Sunday, January 5, 2003

Celebration continues for Buckeyes' fans

By Charley Gillespie
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The majority of Ohio State's players didn't fly back to Columbus on Saturday night but about 250 fans still showed up to thank coach Jim Tressel for bringing home the national title.

Fans had waited for about an hour in 30-degree weather when seven buses carrying Tressel, team staff and their families arrived with a police escort. The crowd swarmed around Tressel as he stepped down, nodding and smiling as he and his wife worked their way toward the entrance to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

"Our fans are incredible," Tressel said. "We told them we were going to have a time to get together, but it might not be tonight. And there they are out in the cold anyway."

Many among the crowd said they just wanted to show their gratitude for Friday night's 31-24 double-overtime victory over No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. It gave the Buckeyes their fourth national title and first since the 1968 season, when Hayes was coach.

"I've followed the team since I was little, and this championship has been a long time coming," said 38-year-old Mike Allen of Columbus. "It was worth it coming here, just to see them and wave to them."

Only two scholarship players, backup quarterback Scott McMullen and reserve defensive back Chris Conwell, took the charter flight. Several walk-ons were also on the flight. NCAA rules permit schools to give players the cash equivalent of coach airfare. Players may find their own way home and pocket the difference, which the vast majority did.

Meanwhile, the mad dash for Buckeyes merchandise began early Saturday. Lines snaked through the aisles of the team store at Ohio State's Schottenstein Center, and people were banging on the windows before it opened, clerk Kyle Precht said.

"It took about 40 minutes to sell out," he said. "I saw someone who had 12 T-shirts, and she didn't even know what sizes they were. She was just grabbing them to get them."

The party started soon after Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey's fourth-down pass fell incomplete about 12:15 a.m. EST. But the celebrations were in sharp contrast to the riots, rock-throwing and fires that broke out after the Nov. 23 home win over Michigan. More than 60 people, including 16 students, were arrested then.

Columbus police had made 20 misdemeanor arrests by early Saturday morning, department spokesman Sgt. Brent Mull said.

"Our message got out as far as zero tolerance, and that we would be making mass arrests," Mull said. "People who were celebrating chose not to act in a disorderly manner."

Police also were helped by temperatures in the 20s and the mostly empty campus during winter break, Mull said. Classes resume Monday.

Plans for a university celebration were under way, Ohio State officials said. City officials will announce their plans on Monday, said Mike Brown, spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

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