Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Counter-History: A Buckeye Fantasy

Recent news reports indicate that the OSU football program might be in for a very rough time as a result of NCAA rules violations, a prospect that fills my Buckeye-fanatic heart with dread. This is shaping up to be the worst scandal of my lifetime. So I will indulge in a bit of counter-historical speculation.

I once learned that from 1933 to 1936, OSU’s football team went 5-3, 7-1, 7-1, 7-1. Of those six defeats, only one of them was by more than a touchdown. OSU’s coach, Francis Schmidt, achieved a great deal of fame by using a complicated, razzle-dazzle offense.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had had the prescience to reach out to a young man from Cleveland who, ironically enough, never played football, a young man named James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens. Owens achieved undying fame for once breaking five world records in one hour (in sprint events and in the broad jump). He made a brief appearance on the world stage when he won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Popular legend has it that his victories convinced Adolph Hitler to stop attending the games. Owens later commented, “Hitler didn’t snub me, Roosevelt did. He didn’t even send a telegram.” Sadly, Owens was forced to run exhibitions to support his wife and young child. It’s a scandal that a man who accomplished all that should be reduced to those circumstances.

I wonder if somebody had pointed out to Francis Schmidt the impact a player of Owens’ speed could have. To put it another way, what happens when you take a great football team and add the world’s fastest human? “Bullet” Bob Hayes made a real contribution to the Dallas Cowboy teams in the 1960s after setting a world sprinting record in the 1964 Olympics. What could Jesse Owens have accomplished?

I did a bit of research and found out that JO’s times in the 100 meters were almost exactly the same as Ted Ginn Jr’s. Viewers can see for themselves what Ginn did to the best defensive programs in the country. What could Owens have done to teams that didn’t have a single player who could run a 100 yards in under ten seconds? Allow me to indulge in a bit of what might be called Buckeye football fan porn: four straight undefeated seasons, Owens a four-time All-American and two-time Heisman trophy winner (the Heisman was introduced in ‘35). Could the NFL have possibly ignored a man with that much impact? I suspect not. It’s possible that if JO had played football at Ohio State, he might have had a comparable impact to what Jackie Robinson had with the Dodgers a decade later.

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