Happy Birthday To Another 3-Time All-American

Ohio State has produced only seven players who have been three-time consensus All-Americans, and three of them share birthdays just a day apart. Yesterday, it was Wes Fesler and Tom Skladany, and today it’s Mike Doss.

Michael Allen Doss was born June 30, 1981, in Canton, Ohio, and attended tradition-rich McKinley High School. He played running back and safety for the Bulldogs and helped them win back-to-back Division I state championships in 1997 and ’98.

During his senior season, Doss rushed for 1,454 yards and 22 touchdowns and added 111 tackles and three interceptions on defense. He earned first-team All-Ohio honors and was a USA Today honorable mention All-American.

All of his senior-year accomplishments at McKinley occurred after he had verbally committed to play at Ohio State, issuing his verbal less than a week after National Signing Day in 1998.

Doss played sparingly during the first part of his freshman season with the Buckeyes, but he slowly worked his way up the depth chart and started the final two games in 1999. He finished 10th on the team in tackles despite playing about 100 minutes fewer than the rest of the Buckeyes among the top 10.

In 2000, Doss was installed as the starting strong safety and never relinquished the position. He led the Buckeyes in tackles as a sophomore and junior, and then was an integral part of the team’s 2002 national championship run. Doss finished his OSU career with 331 tackles, more than any other defensive back in program history.

He was a second-round selection by Indianapolis in the 2003 NFL draft, and started at strong safety for four years for the Colts. But he suffered a serious knee injury in 2006, limiting him to just six games that season with Indianapolis, and in April 2007, Doss signed a one-year, free-agent contract with Minnesota. He spent the season playing behind five-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper and saw only eight games of action with the Vikings.

In five NFL seasons so far, he has played in 54 regular-season games (42 starts) and totaled 260 tackles, seven interceptions, six forced fumbles and one sack. But the Vikings have opted not to re-sign him, putting Doss’ pro football future in jeopardy.

Earlier this month, however, was a time for celebration. Doss was back on the Ohio State campus to participate in spring commencement ceremonies, earning his degree in communications. “In case of whatever happens in life,” he told his hometown Canton Repository, “I have that piece of paper and it will open up more opportunities for me.”

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Also celebrating on this final day of June are velvety-voiced singer Lena Horne; Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Paul Berg; former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson; Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard; actress Nancy Dussault (first woman anchor on “Good Morning America”); former pro wrestler Terry Funk; former New York Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park; American Idol season three winner Fantasia Barrino; jazz bassist Stanley Clarke; comic actor David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”); NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin; multiple Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps; and one of my favorite actors Vincent D’Onofrio, who has played such diverse roles as tormented Pvt. Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence in “Full Metal Jacket,” the villainous bug in “Men In Black,” and quirky yet ultra-intelligent New York detective Robert Goren in “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”

This also marks the 37th anniversary of ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On June 30, 1971, Ohio voted to ratify the amendment, giving it the necessary three-fourths vote of the country’s state legislatures. The next day, the voting age in the United States was officially lowered from 21 to 18.

AND FINALLY

** Phil Loadholt, the starting left tackle for Oklahoma, was charged June 21 with driving under the influence of alcohol and transporting an open container. According to state troopers, when they pulled over Loadholt, the 6-8, 350-pounder had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. While you pause to ponder just how much consumption it would take for a 350-pound man to blow a 0.15 on the breathalyzer, consider that troopers also reported that open containers of Busch Light beer and malt liquor were on the center console of Loadholt’s car. Then try to explain how Loadholt’s attorney could appear in court four days later and enter an innocent plea on his client’s behalf.

** Think they take their college athletics seriously in the Deep South? On the home page of The Telegram in Macon, Ga., all weekend long was a full-color picture and obituary of Uga VI, the bulldog that served as the mascot for the University of Georgia. According to the story, Uga VI was the biggest and winningest of the school’s line of mascots, and he died Friday in his hometown of Savannah. He died due to congestive heart failure at the age of 9, and was to be buried amid full-blown funeral ceremonies.

