Note: The following article was written by Larry Phillips and addresses the recent announcement of The Ohio State Alumni's All-Time Football Team. These are his observations. The entire list of all 26 team members can be viewed at the Ohio State Alumni Association site.
Note 2: In the photo, the guy on the left was selected to the team at tailback. The guy on the right was led away by authorities shortly after the photo was taken.
The Ohio State University Alumni Association released it's 26-member all-time football team last week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its member magazine.
I relish reading such lists. It's a chance to engage, analyze, and educate (or be educated) about a topic that draws intense interest from so many fans throughout our region.
Jay Hansen, the former sports editor in Newark and Lancaster who often contributed to our Bigger, Better Buckeye coverage, coordinated this project. It drew nearly 1,500 votes over a four-month period ending in February.
"In general I think our alumni made the correct choices," said Hansen, director of communications at the Ohio State Alumni Association. "Then again, it was hard to go wrong with a ballot like this one."
These lists are routinely and disproportionately tilted toward more recent athletes who's exploits are fresh in voter's minds. Had this poll taken place in 1975, Steve Myers would've been chosen as the center. In 1935 it would've been Gomer Jones (and he probably deserves the honor). It's 2009, so Nick Mangold gets the nod. Similarly, tight end John Frank (1983) was an excellent player, but certainly not better than three-time All-American Wes Fesler (1930), or even Jan White (1970). Still, I agree with Hansen, the alumni did a better job than I anticipated.
Voters get a pass on Chic Harley (1919) and Vic Janowicz (1951), mostly because these guys were so good they weren't pinned to a single position. Both were the best runners, passers, kickers, and defensive players on their respective teams. Each has an excellent argument as the greatest all-around player in school history. They probably should be recognized as first-team utility guys just to get them on this roster, because each obviously belongs.
The consensus found spots for old-school guys like defensive linemen Bill Willis (1944) and Jim Stilllwagon (1970) and offensive linemen Jim Parker (1956) and John Hicks (1973). They correctly selected Rex Kern as the school's best quarterback. Kern is the winningest signal-caller in school history, led the Buckeyes to three de facto national championship games (was MVP in one of them and ran for 101 yards in another) and was twice a top-5 Heisman finalist.
But, there were conspicuous absences, too.
Probably the most notable offensive omission was at fullback, where Pete Johnson (1977) got the nod over two-time All-American and Heisman runner-up Bob Ferguson (1961). In fact, Ferguson was third behind Jim Otis (1969). Ferguson seems to be the most forgotten great player in OSU history.
Some Ohio State fans claim Keith Byars was the biggest Heisman robbery in school history, and the Dayton native should've won the 1984 trophy. The perception is Doug Flutie nosed out Byars based largely on his dramatic Hail Mary pass to beat Miami on national TV. The fact is that Heisman vote wasn't close. Flutie overwhelmed Byars' point total (2,240 to 1,251), and had 678 first-place votes to 87 for Byars.
Ferguson represents the school's closest brush with another Heisman. He was runner-up to Syracuse running back Ernie Davis in 1961. At the time it was the second-closest vote in Heisman history (824 points to 771). Ferguson easily could've won the award, and certainly would've taken the trophy the way voters view the game today. Not only did the 6-foot, 227-pound fullback outgain Davis by more than 100 yards (938 to 823), he did it in one less game. Today the clincher would've been Ferguson played for an 8-0-1 national championship team, while Syracuse was 7-3.
Defensively, it's hard to believe two-time All-American Van DeCree was 13th in the voting. DeCree is the most disruptive defensive end I've seen at Ohio State, and that includes Will Smith and Mike Vrabel, the first-team picks. Hansen said Smith edged Jim Marshall for the final spot on the team.
Linebacker has been a treasure trove of riches over the years. Randy Gradishar has long been considered the program's premier man in the middle, and his stellar pro career validated his collegiate brilliance. There's a sentimental attachment to Chris Spielman for the passion he brought to the field, and while his selection isn't a surprise, I would take Tom Cousineau and Andy Katzenmoyer over A.J. Hawk. Cousineau was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Katzenmoyer's scholastic problems have clouded a brilliant career.
The secondary is incredible, too. The voters went for Jack Tatum, Mike Doss, Antoine Winfield and Shawn Springs. My only argument here is the absence of Neal Colzie, who was sixth behind those four and Mike Sensibaugh, the school's career interception leader with 22 picks. As much a I liked Winfield, Colzie was a better player. Not only was the Miami native a lockdown corner and the nation's best punt returner, he was a tremendous clutch player. A two-time first-team All-American, Colzie was part of an OSU defense that had two famous goal-line stands in a 14-11 upset of undefeated Michigan in 1972. In 1973, he picked off Wolverines quarterback Dennis Franklin in the end zone and recovered a fumble to help the Buckeyes forge a 10-10 tie. He then returned a punt 56 yards to set up the go-ahead score in a 42-21 pounding of defending national champion USC in the 1974 Rose Bowl. In the 1974 Michigan game, Colzie again intercepted Franklin in Ohio State territory during a 12-10 victory. In his final game, he intercepted two passes against USC in the 1975 Rose Bowl, one of them in the end zone. His 14.3 yards per punt return is a school record even Ted Ginn Jr. couldn't touch. Colzie also maintains the school mark for punt return yards in a game and a season. He's also fifth with 15 career interceptions.
Triggering those memories shows just how much fun such projects can be.