SEPTEMBER 15, 1969
By the time Ohio State finally finished off Miami in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl last January, 54-year-old Rex Kern was almost as exhausted as the victorious Buckeyes. "I think I played every play," says Kern, who was in the stands at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. "I was yelling at the top of my lungs to encourage them because you only get [to a national championship game] maybe one time in your life—and you can't quit."
Kern knows about championship-game opportunities. As an Ohio State sophomore he had quarterbacked the Buckeyes to their last national tide before this one, in the 1968 Rose Bowl, and then led two more teams into contention. As is the case this year, SI predicted Ohio State would successfully defend its national tide in '69. That team, as well as the '70 squad, won its first nine games and was ranked No. 1, only to lose its regular-season finale to Michigan.
Although Kern, a native of Lancaster, Ohio, went on to play four years in the NFL as a defensive back with the Baltimore Colts and then the Buffalo Bills, his ties to Ohio State shaped his life. Disk problems, which had first surfaced at Ohio State, ended his football career in 1974. He returned to Columbus with the goal of becoming a college athletic director and earned a master's degree and a Ph.D. in education. However, a Columbus businessman who had bought the rights to sell Nautilus equipment in California, John Havens, hired Kern in 1976 to manage the business. Based in Santa Barbara, Kern held that job for 18 years, all the while contributing as much of his time as he could to Ohio State fund-raising efforts.
In 1994 he moved back to Columbus and took a position in another Havens family business, United Midwest Savings Bank. Three years ago Kern was in an auto accident that further injured his back, and he underwent surgery on his spine for the sixth time.
Two years ago Kern moved to Camarillo, Calif., with his wife, Nancy, whom he met at that 1968 Rose Bowl. She was a Rose Bowl princess who intended to enter USC the following fall. But after the Kern-led Buckeyes beat the Trojans, he persuaded her to enroll at Ohio State, and they married five years later. They have two sons, John-Ryan, 27, and Michael, 24.
Still associated with the bank and active in the Ohio State Alumni Association, Kern meets people all the time who, upon hearing his name, remember that a quarterback named Rex Kern once played in the Rose Bowl. "They'll ask if we're related," Kern says, "and I tell them, 'It depends on whether you're from Michigan or Ohio State.' "