** What the hell is going on in Major League Baseball? First, outfielder Milton Bradley tried to get into a radio booth to confront an announcer, then pitcher Shawn Chacon grabbed his GM by the neck and threw him to the ground. Now, slugger Manny Ramirez has shoved Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground because McCormick might not have been able to get Manny the number of free tickets he requested for Saturday night’s game. Hmmm. Three separate bursts of seething rage? Gee, Mr. Commissioner, I thought you had “cleaned up” this game.

** Spain beat Germany, 1-0, yesterday to capture the European Championship in soccer, Spain’s first major international title in 44 years. I mention this only because it’s supposedly a big deal – in Europe anyway. On this side of the pond, not so much. I have a couple of co-workers who enjoy the game, but as an American guy who grew up playing and watching football, I just don’t get soccer. I guess I like a game with a little more scoring and one that plays a little more attention to its own game clock.

** Would you believe the Tampa Bay Rays have MLB’s best record at the midway point of the season? It’s true. I guess taking “devil” out of the official name was an honest-to-goodness exorcism for a team that has never lost fewer than 91 games in the 10-year history of its franchise.

** Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

Celebrating Fesler’s Centennial

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most outstanding all-around athletes Ohio State ever produced.

Wes Fesler was a three-time All-American for the Buckeyes in football, a consensus first-team All-American in basketball and a three-time letterman in baseball in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Two decades later, he returned to Columbus as head football coach and directed OSU to its first Rose Bowl victory in history.

Born June 29, 1908, in Youngstown, Ohio, Wesley Eugene Fesler was a superlative high school athlete who excelled in nearly every athletic endeavor he undertook. When he reached Ohio State as a freshman in 1927, head coach John W. Wilce allowed him to practice with the varsity even though freshmen were not eligible to play.

The following year, Fesler started for the Buckeyes at fullback on offense and manned an end position on defense. While he was an excellent running back and powerful blocker, it was on the defensive side of the ball that Fesler really excelled. He earned three straight first-team All-America honors at end, becoming only the second OSU player in history to become a three-time All-American. (Chic Harley was the first in 1916-17, ’19.)

In 1930, Fesler also became Ohio State’s first winner of the Silver Football Award, symbolic of the Big Ten’s most valuable player. Nine years later, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice put Fesler at one of the end positions on his all-time college football team.

Fesler’s exploits were not limited to the gridiron – he won a total of nine varsity letters during his college career. In basketball, he was an All-Big Ten guard in 1931 and became the program’s first consensus All-America honoree that same season. On the baseball diamond, Fesler was good enough to be offered a professional contract by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Football was his first love, however, and after graduation from Ohio State, Fesler decided to spurn several offers from NFL teams to begin a coaching career. He spent two seasons working as an assistant on Ohio State head coach Sam Willaman’s staff before accepting an offer from Harvard to become backfield coach of the football team and head coach of the men’s basketball squad.

Fesler stayed in Cambridge for nine years before returning to his native Buckeye State to take over the head football coaching job at Ohio Wesleyan. Unfortunately, the school suspended its football program because of World War II and Fesler returned to the Ivy League, taking over the men’s basketball program at Princeton. He was also an assistant coach on the Tigers’ football team.

In 1946, he finally got his chance to be a head football coach when he took a job at Pittsburgh. That lasted only one season, during which the Panthers posted a 3-5-1 season, before he returned to his alma mater. Ohio State head coach Paul Bixler had resigned following the 1946 season, and Fesler eagerly jumped at the chance to return to the Ohio Stadium sidelines.

The Buckeyes struggled during Fesler’s first season, going 2-6-1 and finishing in ninth place in the Big Ten standings. But they made improvement the following year and, in 1949, tied for the conference championship and earned an invitation to the Rose Bowl. In Pasadena, Fesler guided his team to a 17-14 victory over California, marking Ohio State’s first-ever win in “The Granddaddy of ’Em All.”

