice Clarett was the cornerstone of that team. He also made quite possibly the most important play of that National Championship game, forcing a turnover as a defender after an interception.
But Maurice Clarett was ineligible that season. That's a fact I have believed for a long time. With the current allegations, I don't believe that is a question anymore. And he's the one we know about. What about the others? In a November 2004 ESPN the magazine article, Clarett claimed he got free use of cars, bogus grades, no-show jobs, and cash from boosters. His claims were dismissed by OSU. They used the fact that Clarett was unstable (which he certainly was) and untrustworthy to counterattack his claims. But what about now? Clarett said Tressel made the requests to the car dealers to give him the loaners he drove around campus. Are we still supposed to dismiss these claims?
This is a man that according to a former assistant rigged raffles to get bigger recruits all the prizes at camps. A man that not only knew about the trading of memorabilia for cash and tattoos, but actually signed an item that was used in such a deal.
In 2006, Michigan and Ohio State played in Columbus, ranked #1 and #2, both undefeated. Bo Schembechler passed away the night before. It was an emotionally charged day for everyone. I remember the fans being nice to us on the road for the first time, though I later found out it took a million dollar public service campaign to remind them to stop being assholes. I remember losing. I remember crying. I remember the sea of scarlet filling the field again. And now I wonder how many players were on the field for the Buckeyes that drove home that night in "loaner" cars. How many of them had sold things? How many of them traded "stuff" for tattoos?
How many of them were ineligible?
It's not fair. It can never be fixed. You can't restore what we lost that night, or over that decade. You can't give us that shot at Florida in the National Championship game. You can't fix what you tarnished, the disrespect you showed college football, the disrespect you showed Bo. It can't be remedied through petty sanctions, bowl probation, or lost scholarships.
And the way they dominated us the past few contests, using a quarterback that I wanted to wear maize and blue, a quarterback that is now under personal investigation and has likely put on a Buckeye uniform for the last time...
You owe ME. I left my heart and soul in Columbus so many times. Its almost as if there should be a class-action lawsuit for pain and suffering.
Everything you have accomplished is in question. And while I would appreciate it if they took everything away from you on paper, that won't be enough. The punishment will never fit the crime. Even now, after a couple of days pass, people will forget about the SI article, and we won't hear about this again until the August report from the NCAA. Time will fix this for YOU, but not for ME.
But I will take solace in the fact that win or lose, we did it right, and we have brought in someone that is the definition of integrity to continue that tradition.
Woody Hayes went out in a horrible fashion, striking an opposing team's player after he made an interception. But that was Woody. A short-tempered crazy football genius whose emotions got the best of him on the playing field. At least you knew what you were getting with Woody.
Tressel used philanthropy as a cover up. He was portraying a completely different persona to the public. In the media's eyes he was the senator, the sweatervest, the classy coach from Columbus, molding men, being a father figure to those who needed it, giving back to the community, Ohio's greatest son. But behind the scenes he was a "win at all costs" kind of guy. A shady, back-door dealing scheister, cheating kids, cheating the system, and cheating history.
Says the former colleague, who asked not to be identified because he still has ties to the Ohio State community, "In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."
Was he a good coach? Probably, but he always had the best players...the best that money could buy. And that will be his legacy, at least for a while.