GLENDALE, Ariz. – Wearing a scarlet T-shirt, gray sweatpants and a backward hat emblazoned with the words “Fiesta Bowl Champions,” Joey Bosa walked off the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium to raucous chants of his name from the Ohio State fans lining the tunnel.
Bosa had just finished celebrating with his teammates after their 44-28 victory over Notre Dame in Friday’s Fiesta Bowl as he marched into the tunnel before disappearing in its darkness.
It was the second time Bosa had made that journey today.
About three-and-a-half hours earlier, he made that same walk. Except then, his face was stoic, painted with regret. That time, he was wearing his white jersey and gray pants. In his right hand he carried his helmet, exposing his long hair, which was pulled back by a black headband.
The game wasn’t over at that point, nor was it close. In fact, it had, essentially, just begun. Bosa’s Buckeyes were leading Notre Dame 14-0 with roughly five minutes to go in the first quarter when he made his somber voyage into the tunnel.
The cause for the trek was not because of a bathroom break, or even to get an injury attended to. Bosa was making the walk because he was just ejected from the Fiesta Bowl for a hit he put on Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer.
“It didn’t really feel real for, at least, 30 minutes after it happened,” Bosa said.
Kizer was rolling to his right, outside of the pocket, when he geared up to throw. He planted on his right foot and slung the ball downfield toward a receiver. Nearly immediately after releasing the ball, Kizer was crushed by a charging Bosa right in the midsection.
It was a punishing hit and initially, to make matters worse for the Fighting Irish, Kizer’s pass never got near his intended received. Instead, redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell intercepted it and returned it 15 yards.
OSU was already trouncing Notre Dame, and it looked like the Buckeyes were in business to tack on another touchdown after Powell’s interception.
But not so fast. A flag was thrown on the play near the collision between Bosa and Kizer. It was, as the referee announced, for targeting by Bosa, a penalty which carries the punishment of an ejection, if upheld after review.
Upon replay review, the penalty was confirmed, meaning not only was the interception retracted, but Bosa was now ejected from the game, just under 10 minutes after it started.
“Oh, my goodness,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game, “that was a kidney shot.”
Bosa then began his procession toward the locker room, as thunderous boos from OSU fans flooded the stadium, his playing career as a Buckeye concluding with a shocking denouement.
Usually when targeting is called, it is because of helmet-to-helmet contact. In this case, there was no contact between Kizer and Bosa’s helmets, which is why the displeasure existed.
However, Bosa was not innocent. The rule states that leading with the crown of the helmet is what constitutes targeting.
That is exactly how Bosa delivered the hit, with the crown of his helmet leading, looking like he was spearing a wrestler in the ring of a WWE match.
“I was reading (the rule) and I thought it was contact to their head,” Bosa said after the game, sitting in a chair outside his already-empty locker. “I thought it had nothing to do with my head, at all, but whatever.”
With Bosa’s ejection, OSU was now down three starters alongside its defensive line, and a big turnover was just wiped out.
Momentum’s pendulum quickly began swinging in Notre Dame’s direction, and coach Brian Kelly said he felt that. But it wasn’t necessarily because of Bosa’s exit.
“Certainly you recognize when one of the top players is out of the game,” he said, noting, however, that his game plan didn’t change because of it.
It mostly came, Kelly said, because of the 15 penalty yards.
The Fighting Irish scored on their next possession, making it a 14-7 deficit. But the Scarlet and Gray responded, not letting the loss of, arguably, their best player knock them down. Despite a few late attempts by the Fighting Irish to climb back into it, OSU came out victorious.
Bosa saw it all unfold on a television in the locker room away from his teammates, rather than on the sideline or field.
“I’ve really never had a feeling like it before,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time Bosa had to watch an OSU game on TV. He was suspended for the season opener against Virginia Tech. Even so, the feeling he felt Friday didn’t compare, he said.
“Just me making a bad mistake out there after a whole month of preparation,” Bosa said as for why it felt worse. “Started off good and just to take myself out of the game like that and let my teammates down — it was rough.”
A rough ending it was for one of the most dominant defensive players in OSU history. Bosa said he was “happy we won because that’s the point” of playing the game, but still, he was visibly down while talking to reporters after the game.
The two-time All-American is heading to the NFL now, leaving Columbus with 26 sacks — the third most in program history.
Bosa said he will take a few weeks off before beginning to train in about two weeks for the NFL combine. He’ll do so, he said, twice a day back in his home state of Florida.
Widely regarded as top-10 pick, Bosa said he’s looking forward to playing at the next level, but he will never forget his three years in Ohio’s capital city.
“It’s really sad that it’s over,” he said. “You can’t even expect what it feels like until it actually happens.”
For Bosa, now it has happened. Three dominant seasons officially over. The last one, though, cut 50 minutes short.
His presence will still be felt around the program, in large part because his brother, Nick, will be a freshman on the team next season.
“It’s pretty sad that it’s over,” Bosa said. “I’m really gonna miss everyone so much.”
Shortly after, Bosa stood up from his black, padded folding chair, leaving the locker room to do one more interview with a local news station. He again spoke about the hit, watching the game by himself in the locker room and his memories with teammates.
Bosa, upon being prompted by the reporter, did one more of his famous shrugs for the camera before moving on.
He stopped, grabbing one of the snacks provided for the players before walking through the stadium’s dimly lit hallway. Bosa acknowledged the OSU fans lining it, stopping for two pictures and a few polite nods.
He kept walking, turned the corner, and eventually left the building, walking into the Arizona sunlight where the team was congregating to leave.
Then, for the last time as a Buckeye, Joey Bosa got on the bus.