The Golden Era of Ohio State football

Tiger Woods awoke Sunday morning and, before going out to shoot a final-round 65 to win his fourth Memorial Tournament, tuned in to watch Roger Federer’s victory at the French Open. That win was Federer’s 14th major championship, tying him with Pete Sampras for the most in tennis history, and, coincidentally, with Tiger.
Woods sits on 14 majors, too, heading to the U.S. Open next weekent at Bethpage Black, where he’s now favored to get one step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional golfing majors.
So, with Federer and Woods breathing down the neck of their respective sports’ histories, could this era properly be termed the Golden Era of Sports? After all, besides Federer and Woods, this decade has given us a new home-run king in baseball and the Olympian greatness of swimmer Michael Phelps. Plus, there are now whispers in the aftermath of LeBron James’ first MVP award at age 24 that he will eventually surpass Michael Jordan as the acknowledged greatest basketball player of all-time.
I batted this around with my radio sidekick, Chris Spielman, on 97.1 The Fan and our conversation eventually turned, as it often does, to Ohio State football. Could it be that this is, in fact, the Golden Era of Buckeye football?
Now, to settle that argument, one must first decide what an “era” constitutes. To me, it’s more than a four-year period, because for something to get labeled an era it must extend beyond the duration of one recruiting class’s stay on campus.
Given that one caveat, the issue then becomes which time period surrounding one of Ohio State’s national championships stands above the rest? We can all agree, can’t we, that no era can be the best at a school where the national championship has been won four legitimate times that no era can be deemed the best without including at least one No. 1 finish?
The choice boils down to a pair of possibilities, either starting in 1968 with the 10-0 national championship season of Woody Hayes’ Super Sophomores, or commencing with the 14-0 national championship season of 2002 in Jim Tressel’s second season.
Both titles kicked off wildly successful periods that saw Woody’s teams from 1968-75 go a combined 73-11-1 and Tressel’s teams from 2002-08 go 76-14.
That Woody era included seven Big Ten titles in eight years, with the lone down season a 6-4 mark in 1971.
Tressel’s on-going era numbers five conference crowns and one middling season of 8-4 in 2004.
Each era featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Archie Griffin in 1974-75, Troy Smith in 2006) and brushes with other national championships.
Hayes’ teams in 1969, 1970 and 1975 lost national championships by losing their final game of those respective years, and could have won a title in 1973 if not for a 10-10 tie with Michigan in the final regular season game.
Tressel’s teams, of course, lost in the BCS title game in both 2006 and 2007.
I side with the Hayes era as the best in OSU history because of the sheer dominance of the Super Sophomores and the Griffin-led teams that reached the Rose Bowl a record four consecutive times.
Tressel’s era could yet surpass those achievements depending what transpires in 2009 and beyond, but for now I’ll go old-school and side with the Buckeyes of my youth.

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