This way to MVP's house read the sign bent around the wall at the corner of Harris and Greenway. And sure enough, a ranch house up the street had an Ohio State banner dangling from its chimney and enough cars and pickups parked out front to remind neighbors that the Germaines were still celebrating the Buckeyes' last-gasp 20-17 Rose Bowl victory over Arizona State two days before.
What made the scene look so wrong was the landscape: the Bermuda-grass lawns, the saguaro cacti in the gardens, the backyard orange trees and the odd Xeriscapes of gravel. Not to mention the cars and trucks with Arizona plates and Sun Devils window decals.
In the Germaine kitchen, paradox was piled as high as the doughnuts. On one side of the breakfast bar, wearing a tan cowboy hat, was a beaming Big Joe Germaine, a fence and gate contractor and longtime Arizona State season-ticket holder. Sitting opposite him and wearing a black cowboy hat was the proud and happy Chad Germaine, one of Big Joe's six brothers and another loyal Sun Devils fan. "They're all cowboys," explained Little Joe Germaine, the only hatless man in a houseful of exuberant guests. "You can always tell my family—they're wearing cowboy hats and white shirts."
But not Little Joe. The surprise star of the Rose Bowl, the fellow described in the Scottsdale, Ariz., newspaper the day after the game as "notorious," wandered about the seven-room house in a sweatshirt and shorts. He said, "I have the outfit: the hat, the shirt, the boots. But I prefer to dress"—and here he smiled shyly—"normal."
It was up to the beholder to decide if Little Joe deserved a white hat or a black hat. Here, at any rate, is what he did while wearing a silver helmet: He spoiled unbeaten Arizona State's dream season. He robbed the Sun Devils of their first national championship by rewriting a glorious script that had had Arizona State's swashbuckling quarterback, Jake (the Snake) Plummer, diving into the end zone for the winning score with 1:40 to play. Germaine, also a quarterback, did this by leading Ohio State 65 yards to a touchdown, hitting wideout David Boston on a five-yard corner route with 19 seconds left for the score.
Suddenly you had a dazed-looking Germaine standing on a platform at midfield beside Buckeyes coach John Cooper—the Goodyear Blimp droning overhead in the fog, a ghost ship—and the oft-maligned Cooper twisting the knife into the Sun Devils while not letting go of the winner's trophy. "How about a guy from Scottsdale," Cooper boomed over the stadium P.A., "that came back here and beat the hometown people?"
The red-garbed fans on the west and north sides of the bowl roared in approval of that, but a backwash of boos could be heard from Arizona State fans. And not just because Cooper had the town wrong—Germaine hails from Mesa, not Scottsdale. Until New Year's Day few in the Sun Devils' camp had given much thought to the Prodigal Son factor. Sure, they knew that Germaine had led Mesa's Mountain View High to the 1993 state championship. And they knew that Germaine set a national junior college record by completing 49 passes in a game for Scottsdale Community College in '94. However, Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder, while interested in the 6"2", 196-pound Germaine as a defensive back, had not offered him any hope of succeeding Plummer as the Sun Devils' quarterback. So Little Joe had moved on to the less sunny but more hospitable Columbus, Ohio.
Moreover, Germaine started 1996 as the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback and spent most of the season as the backup to junior starter Stanley Jackson. When he did start—in the 11th game, against archrival Michigan, because of the improvement he had shown the previous few weeks—Ohio State scored only nine points and suffered its lone loss of the season. "Joe will definitely play," Cooper had said the day before the Rose Bowl, but his choice of a starter against Arizona State was the more athletic and spirited Jackson. "He's a leader," Cooper had said, leaving one to infer that the quiet, deferential Germaine, he of the flattop haircut and "Yes, sir; no, sir" deportment, lacked a certain spark.
Of course, that sort of analysis ignored Germaine's experience as a winning Rose Bowl quarterback. As oldest brother Norm told it, he had corralled Little Joe after the winning drive and asked, "How many times have you played this game?"
"Thousands of times," Joe replied.