In the Ohio State huddle safety Mike Doss sought calm. "Everyone, get your composure," said the senior All-America, who had toyed with the idea of entering the draft after last season but foresaw great things for this Buckeyes squad and stuck around. (So focused was Doss on getting to the title game that every Monday night for a year he made himself a taco salad, one of whose ingredients was always Tostitos, a superstitious nod to the sponsor of the bowl in which he hoped to finish his career.) "This is our season right here."
From the sideline came the signal for a blitz called Tight Will Tulsa. "That means I'm coming off the edge," explained outside linebacker Cie Grant. "I'm bringing the juice."
Grant, a converted cornerback with serious closing speed, caught Dorsey with one arm, grabbed him by the collar and spun him around as he released a desperation throw. When that homely pass fluttered to the turf, it brought down the curtain on a nascent Hurricanes dynasty. The Miami quarterback sank to his knees while the celebration erupted around him.
Hadn't we just seen this movie? The first overtime had ended, or so it had seemed, with a failed throw from Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel. His fourth-down pass to flanker Chris Gamble had fallen incomplete and been followed by a spectacular display of Fiesta Bowl-sponsored pyrotechnics, a tidal wave of Hurricanes players and supporters flowing onto the field, and a yellow flag thrown by back judge Terry Porter, who waited four Mississippis before reaching for his back pocket because, he later explained, he wanted to go over the play in his mind (page 86). Three plays after the pass-interference penalty, Krenzel sneaked the ball in for the tying touchdown.
"They let us play all day," said an incredulous Mark Stoops, Miami's secondary coach, "then he makes a touch call. Who are these guys?"
Divine agents, some Buckeyes would argue. "That was just God giving us another chance," said Scott of the late flag. It was now 2:30 in the morning, and the lineman was sitting up in bed, fully awake, periodically rubbing his ailing left shoulder. Scott suspected he had a torn labrum—he'd torn his right labrum in 2001, and this felt the same. Faced with a 6 a.m. flight, he'd given up on the idea of getting some sleep, and when Smith, who had taken a helmet to his right quadriceps, limped across the room to hand him a glass of the now-opened bubbly, Scott did not refuse it.
Like Scott and Smith, both of whom, it bears mentioning, are of legal drinking age, let us raise a glass, this time to the coaches—to Miami's Larry Coker, who endured his first loss in two seasons at the helm with class and candor, and to Jim Tressel, who in his second season at Ohio State awakened a sleeping giant and delivered to the Buckeyes their first national championship since 1968. Tressel's style is quaint and retro: Players must memorize one another's names and the words to the school fight song Carmen Ohio, which they are required to sing while standing before the band following each game. (In the joyous anarchy on the field after the Fiesta Bowl, there was Buckeyes offensive tackle Shane Olivea, herding his teammates toward the end zone: "Coach says we can't do anything before we sing.")
Tressel's philosophy is simple. He insists on superior special teams, relentless defense and mistake-free offense. It is also effective. It worked for his father, Lee Tressel, at Baldwin-Wallace, where he won the Division III crown in 1978. It worked for Jim at Youngstown State, where he led the Penguins to four Division I-AA national titles between 1991 and '97. Last Friday night it worked on college football's biggest stage, in "a game for the history books," as Ohio State free safety Will Allen described the contest to his teammates before the first overtime.
But this 15-round heavyweight bout left some Buckeyes too drained for euphoria. "It just doesn't feel that big," tailback Maurice Clarett said on the field after the game, as teammates showered each other with corn chips. "It feels like winning another game. Know what I mean? I'm ready to go. Ready to go home." Then, to a teammate: "This s—-be too long."
It was indeed a long week for the freshman who had been the Buckeyes' most potent weapon during the season. Fifteen minutes into a routine press conference on Dec. 30, Clarett dropped one of the bombshells for which he is quickly becoming known. "I'm kinda messed up now," he said. "My friend had a funeral today at 11 o'clock, and they didn't put me on a plane to go back. So I'm kind of salty." For the next two days he and the school sparred in the press over whether Clarett had filled out the proper forms for the travel assistance the NCAA makes available to players in family emergencies.