Rose Bowl euphoria gave way to acrimony between Fesler and the rabid OSU fan base in 1950 when the Buckeyes lost their season opener by a 32-27 margin to Southern Methodist. The team righted itself, though, and reeled off six straight victories before losing 16-7 at Illinois and 9-3 at home to Michigan in what has become known as the “Snow Bowl.”

Two weeks after that game, Fesler resigned and joined a real estate firm in Columbus. That career change was short-lived as just 47 days later, he accepted the head coaching position at Minnesota. He stayed with the Gophers for only three seasons, retiring following the 1953 season. By that time, the man who had excelled for so much of his life on the gridiron, hardcourt and diamond seemed to have lost his interest in athletics. Fesler left his sporting life behind and never looked back.

He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954, and was a member of the inaugural class of inductees to the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977. But Fesler rarely returned to Columbus in later life. He settled in California and joined a brokerage firm, working there until his retirement in the 1970s.

Fesler died June 30, 1989, at Palm Terrace Rest Home in Laguna Hills, Calif., after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for about a year. He was 81.

SKLADANY’S BIRTHDAY, TOO

Fesler isn’t the only former Buckeye born on June 29. Thomas Edward Skladany was born June 29, 1955, in Bethel Park, Pa., and became one of the finest kicking specialists the Buckeyes have ever produced.

Skladany was the first kicking specialist ever offered a full scholarship by Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes after a stellar prep career for head coach Rudy Andabaker at Bethel Park High School. Not that Hayes wanted to “waste” a scholarship on a kicker. During his official visit to OSU, the coach told Skladany, “We’re probably not going to give you a scholarship, but I hear you kick pretty good, and if you come here and if you do what (everybody) thinks you can do, you may end up getting a scholarship.”

Those were not exactly the words Skladany wanted to hear. He liked Ohio State, but Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State were all offering full rides. He told Hayes that he wasn’t coming.

Then shortly before his final visit, a trip to Penn State, the OSU coach called him and made the offer. Skladany told him about the visit to Happy Valley, to which Hayes replied simply, “Are you coming here or not?” Skladany took the trip to Penn State but wound up telling head coach Joe Paterno that he was going to sign with the Buckeyes.

The 6-0, 192-pounder was immediately installed as the team’s punter during his freshman season and also handled kickoffs as a freshman and sophomore.

When he was a junior, Skladany added field goals and PATs to his duties and became one of college football’s top kicking specialists. He led the nation in punting in 1974 and ’75, and was named a consensus first-team All-American three times. Only six other Buckeyes (and no other kickers) have earned that distinction in program history.

Skladany still holds several OSU records despite the fact his scarlet and gray career ended more than 30 years ago. Among those are the single-game mark for best punting average (52.3 against Michigan State in 1976) and the longest field goal ever by a Buckeye (59 yards at Illinois in 1975).

After his four-year career at OSU, which produced a record of 40-5-2 and four Big Ten titles or co-titles, Skladany was a second-round selection (46th overall) by Cleveland in the 1977 NFL draft. However, Skladany and the Browns could never agree on contract terms. On the advice of agent Howard Slusher, Skladany sat out the 1977 season and signed with Detroit the following year.

Skladany spent five seasons with the Lions between 1978 and ’82, and remains among the career top 10 in most of the team’s punting records. His best season was in 1981 when he averaged a career-high 43.5 yards per kick and made his only Pro Bowl. That season, Skladany also completed 3 of 3 pass attempts on fake punts for a total of 43 yards.

He finished his pro career appearing in four games with Philadelphia in 1983 before leg injuries caused him to retire. Skladany’s career stats included an average of 42.1 yards on 295 punts.

After retiring from football, Skladany returned to the Columbus area and opened a successful printing business. Today, he remains president and CEO of Skladany Enterprises.

