CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – They accomplished the improbable – beating the top ranked Miami Hurricanes, who had won 24 straight games under coach Larry Coker, to secure Ohio State’s first football national championship in 34 years.
10 years later, nearly a dozen members of the 2002 National Champions gathered at the 60th Annual OSU Alumni Club of Greater Cleveland Football Banquet Tuesday evening at Windows on the River in the flats to remember a season for the ages.
Starting cornerback and current afternoon co-host on 92.3 The Fan, Dustin Fox emceed the event which was attended by former coach Jim Tressel, who now works at the University of Akron as the Vice President for Strategic Engagement.
The past few days have felt like a homecoming for Tressel.
His failure to report violations prior to the 2010 season and playing ineligible players involved in the tattoo and memorabilia scandal led to his forced resignation and a bowl ban for this year’s team.
Tressel admitted Tuesday night, he has plenty of regrets.
“Obviously, you feel terrible about that,” Tressel said. “Of course you feel regrets for anything that didn’t go the way you would want it to go, especially when you were a part of it.
“What makes you proud is that they knew that [there was a bowl ban] going into the season and yet what was most important was being undefeated for Ohio State and I thought that was pretty special.”
Former players love Tressel like a father and it showed Saturday at the ‘Shoe when they hoisted their former coach onto their shoulders while the 2002 team was honored in front of 106,000.
“It was special to be there with those guys, to be there with those fans,” Tressel said of the tribute. “There’s no place like OSU. It was one of those once in a lifetime moments.”
Ohio State went 12-0 this season – the first perfect season for the program since the 2002 Buckeyes went 14-0 capped by a 31-24 double overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl over Miami to win the national championship.
“It was the players that would not allow us to not be successful,” Tressel said. “Someone asked, ‘Going into the year did you think you’d be national champions?’ You always think going into the year you could be very good but [the players] thought about it. They thought about it and they were going to be special.
“They’d lived through 3 tough years and they were not going to live through another one of those.”
Quarterback Craig Krenzel, running back Maurice Clarett, linebacker Matt Wilhelm, linebacker Cie Grant, cornerback Mike Doss, and receiver Roy Hall were among the attendees from the title team Tuesday evening.
“This one great time in our life really brings us together,” Wilhelm said. “That’s why you take the time to come to events like this, to enjoy it and cherish it as long as you can.
“It was an amazing season and a testament to our leader, coach Tressel and what he instilled in us as men. He helped me grow as a man and look at life differently especially when you’re an 18 or 19-year old kid and look at everything as fun and games.”
The 2002 team won 7 games by a touchdown or less en route to the 5th national title and the first since 1968 for Ohio State.
“It was a season filled with so many unbelievable plays,” Krenzel said. “The thing that I remember the most about that season was the quality of players that we had in the locker room. We had the cliche ‘never say die’ group of guys that fought every single day.
“We knew we were going to have some close football games; we didn’t know we’d have that many.”
The Buckeyes started 2002 ranked 13th and as the wins piled up, they methodically climbed their way all the way up to No. 2 entering the Fiesta Bowl against No. 1 Miami.
The close calls and nail-biting finishes began in week 4 – a 23-19 win over Cincinnati.
The Buckeyes traveled to Wisconsin and escaped Madison with a 19-14 victory in week 8. A hard fought 13-7 win over No. 17 Penn State moved them to 9-0.
Ohio State went to Purdue and survived 10-6 to move up to No. 2 in the polls. They went to overtime the following week at Illinois and prevailed 23-16.
A 14-9 victory over No. 12 Michigan in Columbus sealed their invitation to Tempe and a date with the Hurricanes.
“We wanted to go out there and show the nation, show the world that we were just as good as any team that season in college football,” Doss said. “We proved it out there on the field.”
The annual banquet, which featured a silent auction and dinner, benefited The Ohio State University Alumni Club of Greater Cleveland Scholarship Fund.