Thursday, January 2, 2003
Buckeyes have history of coming up short
By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press
TEMPE, Ariz. - Since winning the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1969, and finishing No. 1, Ohio State has flirted with a national championship nine times and failed every time.
The school's next shot at winning its fourth title comes Friday night, when the second-ranked Buckeyes play No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
A parade of former players and coaches addressed the missed chances in talks to the team over the past few weeks.
"They all said that opportunities like this only come once in a lifetime, and you don't want to look back 20 years from now and say, 'What if?"' tight end Ben Hartsock said Wednesday.
Is Ohio State - a 13-point underdog to the Hurricanes - going to be another disappointment or a title team?
"We came awfully close in the last decade and never quite got there, lost that one game somewhere along the way," athletic director Andy Geiger said. "But this team has kept its focus and has kept doing the things that it has needed to do to win the game. They made the plays they needed to make. Some can say it's luck, but when it keeps happening I think it's more than luck."
Archie Griffin, a former Ohio State running back who is the only player to win the Heisman Trophy twice, aches because his resume has a huge hole in it.
"I always said I'd give up a Heisman Trophy for a national championship," said Griffin, Geiger's top assistant in the athletic department. "That's the honest to goodness truth, because that's what I wanted more than anything."
Three times during his career, Griffin came close but didn't win a championship. He's reminded of it at family gatherings. His youngest brother, Keith, chose not to follow in the footsteps of the three older Griffin boys, all of whom went to Ohio State. Keith went to Miami instead, and he's the only one who has a national championship ring, from 1983.
"When he came home for Thanksgiving, he had his Miami hat and was wearing it proud," Archie said with a laugh.
The last time the Buckeyes had a national championship riding on a single game was the Rose Bowl that followed the 1979 season. A year earlier, Woody Hayes had his 28-year coaching career come to an ugly end when he was fired for punching a Clemson player in the final minutes of the Gator Bowl.
Ohio State picked Earle Bruce - a former Hayes lieutenant and the coach at Iowa State - to take his place. The Buckeyes responded by going 11-0 and playing No. 3 Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans featured a reigning Heisman winner, Charles White, and future winner Marcus Allen, as well as stars Anthony Munoz and Ronnie Lott.
The Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and drove deep into USC territory. On fourth-and-1, Bruce decided to go for the first down rather than let Vlade Janakievski try a field goal. Quarterback Art Schlichter kept the ball on an option play, and Lott stopped him inches short.
Twenty-three years have passed, and Bruce - recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame - still second-guesses himself.
"If we would have got three points there, they might not have had the opportunity to come back and beat us at the end," he said.
White gained 247 yards and his 1-yard TD run tied the game at 16. Eric Hipp's extra point won it.
When Griffin was a sophomore in 1973, the only blemish on the Buckeyes' record was a 10-10 tie at No. 4 Michigan. In 1974, Ohio State was No. 3 and could have captured the national title with a win over No. 5 USC in the Rose Bowl but lost 18-17. The next year, the Buckeyes were No. 1 most of the season before losing to UCLA 23-10 in the Rose Bowl, Griffin's final college game.
"Oh, man, that last one, that's the most disappointing," Griffin said. "It was in our hands."
Michigan ruined it for Ohio State in 1995 and 1996, and two years later the Buckeyes were No. 1 until falling 26-24 at home to unranked Michigan State.
"Somehow, to get that national championship, you've got to be able to get over that hump," Griffin said. "I can't tell you why we haven't."
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