He was inducted into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Other luminaries celebrating birthdays today are film producer Robert Evans (“The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” “Urban Cowboy”); Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew; whacked-out actor Gary Busey; former Sri Lanka president Chandrika Kumaratunga; comedian, actor and Ohio State alum Richard Lewis; actress Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue”); Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice; former NASA astronaut Charles Precourt; Scottish actor Michael Carter (Bib Fortuna in “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”); former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and current UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman; disco era diva Evelyn “Champagne” King (“Shame”); NASCAR driver Jeff Burton; and Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson.

AND FINALLY

** It may be the NFL offseason but former Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn has been a busy, busy man. In just the past month or so, Glenn fired his agent, missed all of the Dallas Cowboys’ mandatory and volunteer workouts because he wouldn’t sign an injury waiver, rehired his agent, angered Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, told the team to release him, was informed by doctors he needed microfracture surgery on his knee, underwent an MRI that revealed his knee was fine and reached out to Jones to tell him he wants to return in 2008. Glenn, of course, has 1.74 million reasons why he doesn’t want to make so many waves – that’s his base salary. He can make even more through incentives.

** A couple of draft day moves by the Milwaukee Bucks may give Michael Redd reason for pause. The Bucks selected small forward Joe Alexander of West Virginia and then traded for prolific scorer Richard Jefferson. Those moves seem to make sense until you realize Alexander and Jefferson normally play the same position. Of course, Jefferson has played the shooting guard position in the past – but that’s Redd’s position. It seems unlikely the Bucks will be able to afford both Redd (three more years at $51 million) and Jefferson, who has three more years remaining on a $42.4 million deal he signed with New Jersey.

** Good news and bad news for fans (if there are any) of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. On Friday night, Betty Lennox of the Dream scored a career-high 44 points, tying her for the third-highest single-game point total in league history. The bad news? It came in a 109-101 overtime loss to Connecticut, giving Atlanta a 0-14 record and breaking the WNBA record for most losses to begin a season.

** Why have the Cincinnati Reds seemingly lost the ability to compete in Major League Baseball? It can’t possibly be the old complaint about being a small-market franchise. The Minnesota Twins have won 10 of their last 11 games, Tampa Bay is 16 games over .500 and challenging Boston for the lead in the American League East, and even Kansas City – which lost 106 games only three seasons ago – has won 11 of its last 13 games.

** Oh well. At least the Reds showed some signs of life last night in a 5-0 win over Cleveland. If Cincinnati can somehow find a way to beat the Tribe again today, the Reds would return home on the heels of a 5-4 road trip. The team has posted exactly one winning road trip out of its past 21.

** Did you hear that Indiana State has accepted a letter of intent from high school quarterback Calvin Schmidtke? This is the guy who threw for 2,724 yards and 37 TDs as a senior last year but was dropped by Washington State because of 11 citations from law enforcement over an 18-month period ending in May. Why would the Sycamores take a chance on Schmidtke when nearly every other I-A and I-AA program in the country took a pass? It might have something to do with the fact that Indiana State has lost 31 of its last 32 games, and the only win was tainted because ISU used an ineligible player.

OSU’s Other NBA First-Rounders

Personally (or IMHO, as they say on the Internets) I think Kosta Koufos would have been better served playing another year of college basketball at Ohio State.

If the 7-footer from Canton was truly recruited to play the forward position – as he claims he was – then why didn’t he return for the 2008-09 season when he could have played that position for the Buckeyes? With true center B.J. Mullens entering the program this coming fall, Koufos could have moved to his more comfortable position at the 2, shot threes to his heart’s content and potentially moved into the top five of next year’s NBA draft.

Of course, young people are often impatient. (I don’t remember being impatient as a teenager but I’m sure that I was.) Why continue to slave away with college courses and tough practices for practically nothing when you can bolt to the pro ranks where they will pay you many millions of dollars to play a game?

When the Utah Jazz called Koufos’ name with the 23rd overall selection in last night’s draft, he became the 20th Buckeye to go in the first round. Of course, being selected in the first round doesn’t guarantee success in the league.

Here is a list of the Ohio State basketball players who were first-round NBA draft picks and how they fared during their pro careers.

