[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]
You may not remember it — because I sure didn’t — but there was a point in time when Ohio State didn’t hold their Senior Tackle the week of the Michigan game. One of those years was 1998. Here is a story from John Porentas (Dec. 18, 1998) about that event. Take particular notice of safety Damon Moore’s comments about the Michigan rivalry. It’s somewhat telling of the era in which he played. — TG
35,000 OSU football fans brave the cold night air to witness Senior Tackle in Ohio Stadium. Former OSU head coach Earle Bruce whips up the team and crowd with a spirited address. The Buckeyes subsequently go out and lose that weekend to a Michigan team they really should have handled easily.
Fast forward two years to November of 1998.
At John Cooper’s weekly Monday press luncheon the week of the Michigan game, it is rather perfunctorily announced that tradition will be broken and Senior Tackle will be held at the last day of practice in Columbus prior to the Bowl game, not prior to the Michigan game. The Buckeyes go out the next Saturday and lay a good, old-fashioned whipping on the Wolverines.
Coincidence? Cause and effect? Who knows. What we do know is that a hardcore group of Buckeye fans turned out Sunday to witness Senior Tackle in far different circumstances than that event in 1996. Several hundred folks lined the sideline in the WHAC and witnessed a rather light-hearted Senior Tackle. Those in attendance had a variety of opinions on the new format.
Earlier in the week, a writer in The Columbus Dispatch had suggested that Senior Tackle might be a tradition that had outlived its usefulness. The folks in attendance on Sunday did not agree with that. One of those in attendance was Orlas King, known to Buckeye Fans everywhere as The Neutron Man. We asked The Neutron Man what he thought of the change and if Senior Tackle had become passé.
“I’m not a player, but I think the kids really enjoy it, especially the seniors. I put it this way. I think our coaches know what is best for the kids. And I understood the Michigan week change. I really did. We had like 25,000 people there the night before. That’s the way they always used to do it. But I think the way they’re doing now is fine, where they’re bringing it inside,” said The Neutron Man.
King also added that he would never miss Senior Tackle. For King, any day he can see his beloved Buckeyes is a good day.
“Anytime I can see the kids, I’m happy. I think it’s one more shot. As long as it doesn’t distract them from their game plans and that, and the way they’re doing it here I think is perfect,” said King.
The players themselves seemed somewhat divided on the issue of whether the new format was good or bad. Senior Damon Moore, seen in the photo at Senior Tackle, seemed to have ambivalent feelings.
“A lot of people, myself personally, I would have loved to had it before the Michigan game that Thursday seeing 30,000 people in the stands, but things worked out the way they were supposed to. Maybe they should keep this schedule and have it right before the bowl game. I think maybe it’s losing some of its pizzazz (by being later in the year), but maybe we make too much of it, just like the Michigan game. Maybe we as a team, as a community, as a media all make too much of that game. Maybe we make too much of some of these traditions. I’m sure the tradition has a place, and maybe its found its place now,” said Moore.
For others, the new format was more appealing. Steve Bellisari, who did not grow up in Ohio, found the event to be enjoyable.
“It’s great. I got to watch it with my brother and everything, so it’s nice. I saw it two years ago when it was in front of like 25,000 people. It was crazy,” said Bellisari.
Though Bellisari said he enjoyed Senior Tackle his brother’s senior year and was impressed by the turnout that year, he likes the new approach better.
“I think this is better. It is more on the personal level, and when you get in the stadium with so many people, you kind of lose touch with what this is really about, so this is a lot better,” said Bellisari.
Senior Kevin Loadman, who got a lot of attention by pancaking the sled on his hit, thinks the event is better in the smaller format.
“I think this should be more of a closed event for the seniors and possibly their parents and family, parents who supported them for so long. This is probably better. A little more intimate rather than a big event. Plus to organize that big event over at the stadium, it’s just like a big hassle for someone. It seems like it’s just for show, rather than here, it’s kind of nice with the small environment and families and that kind of thing,” said Loadman.
Whether you like the new format or the old, if you were in attendance, you found it to be a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, it was great to see the seniors get some recognition, but on the other hand, that last hit marked the end of an era for these student athletes. They would never work out in the facility again as a student athlete. That thought was not lost on the many parents of players who were in attendance. Jim Rudzinski, father of OSU linebacker Jerry Rudzinski, said he felt conflicting emotions as he watched the event.
“It feels fantastic, in that Jerry’s been here a long time, and he went through some adversity, and to put himself into this position as a captain on this great football team, which I think is one of the great teams that Ohio State has had at this university, being here watching him at his last practice is very, very special to me,” said the senior Rudzinski.
“I’m so proud of Jerry for being out there and playing with great athletes. He’s played throughout his five years here with the Lombardi winner, the Butkus award winner, with the Biletnikoff award winner, he’s been on two Big Ten championship teams and went to a bowl game every year. It’s been a fabulous career for him and at the same time you have to realize he played college football for five years and now it’s time to close that chapter and maybe open up another chapter.
“To say I’m proud? I’m more than proud. Of course I will miss coming to see him play on Saturdays. I’ve been involved with Jerry since the sixth grade and watching him play from the sixth grade up to this year, with him being 23 years old, every single fall, its really going to be different for me. Completely big-time different,” said Rudzinski.
So Senior Tackle is over, and another senior class has bid its adieu to the practice facility with a ceremonial hit on the sled.
Is this a useless exercise? You will not convince the people in attendance at this year’s event that that is the case. Is the new format better than the old? Well, I think Orlas King was heading in the right direction. We beat Michigan. I say, don’t change a thing from the formula that worked. If that means a later Senior Tackle, no problem.