Sunday, April 01, 2007

The hardwood gridiron

An Ohio State grad once posed the following question to me:

"Do you know the most important day during OSU basketball season?"

I shrugged. Selection Sunday? I didn't know.

"National signing day for football," he replied. I don't think he was kidding, either.

For Ohio, a state that isn't known for having a lot of success in basketball, pro or college, a state that has a football-crazed fan base that is known -- fairly or unfairly -- for not really caring that they don't have a lot of success in basketball, Saturday's national seminfinal games set up an appropriate final chapter for a school and a state looking for redemption from gridiron humiliation three months ago.

Monday night, Ohio State and Florida will once again square off with a national championship on the line. In the swamps of central Florida, it's about carving a place in history, about doing what no team has done since the 1992 Duke Blue Devils and repeating as national champs. For those of us sandwiched between the shores of Lake Erie and the banks of the Ohio River, it's about payback.

This isn't the NCAA basketball title game to Ohioans. This is the BCS title game, Part II.

A lot of Ohio State fans wanted this. They wanted a chance to settle things with Florida, to serve revenge cold, to make Gator basketball coach Billy Donovan pay for Urban Meyer's mastery of Jim Tressel on the football field in January.

But in many ways, this is the worst matchup that could have happened for Buckeye fans.

Ohio State fans might percieve this as Greg Oden bearing the cross of Troy Smith, as somehow the basketball team has inherited the pain of January's football beatdown and needs to avenge their humiliated comrades.

Sure, Tressel might give the roundballers a pep talk prior to Monday's game. He might even throw a few "Buckeye Pride" references in there. But Thad Matta's club isn't necessarily playing for revenge. They aren't playing to restore the pride of the football program. They're playing under circumstances that are far different from those the football team faced three months ago.

For Buckeye basketball, the scenery is as different as if you left The Horseshoe, threaded your way past St. John Arena, across Lane Avenue, over the Olentangy and up the hill to the Schottenstein Center. It's about two miles and a world apart.

The football team entered the BCS title game as overwhelming favorites. The basketball team enters their national championship as underdogs. The Gator football squad was an upstart, the Gator basketball squad is the pacesetter.

The Buckeye football team had 50 days to prepare for Florida, probably too long. The basketball team has less than 48 hours, which might be too short, or it might be just right. Sometimes not having a lot of time to think is a good thing when you're the underdog.

But if you are a Buckeye football fan looking for a measure of revenge, this might be the most compelling reason to drop that line of thinking:

The risk/reward factor isn't too good.

Think about it. Is a Buckeye win on Monday going to erase January's humiliation for a school that ties its national image to its football program so completely? Probably not. In football circles, Ohio State is still going to be the team that let its foot off the gas when they went up 7-0 in the first quarter, then allowed Florida to land a haymaker.

If Ohio State loses on Monday night, the humiliation will be doubled. You will not be able to wear a piece of Ohio State gear anywhere in north or central Florida for the next 365 days without being picked on mercilessly by fans of a school that got the best of you in the title games of two marquee sports, three months apart.

In Ohio, we're kind of used to humiliation when it comes to sports. But that level of embarrassment seems excessive, even around here.

So my purely unsolicited advice is, go ahead and root for Ohio State with all the passion you can muster on Monday night. These opportunities don't come along very often in these parts. But if you are going to root, root for the basketball team. Don't re-live the BCS title game vicariously through the basketballers.

The football team had their chance against Florida and blew it. Accept that. Monday is a chance for a completely different team to leave a completely different legacy among the Ohio faithful.

1 comment:

POJO_Risin said...

This team left a legacy...

Not quite the one they would have left had they won last night...