In just 3 days, my Ohio State Buckeyes will face off against the Oregon Ducks in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game. That’s the prize for having poo’d all over Alabama’s national title dreams last week in New Orleans. It’s our first time back in the national title game since those back-to-back losses to Florida and LSU in the 2007 and 2008 BCS National Championship Games. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Championship Game.
How I first came across this moment? Just like a majority of the college football fans in America, I tuned into ABC Sports on January 3, 2003 to see the “grand finale of the Bowl Championship Series” for the 2002 season. Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts had the call. The Miami Hurricanes were a 2 TD favorite and for good reason: (1) they were the defending national champions, (2) they had a 34-game win streak, (3) they supposedly had faster, stronger players, and (4) Ohio State had labored its way to this game. But once the contest was underway, Ohio State stood up to the Hurricanes, knocking All-American Willis McGahee from the game and winning the game in double overtime on a controversial yet correct call.
What it meant to me then? When Ohio State won the national championship that night in the desert, I felt as if we had finally broke through the glass ceiling that had been hanging over the program. The losses to Michigan in 1995 and 1996, ruining 10-0 starts and dashing national title chances, the loss to Michigan State in 1998 that cost us a chance to play in the 1999 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Championship Game. I thought we were going to dominate college football. And we did just that in 2003, my freshman year at the school…until Michigan killed our buzz. Having recovered from the loss to Wisconsin at Camp Randall, we were 10-1 and #2 in the BCS rankings heading into the Michigan game. Again, Michigan spoiled our season and we had to settle for a BCS at-large berth. We ran the table in 2006 but Florida blitzkrieg’d us in the title game. LSU did the same the following year. 2012 should’ve been a championship year but we were on a bowl ban and though we finished as the only undefeated team in the land, I had to watch Alabama hoist the trophy after they thrashed Notre Dame in the 2013 title game.
What it means to me now? It’s been 12 years since that game. And though, we’ve been arguably the most consistent team in America since that night, we don’t have any championships to show for it. Up until the Alabama game last week, almost all of America wrote us off as pretenders because of what happened in 2007 and 2008. But just like the 2002 team was so resilient, so is this 2014 squad. Watching the 2003 Fiesta Bowl yesterday brought tears to my eyes…not only because it reminded me of a time when college football was at its best but because it made me proud to be a Buckeye. To see your school win a national championship is a remarkable thing. The feeling never leaves you. 12 years ago, I only saw on TV. Come Monday night, I’ll see it live in Jerry World.