It started with the Hamlet-like deliberations of a burned-out Urban Meyer, who resigned, then unresigned to go on "indefinite leave" at Florida. Next came the tempest at Texas Tech, resulting in sworn affidavits, a threatened lawsuit and an unemployed Mike Leach. Between those soap operas and the poignant leave-taking of Bobby Bowden at Florida State, this was already the most emotionally charged bowl season in memory, and that was before Dan (Boom) Herron set out to find a hat. ¶ While his teammates hugged and cheerleaders shed happy tears and the band played Hang On Sloopy in the aftermath of Ohio State's redemptive 26--17 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, Herron, the Buckeyes' sophomore tailback, roamed the confetti-strewn field like Richard III in search of his mount.
"Who's got the hats?" boomed Boom. "I just want a hat!" Herron had just chipped in 104 all-purpose yards in Ohio State's first bowl victory in four years, and damned if he wasn't going to reap the spoils. His kingdom for a 2010 rose bowl champions ball cap.
In becoming the first Big Ten team to win in Pasadena since 2000, Ohio State did its part to restore some luster to a conference whose programs have won three of six bowl games this season (Iowa faced Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday) after losing six of seven a year ago. However, this time around the annual exercise of rating conferences based on their bowl performances was overshadowed by the high drama off the field.
Leach had been suspended by the Tech administration, following reports that he had ordered reserve wideout Adam James to stand in a dark room. Subsequent arguments about the size of the room seemed to be missing the greater point: that Leach had taken unusual measures to treat a player who had missed practice with a concussion, a situation complicated by the involvement of James's father, Craig, an ESPN analyst. Two days after the suspension, Tech fired the most successful coach in its history for "insubordination" and his refusal "to cooperate in a meaningful way to help resolve the complaint." That he was sacked one day before he was due an $800,000 bonus is an issue sure to be raised by his lawyers in the suit Leach has promised to bring.
The fired Leach, the outgoing Bowden (who resigned under pressure) and the self-exiling Meyer had this in common: Their teams played well in decisive bowl victories. Tech piled up 579 yards of offense in a 41--31 Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State. The Seminoles outscored West Virginia 30--7 over the last three quarters of a 33--21 Gator Bowl victory. And to say the Gators were decisive radically understates the scary efficiency of Tim Tebow and the Florida offense in a 51--24 dismemberment of previously undefeated Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.
In a fitting final act to an amazing college career, Tebow was transcendent, completing his first 12 passes, leading the Gators to scores on their first five possessions and racking up 533 total yards—exceeding by 66 yards the previous BCS record, set four years ago by former Texas quarterback Vince Young against USC in the title game.
Until they dispatched Oregon on the same field, Ohio State's seniors had won a ton of games—they are the winningest class in school history— just not the ones that mattered most. Before bowing to Texas in last year's Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes had dropped back-to-back BCS title games.
"When people keep telling you how bad you are," says senior tight end Jake Ballard, "you can believe it, or you can get pissed off and do something about it."
So if the reaction of Ohio State players and fans appeared to be just a smidge over the top as the Rose Bowl clock wound down, it's because they had more than a victory to celebrate. The Buckeyes had cast off, at long last, the label of the team that can't win a big game. In the process, they witnessed the arrival of the player who stands the best chance of getting them back to a BCS title game.
Yes, Terrelle Pryor remembers the play. "I've got the picture hanging in my bedroom," says the Buckeyes' sophomore quarterback. He is in full flight in that photograph, hurdling a would-be tackler from Washington (Pa.) High in 2005. When Pryor landed in the end zone following that Beamonesque leap, the refs hesitated before signaling a touchdown. "They froze in awe," recalls Ray Reitz, his former coach at Jeannette High. "They'd never seen anything like it."