It’s probably the best BCS bowl game ever played. It might be the best game of the last decade. For football fans, it should even rank among the best games of all time.
For me, it is THE greatest game ever. And it will always be the greatest. No game will ever compare. No game will ever be as special. If it had been in the regular season, it would have been a great game, but it was so much bigger than that. It wasn’t just a great game, it was a great national championship. The only way a game could compete would be if it were of the same magnitude. Such a perfect match up of David and Goliath. And it was the first Ohio State championship in my lifetime. No matter how many championships I see, the first one will always be special. Dramatic. Compelling. Suspenseful. It was a game that had everything. It was a decade ago today but I remember that Friday evening as if it were yesterday.
On ESPN Classic and the Big Ten Network, that game is replayed often. Sometimes I’ll watch for a few minutes to appreciate it for the great football game that it was. But it’s just not the same years later. There was that feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched. Like concrete was being mixed. It was magical to see that victory and that is still one of the greatest days of my entire life. For the great season that the Buckeyes had in 2002, it was as if there were no other way to finish.
Looking back, it’s almost as if it was meant to be. After a strong decade in the 1990s, Ohio State had three mediocre years leading up to the 2002 season in which they had gone 21-15. But in 2002, the stars had aligned and the Buckeyes completed the regular season undefeated. While they hadn’t lost, their wins had not been pretty with 6 of their 13 regular season wins coming by a touchdown or less.
While the Buckeyes stumbled into the national championship, Miami entered that game as the defending national champions. They had lost one game in three seasons and entered the 2003 Fiesta Bowl on a 34 game winning streak. They were 14 point favorites for the Fiesta Bowl and the Buckeyes were looked to be an overwhelming underdog.
It was a hard hitting game which mostly featured great defensive performances. At times, Miami was having success in the air to targets like Andre Johnson and Kellen Winslow, Jr. In the second half, it looked like star running back Willis McGahee was starting to hit his stride before suffering a gruesome knee injury.
Despite all of that, Ohio State had the lead for most of the game. Although the margin was tight. Leading by three late in the fourth quarter, Roscoe Parrish had a big punt return for the Hurricanes which eventually setup a game tying field goal that sent the game to overtime. After Miami scored to take the lead, an OSU drive was prolonged by a controversial penalty. OSU scored and then scored in the second overtime before ultimately forcing the Hurricanes into a fourth down situation. With the game on the line, OSU linebacker Cie Grant came uncovered on a blitz and Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey’s pass was batted to the ground by the Ohio State defense.
Obviously it’s fun to see the team you love win any championship but there was something special about the fact that no one thought Ohio State could do it. The 2002 Buckeyes epitomized what it meant to be a team. I went to seven games that season which is another part of why that team was so special to me. I was at the first game against Texas Tech and the last game against Michigan.