ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When the bus departed the Woody Hayes Athletic Center Friday afternoon, some players were in tears. Not because of a loss and not because of their season, but because of a moving and emotional speech from one man.
Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel spoke to the team before the Buckeyes departed for the 108th meeting between the OSU Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines.
“It was like he didn’t skip a beat,” said senior center Michael Brewster. “It was like you blinked and your like, ‘man was everything just a nightmare?'”
Brewster said the visit from Tressel was brief, and a surprise to the whole team.
“To be able to see him again and hear a few words from him, it definitely got us pumped up. It was an honor,” Brewster said.
Tressel gained a reputation at OSU as the Michigan killer. With a record of 8-1 against the Wolverines, Tressel looked to bring a little of that magic to the Buckeyes on Saturday.
In the end, OSU fell to Michigan for the first time since Nov. 22, 2003, with a 40-34 victory on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“He came in and spoke to us and did a great job and got us fired up,” said junior linebacker John Simon. “Unfortunately we couldn’t come up with a win.”
When Tressel was introduced as head coach of OSU on Jan. 18, 2001, Tressel’s disdain for Michigan became almost immediately apparent. During halftime of a basketball game between OSU and Michigan, Tressel had a brief message for Buckeye Nation.
“Be proud of our young people in the class room, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich., on the football field,” Tressel said.
Sure enough, 310 days later Tressel and his unranked-Buckeye squad travelled to Ann Arbor and defeated the No. 11-ranked Michigan Wolverines, 26-20.
Tressel’s respect for the rivalry and the dedication to it was heart-felt and genuine, not only from the day he was introduced as head coach, but up through his dismissal from the university.
Less than a week after his forced resignation for his involvement with “Tattoo-gate,” a group of students walked to his house in Upper Arlington, Ohio, to show their support to the former head coach. After meeting with several students and speaking to the crowd, Tressel had one parting message to students.
“Don’t forget: Nov. 26, we’re going to kick their ass,” Tressel said.
The game did not go as Tressel had promised. OSU’s attempt to comeback from a late-fourth quarter deficit was stopped by an overthrown pass to senior wide receiver DeVier Posey and was ultimately thwarted by a fourth-down interception thrown by freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.
The Buckeyes didn’t win the game like they had wanted, but Simon said one of Tressel’s message was clear.
“(Tressel) said you have to live in the moment, play the game in the moment,” Simon said. “And I think we did that today, you know, taking every play one play at a time.”
Brewster said he was one of the guys that found himself in tears after Tressel spoke.
“It was emotional for some guys, myself included, it stinks when you feel like you get robbed a year out of your life with him,” Brewster said. “I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that I get to meet back up with him next year, somehow, some way.”
Tressel’s message was simple, Brewster said. Tressel told the team that the key was to be relentless on defense, to play opportunistic and mistake-free offense, and to have superior special units.
“(Tressel said) the same thing he says all the time, that we used to be bored about,” Brewster said. “But now we can’t wait to hear it again.”