This is the first in a three-part series by GoCM about the city of Columbus and it's most successful and heartbreaking year in sports.
The Columbus Destroyers were certain underdogs heading into Sunday's ArenaBowl XXI in New Orleans. They faced a confident and efficient San Jose SaberCat team that was in almost perfect form. The Destroyers put forth their worst effort since the regular season's penultimate contest are were easily beaten 55-33. Matt Nagy was 24/43 for 203 yards along with two INTs. His counterpart at QB for San Jose, Mark Grieb, was a model of efficiency and grace under pressure: 24/29, 218 yards, 0 INTs and 4 TDs. The Destroyers left New Orleans with their pride intact but feeling an all too familiar sense of disappointment. Needless to say, on Sunday, the Destroyers weren't the first Columbus team to feel that pain.
This story truly began on November 18th, 2006 around 10pm EST. By that time, and on that date, the #1 Ohio State University Football team was in the midst of celebrating a dramatic and entertaining 42-39 win over arch rival and then #2 University of Michigan. Troy Smith had put the finishing touches on a Heisman-worthy season and the Buckeyes were undefeated at 12-0. The national and local media clamoured over the Buckeyes, most calling for the national championship trophy to come back to the Buckeye state for the first time since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. And why not? Ohio State was going to play in Tempe, Arizona, where they were 3-0 in their last three trips. They were number one in the country, had beaten two different #2 teams and were led by an unstoppable offense and a stalwart and stingy defense. They would have to wait six weeks, true, but it was a moot point; by the early hours of January 9th, they would be champions again.
On November 17th, 2006, one mile from the site of "The Game of the Century", The Ohio State Men's Basketball team whipped Eastern Kentucky 74-45 at home to improve their record to 4-0, but perhaps more importantly, 4-0 without stud freshman center Gerg Oden. Oden, along with four other top recruits, dubbed locally the "Thad Five", a less-than-clever play on Michigan's famed "Fab Five" in the early 1990's, was supposed to be the great hope for Ohio State Basketball program, one that had been mired in the wake of a scandal allegedly involving boosters, former players and former coach Jim O'Brien. Their first real test as a basketball team would not come for another 12 days when they would face North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a game that had the Oden-less Buckeyes either up or within striking distance for the game's majority before OSU's youth was eventually trumped by UNC's talent. Still, the better-than-expected performance had Columbus thinking about a deep run in March, presumably after the football celebrations would be over.
In November of 2006, The Columbus Destroyers were in the midst of deciding what the future would hold for the franchise. Coming off their best year in Columbus or Buffalo, the city from which the Destroyers moved in 2004, the team's ownership, including former Ohio State Buckeye Joey Galloway, decided to build the team from the QB position and eventually settled on Matt Nagy from the Georgia Force. He was experienced, sure enough, with an ArenaBowl appearance just a year before. There were flaws in his game but teaming him up with talented wideout Damien Groce would only benefit the University of Delaware alum. The Destroyers traded for Nagy and set their sights on the upcoming season.
Three teams. Three championship games. One city.