(Editor’s note: James is our intern this summer and he is going to make you feel very old if you read any further. You have been warned.)
Eighth grade me left the party in the basement and walked up the stairs to watch the final minutes of the 2011 Sugar Bowl alone. The nerves and pressure of an Ohio State loss weighed too much on me, so I watched the game in the living room so I could pace, cuss freely, and get overly emotional where no one could see or judge me.
The Tressel-led Buckeyes were up 31-26 and the Razorbacks just blocked a punt to give them the ball with a little over a minute left. My fists were clenched, my heart was racing, and I was praying to God that the Buckeyes would come out on top. And they did.
The sweet bliss of victory washed over me as I went wild, running downstairs, hugging and high-fiving everyone in sight. Jim Tressel had won another bowl game and another memory was added to my childhood thanks to him.
Little did I know it would be the last time Tressel would be providing those kinds of memories as the head coach at Ohio State.
Having been born in 1996, Jim Tressel was my guy. He coached and recruited the players that made my childhood so special. I am too young to remember the end of the John Cooper era, but god knows I have to hear about it from my dad who suffered through more than a decade of pain so we could have a new golden age in Ohio State football under Jim Tressel. Both of my parents graduated from OSU, so the university and football team have always been a part of my life.
My first memory as a Buckeye fan was on January 3rd, 2003 when Ohio State pulled off the upset against Miami to win the National Championship. I was six, so I’m sure the reason I remembered this was because I felt like a “big boy” for getting to stay up so late. A night probably enjoyed with milk, Oreos, and vanilla wafers. I remember watching the final play and celebrating, which is good enough of a memory for me.
I don’t remember much after that as far as memories go, but I’m sure I watched all of the other Buckeye games the next couple of seasons as well.
The first season I remember in full was 2005, with the likes of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., and Troy Smith. The 2005 team holds a special place in my heart because they were really the first team that I loved. I became obsessed with the players.
They were my sports heroes as a kid and they all played in Jim Tressel’s system. I imitated those players when I would play backyard football with my friends. I would crouch in the backfield like A.J. Hawk, have a similar throwing motion to Troy, and (while slowly sprinting) I would gallop like Ginn.
The win against Michigan with the fabled throw from Smith to Anthony Gonzalez is a fond memory that included me tripping and almost falling through a snack table during a celebrational run through the basement at one of my parent’s friend’s parties.
Ohio State went on to win the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, and I had to say goodbye to some of my all-time favorite players like Hawk and Carpenter. The good news, however, was that Tressel was entering the 2006 season with one of the most stacked rosters in Ohio State football history.
The Buckeye life I was living was a spoiled one. OSU was destroying everyone who stepped in their way in 2006, and when that Team Up North came up on the schedule, it was No. 1 vs. No. 2.
The Game of the Century.
Looking back on it, I have never been, nor probably ever will be, as emotionally invested in a game as I was that one. Or so emotionally stressed. Luckily for the sake of my 10-year old sanity, Tressel and the Buckeyes prevailed, earning a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in the process.
At the time, I really didn’t know what losing was. OSU hadn’t lost a bowl game since 2001 and was currently on a 19-game winning streak.
Unfortunately for me, Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators were about to provide a rude awakening on what a devastating loss feels like.
The pain and misery my father felt in the 1990s was about to be passed down to his son.
When Ted Ginn Jr. returned that opening kickoff for a touchdown, I was running around the basement with my dad and a few of his friends yelling, “SEC SPEED?! SEC SPEED?!”
I left that basement carried in the arms of my dad, unresponsive and in shock. My undefeated Buckeyes were defeated. So, so defeated. I hated Jim Tressel. How dare he do this to me.
Then the 2007 season came. Things looked good for most of the year and OSU was once again in the National Championship game. And once again, Ohio State lost.
I loathed Jim Tressel. How could he keep doing this to me?
Ohio State had a down year in 2008, but still shared a Big Ten title. They beat Michigan (again), and earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. They lost to Texas.
Three straight bowl game losses. I hated being an Ohio State fan.
Tressel made up for it the next two years, winning the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, along with two wins against Michigan and two more Big Ten championships.
Those two teams, just like every team since 2005, are still beloved by me. I had enthusiasm for Ohio State Football that I will probably never have again. I think there is a certain nostalgia that convinces you sports are better when you’re under the age of 13. Through the highs and lows, wins and losses, Jim Tressel made my childhood better.
I am now 21 years old, entering my Junior year at Ohio State, and even though I am living my dream and attending games as a student, I still can’t replicate the feelings and fandom I had when I was a kid.
I appreciate Urban Meyer and all he has done and all he will continue to do, but I will never view him the same way I do Tress.
The funny thing is that thousands of young people will remember and cherish Meyer the way I do Tressel.
Meanwhile, the way I view Tressel is the same way my dad looks at Woody.
And this is the beauty of sports.