Jack Underman, St. Louis Bombers, 1947 – Underman was the All-Big Ten center in 1946 and Ohio State’s most valuable in 1947, and became the seventh overall selection in the Basketball Association of America draft (the precursor of the NBA) later that year. But Underman never played for the Bombers, who went 29-19 in ’47-’48 and finished first in the Western Division. They lost in the league semifinals to the Philadelphia Warriors.

Paul Huston, Chicago Stags, 1947 – The eighth overall pick of the BAA draft, Huston was a 6-3, 175-pound forward who played only one season with the Stags, a team coached by former Ohio State head coach Harold Olsen. He averaged 3.6 points in 46 games and helped Chicago to the BAA semifinals, where they lost to the Baltimore Bullets.

Dick Schnittker, Washington Capitols, 1950 – The 6-5, 200-pounder was the fourth overall pick of the draft behind Chuck Share of Bowling Green, Don Rehfeldt of Wisconsin and Bob Cousy of Holy Cross. Schnittker played only one season in Washington but logged five seasons with the Lakers when they were still in Minneapolis and helped the team to the NBA title in 1954. He finished his six-year career with averages of 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Schnittker was also an excellent free-throw shooter, finishing among the league’s top five in that category in three of his six seasons.

Larry Siegfried, Cincinnati Royals, 1961 – The third overall pick in ’61 behind Walt Bellamy of Indiana and Tom Stith of St. Bonaventure, Siegfried was selected by the Royals to team in the backcourt with Oscar Robertson. But Siegfried didn’t want to play in Cincinnati after Ohio State’s loss to the University and Cincinnati in the NCAA Finals that year. He opted to play in the American Basketball League with the Cleveland Pipers, and the team won the league title. When the ABL went bankrupt the following year, Siegfried was close to giving up the game until former OSU teammate John Havlicek asked Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach to give Siegfried a tryout. Siegfried went on to play seven seasons in Boston and was a member of five NBA championship teams. He finished his career in 1971 and ’72 bouncing around with San Diego, Atlanta and Houston, and wound up with averages of 10.8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. Siegfried was also a pure free-throw shooter, leading the league twice during his career and finishing with a lifetime percentage of 84.5 (1,662 for 1,945).

Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati Royals, 1962 – Considered one of the best college players in history, Lucas also opted out of playing in Cincinnati and signed a unique player-management contract with Cleveland Pipers owner George Steinbrenner. However, the ABL went bankrupt before Lucas got on the court and he started his pro career one year later with the Royals. Over 829 games with Cincinnati, San Francisco and New York, Lucas averaged 17.0 points and 15.6 rebounds. The rebound figure is fourth all-time in league history. During his 11-year career, he was a seven-time all-star, finished among the top 10 in field goal shooting seven times, finished among the top 10 rebounders eight times and helped the Knicks to the 1973 NBA championship. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.

John Havlicek, Boston Celtics, 1962 – While Lucas was going to Cincinnati with a territorial pick in ’62 draft, Havlicek was headed to Beantown with the seventh overall pick of the first round. Red Auerbach was never sorry. Hondo was a catalyst for eight NBA championships, playing offense and defense with equal greatness. He finished his 16-year career in Boston with averages of 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Gary Bradds, Baltimore Bullets, 1964 – The 6-8 pure shooter was the third overall pick in 1964 behind Jim Barnes of Texas-El Paso and Joe Caldwell of Arizona State. Bradds played two seasons for the Bullets and finished his career with four different teams in the old ABA. He retired after the 1971 season with overall averages of 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Bradds returned to his native Jamestown, Ohio, and became a teacher and school administrator but tragically died of cancer in 1983 at the age of 40.

Bill Hosket, New York Knicks, 1968 – The 6-8, 225-pound Hosket was the No. 10 pick in the ’68 draft. He played 86 games over two seasons for the Knicks and was a member of the 1970 NBA championship team. Hosket left the Knicks after that season and finished his brief NBA career with two years in Buffalo with the Braves. In 143 career games, he averaged 4.0 points and 2.5 points per game.

