For Buckeye Nation, National Title Would Mean Plenty

Journalist and commentator Bob Greene discusses what a win for the Ohio State football team would mean for folks who have ties to the Buckeye state.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

If you follow college football, you know there's a big game tonight in Glendale, Arizona. It's between the Florida State Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes. The winner claims the title BCS Champion.

Commentator and journalist Bob Greene is from Ohio, guess whose side he's on. He says that a win for the Ohio State football team would mean quite a bit for the people in the Buckeye state.

BOB GREENE: If a college sports program is very lucky, it has a legendary football coach associated with its history, Notre Dame, now and forever, has Knute Rockne. Alabama always has Bear Bryant. Texas, Darryl Royal.

But tonight, should Ohio State defeat Florida in the national championship game, something remarkable will happen. Ohio State will become that rare university whose football team will be always be synonymous with two men, Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel.

Woody - burly, volatile, quick to ignite - was the coach it was assumed whose name would in perpetuity define Ohio State football. Fired after slugging a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl, Hayes became almost a mythical figure in Columbus after he was let go. By the time he died in 1987, he may have been the most beloved man in Ohio.

Jim Tressel, the current Ohio State coach, would seem to be Woody Hayes' mirror opposite. Purposefully bland where Hayes was uncontrollably fiery, sweater-vest and tie where Hayes was baseball cap and shapeless short-sleeved shirt, they would appear to have been born in separate solar systems. What they have in common, what makes Ohio-born Jim Tressel and Ohio-born Woody Hayes all but brothers, is something unusual in big time sports today.

It's a sense of place, of not wanting to be anywhere else but where you are right now. If you grew up in central Ohio - and I did - you understood that we were considered flyover people. The opinion makers on both coasts saw us only from six miles in the air. That's why we adored Woody. He could have gone anywhere. He could have coached anywhere. He could have traded up. But when you're where you belong, the grass is never greener.

Even after he was fired he stayed right in Columbus, held his head high, kept the same listed home telephone number he'd always had. Woody once told me that when he was a boy, Cy Young, perhaps the greatest baseball pitcher ever, lived in retirement in the same community. Woody said, did Cy Young go to New York or Hollywood? He could have, you know. But the thing that made him great was that he knew where he belonged. He was just Cy Young, Woody said, the farmer boy from Ohio and people knew that he wasn't trying to be something he wasn't.

People sensed that about Woody, too. And they sense about Jim Tressel. They just know in Ohio that he's not looking over their shoulders, searching in the distance for something better. There can be a value beyond measure in not being itinerant.

And if Jim Tressel's Buckeyes defeat Florida tonight, giving Ohio State its second National Championship in this young century, Tressel and Woody will be a matched pair as long as football games are played in Ohio Stadium. And if by chance Tressel should lose tonight, well, all similarities aside, you can bet that he'll take it somewhat more calmly than Woody would have.

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NORRIS: Bob Greene is the author of “And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship” He lives in Chicago.

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SIEGEL: New inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and notes from the underground art scene in Beijing. That's ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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