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Florida wins? In your dreams

Ohio football fan remembers greatest sporting event of lifetime

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006

The fact that I was sleeping is irrelevant.

This dream was as real as it gets — with a couple of exceptions.

The atmosphere was festive as 70,000 of us packed into the confines of the new football complex in Glendale, Ariz., to watch the BCS National Championship game between Michigan and my alma mater, Ohio State.

Only the actual title game on Jan. 8 pits the Buckeyes against Florida.

Perhaps Michigan replaced the Gators because they should be the opponent.

As much as I despise That School Up North, they definitely earned another shot.

I believe Michigan was shortchanged because they had previously fallen at No. 1 Ohio State, 42-39, in the regular season finale.

My feelings on this topic could take up an entire other column. We’ll save that for another day.

But as for the dream, I felt as though I’d been there before.

And that’s because I have.

Not exactly in this same stadium, as this was its inaugural season. But — in reality — I attended the 2002 National Championship game on Jan. 3, 2003, in Tempe, Ariz., and watched my beloved Buckeyes upset the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes, 31-24, in double overtime.

I’ve attended some outstanding major sporting events in my lifetime — two AFC championship games; Wrestlemania XIV with Mike Tyson; and Game 2 of the 2004 World Series as Curt Schilling, surgically-repaired ankle and all, led the Red Sox to a victory, eventually propelling them to their first title in 86 years.

The ‘03 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, however, trumps them all.

Not only is it one of college football’s greatest title games ever, but it may be one of the most epic sporting events of my lifetime.

It went back-and-forth, with the Hurricanes jumping in front 7-0 before Ohio State owned a 17-7 advantage in the third quarter.

When a field goal by the ‘Canes knotted the score at 17 on the final play of regulation, it became college football’s first national title game to enter overtime.

No. 1 Miami then scored on its opening possession, forcing OSU to score or lose.

With one final chance at sending the game to another extra session, Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone. And along with it, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. We had lost.

I, and four of my friends, had embarked on an eight-state, 30-hour journey only to see us come up short. The drive home would be miserable. I stared at the ground.

As Miami players and coaches spilled onto the field in celebration, a yellow flag lay unseen in the corner of the end zone, the same corner I happened to be sitting in.

“Pass interference on the defense,” the ref announced.

Pundits maintain it was a blown call. Others, like myself, agree with the official.

Nonetheless, the entire stadium, nearly all clad in scarlet and gray, exhaled at once.

Three plays later, Krenzel dove into the end zone from 1 yard out and Maurice Clarett eventually scored the winning TD in the second overtime.

Nobody, including many OSU fans, had given us a chance.

I mean, they were facing the Hurricanes, a team that epitomized success over the last two seasons, romping through 34 consecutive victories prior to this showdown.

Coaches, players and analysts all had us losing.

We were listed anywhere from 11- to 13-point underdogs.

In the end, though, Ohio State emerged as national champions for the first time in 34 years.

To some, it’s just a great story. But to myself and millions of other Buckeyes, it was a moment we’ll never forget.

A 2003 graduate of The Ohio State University, I attended nearly every home game for seven straight seasons.

From the very moment I stepped foot into Ohio Stadium, it’s massive frame towering high over any other academic building on campus, I was one of them.

One of approximately 200,000 die-hard fans who descend upon Columbus every fall afternoon in hopes of witnessing an OSU victory.

The atmosphere is intense and the tailgating as wild as the mind can imagine, but to actually step foot in that mammoth structure is an experience in and of itself.

It’s the feeling you get by knowing you’re a part of something historic and special. Something so unique that millions of others will never get a chance to experience it.

My body is tingling at the thought.

So, back to the dream.

It was similar to the last game of the Buckeyes’ 12-0 campaign this year, a wild affair with both teams piling up the points.

In the end, though, we came up shy in falling to Michigan, 35-34.

As the final seconds ticked off, I recall the same feeling I had felt when it appeared Miami had defeated us in 2002.

But when the clock struck zero, there was no ref to reverse this outcome.

Then, all of a sudden, my eyes squinted open. The alarm was blaring.

I reached over to shut it off when a smile crept over my face and I just laughed.

Why?

Because it’s humorous to think Michigan could beat Ohio State this year.

But it’s even more laughable to believe that Florida stands a chance.

Matthew Carroll is a sports reporter for the Clarion and can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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