Jim Cleamons, Los Angeles Lakers, 1971 – The 13th selection in the ’71 draft, Cleamons bounced around the league throughout his nine-season career. His longest stint was a five-year stay in Cleveland between 1973-77. In addition to the Lakers and Cavaliers, Cleamons also played for the Knicks and the Bullets and finished his career with averages of 8.3 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. He later embarked on a coaching career and earned several NBA championship rings in Chicago and Los Angeles as a member of Phil Jackson’s staff.

Kelvin Ransey, Chicago Bulls, 1980 – The Bulls made Ransey the fourth overall pick and then traded him to Portland. The players taken ahead of the 6-1 guard from Toledo Macomber High School were Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue, Darrell Griffith of Louisville and Kevin McHale of Minnesota. In six seasons with the Trailblazers, Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets, Ransey averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game.

Herb Williams, Indiana Pacers, 1981 – After an excellent career at Ohio State, it was somewhat surprising that Williams fell to the No. 14 spot in the ’81 draft. But that began an 18-year playing career that took him to Indiana, Dallas, New York and Toronto. Herbie wound up playing in 1,102 games – 48th all-time – and finished his career with averages of 10.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game.

Clark Kellogg, Indiana Pacers, 1982 – Kellogg was the first Buckeye basketball player to leave school with eligibility remaining when the Pacers made him the eighth pick in the ’82 draft. He spent his entire five-year, injury-plagued career in Indiana and averaged 18.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals over 260 games. Knee injuries forced him into retirement at age 25.

Tony Campbell, Detroit Pistons, 1984 – The 20th selection in the ’84 draft, Campbell played for six different franchises during his 11-year career. Donning uniforms for the Pistons, Lakers, Timberwolves, Knicks, Mavericks and Cavaliers, the 6-7 swingman averaged 11.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 690 NBA games. He was a member of the 1988 league championship team with Los Angeles, averaging 6.2 points on a roster that included Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Brad Sellers, Chicago Bulls, 1986 – The 7-footer from Warrensville Heights went with the No. 9 pick in the ’86 draft, ahead of such future stars as Mark Price and Dennis Rodman. Sellers played three seasons in Chicago, leaving just as the Michael Jordan championship era was beginning. He finished his seven-year career bouncing around to Seattle, Minnesota, Detroit and then back to Minnesota, winding up with averages of 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

Dennis Hopson, New Jersey Nets, 1987 – Hopson went No. 3 in the ’87 draft behind David Robinson of Navy and Armon Gilliam of UNLV. He spent only three seasons in New Jersey and then retired two years later after playing only five years and 334 games in the league. For New Jersey, Chicago and Sacramento, Hopson averaged 10.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Jim Jackson, Dallas Mavericks, 1992 – Jackson redefined the term “journeyman.” After the Mavs took J.J. with the fourth overall pick in ’92, he played for 12 different franchises over the next 14 seasons. By the time he retired after the 2006 season, Jackson had logged time with the Mavericks, Nets, 76ers, Warriors, Trailblazers, Hawks, Cavaliers, Heat, Kings, Rockets, Suns and Lakers. And he was pretty good for all 12. His career averages: 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists. Unfortunately, the closest Jackson got to a championship ring was 1999 with Portland and 2005 with Phoenix. Both teams lost in the Western Conference finals to San Antonio.

Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers, 2007 – Ohio State’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick – remember Lucas was a territorial selection – sat out his rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. He has been rehabbing for the past several months and is hopeful of being near 100 percent when the Trailblazers kick off their 2008-09 season in October.

Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies, 2007 – The 6-1 point guard was taken with the No. 4 pick of last year’s draft, behind only Oden, Kevin Durant of Texas and Al Horford of Florida. In his first season in the league, Conley played in 52 of the Grizzlies’ 82 games (including 46 starts) and averaged 9.4 points and 4.2 assists for a team that finished fifth in the Southwest Division with a 22-60 record.

