Steve Bellisari could have sat back on Saturday and sulked.
He could have positioned himself near the bench or in a crowd of players and hid from the cameras. He could have made himself invisible to fans who chanted “Alcoholic” and wore T-shirts that read “Belli-Sorry Blows!” on the front and “.22” on the back.
He didn’t. From the 40th row of section 26 of Michigan Stadium, it was clear to me and everyone else where the former captain and starting quarterback was and, more important, just who he was.
Bellisari wasn’t in the action in Ohio State’s 26-20 win over the Wolverines, but he was on the front lines. He was around coach Jim Tressel and assistants Jim Bollman and Joe Daniels while the offense was on the field.
And when they came off, Bellisari could be found next to the upstart who replaced him, sophomore Craig Krenzel. No jealousy or envy, just advice to the roommate who stole his thunder.
He was helping the team in any way he could. He was standing up for what he did in one of the most hostile atmospheres in college football.
For those reasons alone, Bellisari’s punishment for the events of the early morning hours of Nov. 16 should be complete. He has served his time.
Often forgotten in the statistically-driven sports world are the little things that help a team win. It is running that extra sprint in February. It is going 100 percent in a practice for the Akron game when everyone else is dragging. It is generally setting a standard of work ethic that the team feels obligated to follow.
Those things, and not his performance on the field, are the reasons Bellisari was twice elected captain by his teammates.
Those things are what had each and every one of his teammates sticking by him as the media tried to bait them into saying nasty things about the signal-caller.
Those things are what made Tressel stick to his guns and not fall to the temptation of putting his leader on the bench.
In early April, having been on the job for just more than two months, Tressel hadn’t coached Bellisari in a game or even more than an official practice or two. But he didn’t mince words about what he thought of the rising senior, something that made the post-Spot Bar events all the more disappointing.
“I know this about Steve Bellisari; we’ve asked a lot of these kids as far as working together, caring for one another and I have not seen anyone take to that and work like that and demonstrate leadership like Steve Bellisari has.”
Tressel continued, “He’s in the front of every pack, he’s there early and he stays late. He cares.”
This does not say that Bellisari was or ever will be a great player. In fact, this scribe stated after the UCLA game that the team would have been better served with Bellisari at a position he would be more natural at – safety or even outside linebacker.
I stick by that.
When it boils down to it, though, Bellisari was a college kid who went out, drank to celebrate his friend’s 21st birthday and made the mistake of getting behind the wheel. Truth be told, the exact same thing happened to this writer in August on the campus of Boston College.
These types of arrests happen to thousands of college-aged kids each year. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had and I didn’t have to deal with what Bellisari did – the media, the coaches and the criticism of an entire state.
The point is that he has suffered enough for his actions.
He was not at the Ohio Stadium for Senior Day and there was no mention of this player that had given as much or more to the program as any of those that were introduced. He could not play in the one game that often defines the perception of those involved with the Buckeye football program (see: John Cooper).
It wasn’t murder. Bellisari wasn’t shooting heroin, smoking crack or taking steroids.
He was drinking, something this university is historically know for, at the No. 8 party school in the country. And he paid for it.
At the very least, Tressel should give Bellisari the chance to earn his job back one last time.
It could be speculated that Bellisari would be more equipped to face the fierce attacking style of defense that he most likely would when lining up against LSU, Tennessee or Georgia. With his foot speed, experience and chemistry with deep threat Michael Jenkins, it would seem Bellisari would get these teams to back off a bit more than Krenzel would.
If Krenzel proves that theory wrong, then fine. But after what Bellisari has given this program, from being a demon on special teams as a true freshman to being a team leader as junior and a senior, it is time for the Buckeyes to give back to their displaced captain what he rightfully deserves.
Albert Breer is a senior in journalism and can be reached for comment at Breer.email@example.com.