Sting of Rose Bowl loss still with Jones

Rob Oller
Ohio State University football players return from the Rose Bowl. From left are: Neal Colzie, Arnie Jones and Archie Griffin. January 3, 1974.

Former Ohio State football players will convene Wednesday at the university’s Gray Course to whack golf balls the way pioneers beat their dirty rugs with sticks. They will swing with ferocity, as if the Titleists insulted their mothers.

But golf alone is not what drives these aging Buckeyes to excavate turf at their annual reunion. If Tuesday morning was any indication, the frustration also is fractionally tied to football.

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Over cups of coffee, former linebacker/defensive tackle Arnie Jones fondly recalled the good times he experienced from 1971 to ’74, when the Buckeyes went 35-8-1 under Woody Hayes.

But Jones also winced at what I like to call the “if onlys” of sports; those moments or plays that if they had gone right — or not gone wrong — could and probably would have altered the outcome of the game.

If only Earnest Byner had not fumbled in the 1987 AFC championship game. If only Jean van de Velde had laid up to protect a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open. If only Chris Webber had not called timeout in the 1993 NCAA national championship game.

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“Trust me, you remember your losses,” Jones said. “Woody always said you’ll learn more from your losses.”

What Jones learned was “if onlys” hurt like a hammer to the thumb.

Unfortunately for Ohio State, by the end of the 1975 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes’ thumbs were black and blue. The only thing bigger than OSU’s shoulder pads — picture sticking your head through a hole in the cushions of a sofa — was the heartbreak of another lost national championship opportunity.

Jones remains loyal to his band of brothers.

“Use me as the error-maker,” he texted me later, proving humility still exists among today’s hubris.

The man knew who screwed up but did not name names.

YouTube is not so kind. It’s all right there on grainy replay as the legendary Curt Gowdy provides play-by-play for NBC and Al DeRogatis adds analysis.

I went back and rewatched that 18-17 Rose Bowl win by Southern California over Ohio State with a mix of fascination — you think officiating today is bad? The 1970s was a Kill Bill free-for-all with few flags thrown — and ill-fated remembrance. I was there in the stadium, a middle-schooler surrounded by ill-mannered Trojans fans. (Aside: Their behavior ended forever my image of Southern Californians as hang-loose surfer types.)

If only Ohio State special teams player Max Midlam had scooped Tim Fox’s blocked punt and trotted in for a 17-yard touchdown return — instead of falling on the ball. Two plays later, Archie Griffin fumbled. For only the second time all season.

If only Neal Colzie had not spiked the ball after returning an interception to the USC 9-yard line, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that moved OSU out of easy field-goal range leading 7-3 in the third quarter. Two plays later, the Trojans intercepted Cornelius Greene.

If only Doug France had not false-started with Ohio State facing fourth-and-a-foot at the USC 2 in the first quarter, followed by a failed chip-shot field goal attempt by normally can’t-miss Tom Klaban.

“It was one of those games we should have won. And it was there for the taking,” Jones said.

What is it about pain that stays with you? Is it evolution at work, never allowing us to forget the negative experience, so we do not repeat the mistake?

Or maybe the “if onlys” exist to make the “we did its” that much sweeter? Like former Buckeyes hitting that one shot just right in an otherwise hack-it-around day.


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