Daequan Cook, Philadelphia 76ers, 2007 – Cook experienced an up-and-down rookie season after being selected with the 21st overall pick last year. The Sixers shipped him to Miami on draft day, and Cook spent a three-game midseason stint with Iowa in the Developmental League. After tearing up the D-League by averaging 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Energy, he returned to South Beach and wound up playing 58 games for the Heat, including 19 starts. His season averages: 8.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Happy 41st birthday today to former Ohio State linebacker John Kacherski, a big, quick player whose career was plagued by knee problems. Born June 27, 1967, in Oceanside, N.Y., John Richard Kacherski was a star defensive player at Milford (Conn.) Academy, registering 47 sacks during his final two seasons. He finally broke into the OSU starting lineup as a sophomore in 1988 and led the Big Ten in sacks with nine. He missed all of the following season following knee surgery, and returned in 1990 only to blow out the knee again in the season opener after making four first-half tackles including two sacks. Kacherski rehabbed again and returned for his senior year in 1991, elected one of the team captains for the season. He started all 12 games the Buckeyes played that years, and he later played seven games in the NFL for Denver during the 1992 season. Kacherski returned with his family to the Columbus area in 2002 and works for a transportation company.

Also celebrating birthdays today are businessman and former U.S. Presidential candidate Ross Perot; songwriter and Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston; former Boston Red Sox shortstop/third baseman Rico Petrocelli; Chicago Cubs outfielder Jim Edmonds; Washington Senators catcher Johnny Estrada; fashion designer Vera Wang; TV actress Julia Duffy (“Newhart, “Designing Women”); Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress; 2004 U.S. Open women’s singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova; country singer Lorrie Morgan; Craftsman Truck Series driver Johnny Benson; film director and producer J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III,” “Cloverfield,” the upcoming “Star Trek” prequel in 2009); and Spiderman himself, actor Tobey Maguire.

AND FINALLY

** Houston Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon was suspended and then released after he grabbed team general manager Ed Wade by the neck and threw him to the floor of the team dining room at Minute Maid Park earlier this week. The team’s official reason for the suspension and release: insubordination. You think?

** Chacon’s explanation of the incident: “I lost my cool.” You think?

** Former champion Maria Sharapova was upset yesterday by the world’s 154th-ranked player in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon. For those of you who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, Wimbledon is a big tennis tournament they hold each year in Great Britain. Used to be a much bigger deal.

** Here’s a strange twist: Major league umpire Brian Runge has been suspended for one game because he bumped New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel during an argument on Tuesday.

** That Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan will resign in December isn’t surprising. The fact that IU didn’t fire him immediately after the Kelvin Sampson disaster – now that’s surprising.

Three Of OSU’s Biggest Interceptions

During what is considered the modern era of Ohio State football, there are three interceptions that stand out as seminal moments in Scarlet and Gray history.

The first occurred more than a half-century ago during the 1954 game against Wisconsin.

The Badgers invaded the Horseshoe on Oct. 23 with the Big Ten’s top-rated defense while the Buckeyes boasted the conference’s top offense. Each team was undefeated in its first four games and both schools were ranked among the nation’s top five – Wisconsin at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 4.

OSU was trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter and Wisconsin was threatening to add to its lead when quarterback Jim Miller faked a handoff to fullback Alan Ameche and targeted one of his receivers breaking open in the left flat. In the seemingly-open area flashed Ohio State defender Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, who cut in front of the receiver and made the interception on the dead run.

Taking the ball at his own 12-yard line, Cassady made two moves – one to his right to elude one would-be tackler and a hip fake that left another Badger grasping at air. By the time the OSU junior had made it to midfield, several teammates provided key blocks to touch off an electrifying 88-yard return for a touchdown.

Cassady’s play also touched off an Ohio State comeback that resulted in a 31-14 win over the Badgers and an eventual 1954 national championship for the Buckeyes. The play remained the longest interception return in the Horseshoe for nearly 50 years until Will Allen took one back 100 yards against San Diego State in 2003.

