What If...Shawn Springs Never Slipped
A week-long re-imagining of five events that shaped the last 20 years of Ohio State football
By Tony Gerdeman
If you're reading this, then there's really no reason to explain "the slip". Or, rather, "The Slip". However, if I don't set the tone, then the impact of the change that I have created won't be as dramatic.
It was November 23rd, 1996. The undefeated #2 Ohio State Buckeyes were hosting the #21 Michigan Wolverines. The Buckeyes were a 17-point favorite. In a vacuum, it wasn't supposed to be much of a game.
Ohio State dominated the first 30 minutes, but only led 9-0 at the half. Michigan's first drive in the second half featured a slant pass to Tai Streets that saw cornerback Shawn Springs slip, leaving Streets free to run 60-odd yards down the field and into the endzone. It only made the score 9-7 in the Buckeyes' favor, but the tables were instantly turned.
The Wolverines went on to dominate the second half of the game following that play, and it ended Ohio State's national championship hopes.
But what if Shawn Springs never slipped?
What if he makes the tackle, and the Ohio State defense continues to stifle the Wolverines for a second half? The Buckeyes, without Springs' slip, go on to win the game. They had already secured a Rose Bowl berth, but now they were headed to Pasadena with something much bigger on the table.
The winner of the Rose Bowl would have had a very legitimate shot at the National Championship. Ohio State would have come into the game ranked #2 and Arizona State would have been #3. Florida State, by virtue of their 24-21 win over #1 Florida in the final week of the season would have been the #1 team going into the bowl games.
However, since the Sugar Bowl decided to pit the Gators and the Noles in a rematch, and the Gators got their revenge, the winner of the Rose Bowl would have been the undefeated national champ.
The Buckeyes, led by Joe Germaine's heroics, go on to defeat the Sun Devils 20-17 and win the National Championship, seemingly securing John Cooper's legacy as an all-time Ohio State great.
Inspired by the game and Cooper's coaching efforts, Dick Vermeil, who called the game for ABC, returns to coaching, joining the St. Louis Rams.
Ohio State becomes the talk of the town. Cooper and his team appear on The Tonight Show with fellow guests Jeff Foxworthy and Paula Abdul.
Abdul, 34, having never dated a national champion before, seduces freshman receiver David Boston, 19. They are married a year later. Boston, at Abdul's suggestion, turns to dance instead of supplements to stay in shape.
Boston becomes so good at both receiving and dancing that the NCAA bans all touchdown dances but his. He wins the Biletnikoff twice and the Baryshnikov once. He becomes a first-round NFL Draft pick, and during his rookie season, he and Abdul tear the roof off of the Super Bowl with their halftime performance.
That same performance would then go on to inspire the Tennessee Titans and running back Eddie George to a second-half surge in Super Bowl XXXIV, securing a victory over Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams. Dick Vermeil, now head coach of the Rams, retires, citing "a renewed love of dance" as his reason.
Meanwhile, Jeff Foxworthy, blown away by John Cooper's self-assured, down-home sensibilities that fateful night on The Tonight Show, would invite Cooper to join his comedy tour.
Thus was born, "Coop the Cable Guy".
Cooper, enthralled with the possibilities of life on the road as a comic, would immediately retire from coaching following his national championship win. His comedy career would then see him make hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two decades before finally retiring to his estate in Branson, Missouri.
Ohio State, in need of a new head football coach following Cooper's abrupt retirement, would begin a nationwide search. That search would eventually end with the hiring of a head coach who had won three of the last six I-AA national championships – Youngstown State's Jim Tressel.
Upon being introduced at halftime of an Ohio State basketball game in January of 1997, Tressel guarantees a victory over Michigan the following season, which he gets, costing the Wolverines a shot at one-half of a national championship. However, he forgets to guarantee a victory over Penn State, and it costs the Buckeyes a shot at back-to-back championships.
Undaunted, Tressel goes on to win a BCS National Championship one season later, led by Joe Germaine, Michael Wiley and the all-around spectacle of David Boston.
Ohio State would then have two national championships in a three-year span with two different head coaches, and once again, John Cooper would be quickly pushed aside despite his massive accomplishments.
While lauding Tressel, fans would cite Cooper's 2-6-1 record against Michigan, downplaying his overall success as the head coach at Ohio State, as well as his highly-acclaimed sitcom on TNN.
The moral of the story? The more history changes, the more it tends to stay the same. One little slip can change everything, but a non-slip, it turns out, can only change so much.
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