Monday, July 30, 2007

The New Second City Part 2: The Gathering Storm

This is the second in a three-part series by GoCM about the city of Columbus and it's most successful and heartbreaking year in sports.

Once bowl season had all but finished, the national picture became much more clear. Big 10 #2 Michigan suffered its second loss of the season, this time at the hands of the USC Trojans, who won in convincing fashion. The win did not mean much in the grand scheme of things but did quiet the Wolverine faithful crying foul over their exclusion from the BCS Title Game. Meanwhile, Louisiana State trampled Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl by a score of 41-14, showcasing the kind of talent present in Baton Rouge - talent that had been beaten by the Florida Gators during the regular season. But these were just two other games. The only game that actually mattered was scheduled for January 8th and in Columbus, the likes of Michigan, USC, LSU and Notre Dame weren't even blips on the radar. The BCS Title game was all that mattered and the Buckeyes expected victory.

The opening kick of the National Title game featured Ted Ginn, Jr., Ohio State's premier wideout, dashing for the endzone and a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game. Ginn, memorably, put a finger to his mouth, asking for quiet for the Gator faithful. Ironically, he should have asked for the same from his teammates; after the dogpile that followed the touchdown, Ginn limped out of the endzone and off the field of play for the duration, injured celebrating his score. From there, the game was Florida's to lose. Methodically with surgeon-like precision, Florida dissected the Buckeye offense that had been untouchable for 12 games. Similarly, Florida's offensive attack, led by oft-maligned Chris Leak, picked apart the Ohio State defense like it was a ju-co squad. Ohio State was in the game for 16 seconds and the rest belonged to Florida, plain and simple. The 41-14 final score was more than indicative of how lop-sided the contest had actually been.

To say the city was in awe after the game was putting it way to easily: shock was a much more appropriate term. Did Troy Smith, who all but disappeared in the BCS game deserve his Heisman? What if USC had beaten UCLA and gone to the title game? Should LSU replace the Buckeyes at #2 in the final pole? It was miserable in its simplicity in Columbus: the best team to perhaps ever take the field at Ohio Stadium had been beaten hard and good in the one game that truly mattered. The Michigan game lost it's luster, as had the road win at Texas earlier in the year. In Columbus, the team returned with a heroes welcome but everyone, Buckeye fan or otherwise, had come to regard the season as a lost cause.

The night after the championship added insult to injury in Columbus. After road losses to UNC and Florida, the Ohio State Men's Basketball team went up against Alando Tucker and the Wisconsin Badgers, then #4 in the country. Once again, in hostile confines, the Buckeyes couldn't bring home a win, losing 72-69 and genuflecting to Tucker throughout the second half. It was Tucker who would run away with Big 10 player of the year and take Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed. Ohio State would gain vengeance later, beating Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament final to secure a #1 seed for themselves in the South Region. This was the second Big 10 championship in as many seasons for Ohio State's major athletic programs.

Before that, however, the Columbus Destroyers would open their season with a road win followed by consecutive losses separated by a bye week. A March 30th win over the Georgia Force at home evened the Destroyers record at 2-2. Matt Nagy had so far been working for Columbus and the 62-61 win over the team he played for just one year prior was sweet. Things were looking good for the Destroyers early in the year. They were toward the top of a mediocre Eastern Division of the National Conference. By May 11th, the Destroyers were 6-4 and smelling the playoffs. Little did they know, the wheels would fall off soon after that.

Ohio State's road to the Final Four was anything but easy. Their opening game against Central Connecticut State was the cakewalk that all #1/#16 games usually are but the next to games would test the Buckeye's mettle. A missed free throw by Xavier gave way to Ron Lewis's game-tying three-pointer and Ohio State outlasting the Musketeers in OT. In the Sweet 16, Ohio State would face Tennessee, a rematch of a January home game that the Buckeye's barely won. Before halftime, however, the game was all Vols. Ohio State was down as many as 22 in the game, settling for an 18-point deficit by the break. Again, Ohio State came back to close the gap against Tennessee and won the game when the would-be winning bucket was swatted away by Greg Oden as time expired. Ohio State was now one win from their first Final Four since 1999.

Ohio State showed it's muscle against #2 seeded Memphis in the regional final, blowing the game open at the beginning of the second half and not looking back. Ohio State had earned a spot in the Final Four with three other highly regarded teams: The UCLA Bruins and Florida Gators, both national finalists the year before and the Georgetown Hoyas, winners of both Big East regular season and tournament. Ohio State would play the surprising Hoyas in a re-match of a tournament game the previous year that was won by the Georgetown. The game was tight all the way but eventually the superb play of freshmen Mike Conely and Greg Oden would trump Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. The win put OSU in their second consecutive national championship game in different major sports, a feat that would have been more remarkable if the other national finalist hadn't accomplish the same feat with a win in the second Final Four game. The Ohio State Buckeyes would once again meet the Florida Gators with a national championship, this time in basketball, on the line.

* * *

3 comments:

Joe Table Blew It said...

did you mean "anything but easy?"

Ghost of Carl Monday said...

I should re-name the blog to "The Sports Elitist" seeing as I'm the only one who posts anymore.

Joe Table Blew It said...

hey, you move me up to marquette tomorrow and ill write all day... ill trade that off. Quit bitching.