Ohio State honors 2002 national championship team
COLUMBUS – There have been a lot of special teams in the great history of Ohio State University football.
It’s unknown if two were ever on the field together prior to Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
It happened and more than 105,000 were on hand to witness it as the current Buckeyes put the finishing touches on a brilliant and probably unexpected 12-0 season, while the 2002 team, which unexpectedly ran the table and won the BCS Championship in the process, was recognized at halftime.
And to have both teams together with arch-rival and hated Michigan to witness it made it even more special for the Buckeyes past and present.
“This was one of the most selfless groups of seniors I’ve ever been around in my career,” said OSU head coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer doesn’t just appreciate this Buckeyes’ team because it finished undefeated or the fact that it’s his first season at the helm.
The way the Buckeyes went about their business on a day-to-day basis, whether it be in the classroom, on the practice field, in the film room or on game days. The whole attitude of OSU football changed just one season after finishing 6-7.
Meyer, who got choked up earlier in the week when talking about his senior class, embraced each and everyone during pre-game festivities and then – with their leadership – took down the Wolverines, 26-21.
“It’s like when your kids go off to college for the first time,” Meyer said. “Our house is going to be empty. Next week we start a new journey and the foundation couldn’t be stronger because of this senior class.”
With no bowl game or Big Ten Championship Game forthcoming due to NCAA penalties, the Buckeyes won’t get an opportunity to play for the ultimate prize, but they’ll still get a championship ring for winning the Legends Division and they’ll receive their ‘Gold Pants’ for the victory against Michigan.
Plus, they’ll receive special recognition, somehow, at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“These kids will probably be recognized as one of the greatest groups of seniors in the history of this program,” Meyer said. “They’ll be honored somehow. I’m not sure yet how we’ll do that. Maybe, we’ll put up 19 bronze statues somewhere.”
More than 50 players returned for the reunion of the 2002 BCS National Championship team and were recognized between the first and second quarters.
While there was some speculation during the months and weeks leading up to the game about what the possible reaction might be to folks like Jim Tressel and Maurice Clarett making an appearance, the reaction seemed all positive.
There were many chanting for Tressel as he was hoisted onto several of the players’ shoulders during the recognition.
It was certainly a special moment for a very special team.
The players, who organized the reunion themselves, made a weekend of it. They had a dinner on Friday, attended a pep rally and then the game.
HEART AND SOUL
It was unfortunate that defensive lineman John Simon couldn’t go in the game. He was in street clothes for his final game as a Buckeyes dealing with a knee issue, which Meyer indicated wasn’t a structural problem.
The injury was hidden pretty well during the week as Simon was constantly in the training room undergoing rehab to try to at least be able to go.
However, he just couldn’t make it work, but his presence was surely felt as he addressed the team before the game.
“John Simon is our heart and soul and defines who we are,” Meyer said. “I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee, but my man worked hard all week and just couldn’t go. I think doing it for him is why our defense played as well as it did in the second half.”
Meyer and the Buckeyes presented Simon the game ball afterward.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Meyer has coached now two undefeated teams. He’s also coached two BCS Championship winning teams and ironically neither of those two were amongst the perfect groups.
His other perfect team came during his final season at Utah when he guided the Utes to a 12-0 record and Fiesta Bowl victory against Pitt.
The two BCS winning teams Meyer coached at Florida both sustained losses during the course of the SEC regular season.
The next time the Wolverines visit Ohio Stadium will be in Nov. 2014. St. Clairsville junior Michael Ferns will be a member of that team. He was the first Wolverine verbal for that class. He had an offer from Ohio State, too.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
With no bowl to go to, Ohio State’s players will finish out the academic term in a couple of weeks, take finals and be heading home for Christmas. The players are scheduled for a Tuesday team meeting and that will be the last contact Meyer and his staff will have with the players, on a daily basis, until winter workouts begin after the first of the year.
Junior Carlos Hyde is already thinking about those workouts.
“I don’t think they’ll get any easier because we’re undefeated,” Hyde said. “It’s tough not being able to go play for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game, but we’ve got to get our bodies right and get ready for next year.”