Thirty-four years after Cassady, another junior defensive back grabbed an important interception that helped fuel a run to the national title.

In the third game of the 1968 season, Ohio State hosted Purdue in the Big Ten season opener for both teams. The Boilermakers were the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at the time, and were installed as solid 13-point favorites coming off a 41-6 shellacking of the Buckeyes the year before.

After a scoreless first half, Purdue took the opening kickoff of the third quarter determined to score some points. On the third play of the second half, QB Mike Phipps tried to get the ball to a receiver on a short crossing pattern and nearly had the pass picked off by OSU defensive back Jack Tatum.

On the next play, when Phipps saw Tatum retreating to cover the deep zone, he tried the short pattern again. This time, however, junior defender Ted Provost had blanket coverage and made the interception at the Purdue 35. Thanks to blocks from Tatum and middle guard Jim Stillwagon, Provost raced into the end zone for the touchdown and jubilantly heaved the football into the stands.

The interception started the Buckeyes on their way to a 13-0 upset of the Boilermakers, and the team finished out a perfect season and national championship with a Rose Bowl victory over USC.

The third historic interception came in 1975 and is remember as one of the finest defensive plays in the long history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

That season, the Buckeyes and Wolverines were meeting for the seventh time in eight seasons to determine the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative. An NCAA-record crowd of 105,543 squeezed into Michigan Stadium where the Wolverines were working on a 41-game unbeaten streak.

OSU was trailing 14-7 with 7:11 remaining in the game and hadn’t registered a first down since early in the second quarter. But quarterback Cornelius Greene drove the team 80 yards for the game-tying score with 3:18 left to play.

With the score knotted at 14 – and the Wolverines knowing a tie would send the Buckeyes to Pasadena – Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler was forced to try and create something on offense. On third-and-19 at his own 11, quarterback Rick Leach tried to find a receiver past the first-down marker down the middle but threw too far and in the vicinity of OSU sophomore safety Ray Griffin.

The younger brother of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin snagged Leach’s pass at the Michigan 32 and streaked his way back down the sideline to the 3-yard line. On the next play, fullback Pete Johnson thundered into the end zone and the Buckeyes had secured a 21-14 victory. In the game, Archie Griffin had his streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games snapped at 31. But brother Ray had a coming-out party with 14 tackles, including 10 solo stops and two sacks, and the all-important interception.

After the game, Woody Hayes told reporters, “I’d have to say this is our greatest comeback, so this has got to be the greatest game I’ve ever coached.”

Unfortunately, Ohio State couldn’t parlay the win into the 1975 national championship. The Buckeyes were upset 23-10 in the Rose Bowl by UCLA, a team they had beaten 41-20 in Pasadena earlier that season.

But there was no denying that Ray Griffin’s interception was one of the biggest plays of that season. If you would like to relive it, click on this link: 1975 Ohio State-Michigan Game.

“That interception was really, really special – for me and for the rest of the seniors,” big brother Archie said in 2004. “That meant we never lost to Michigan, having gone 3-0-1. To me, that was more important than getting 100 yards.”

Ray has often said it was biggest play of his four-year career at Ohio State. “In fact,” he said in 2003, “it’s the most memorable play of my career, either in college or the pros.”

Ray was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes from 1975-77 and then enjoyed a seven-year NFL career with Cincinnati from 1978-84. With the Bengals, he had 11 interceptions and returned three for touchdowns.

Oh, and one more thing … today is Ray Griffin’s 52nd birthday.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Also celebrating a birthday today is former Ohio State defensive lineman Joel Penton. Born June 25, 1983, in Van Wert, Ohio, Penton became a standout football player and wrestler in high school. He was a member of the outstanding recruiting class of 2002 was a key backup for OSU throughout his career. During his senior season, Penton registered a career-high 20 tackles, including two sacks – one against Penn State and the other against Michigan. He was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and won the 2006 Danny Wuerffel Award, an honor known as the “Humanitarian Heisman.” After graduation from OSU, he turned down offers to play in the NFL to become a full-time motivational speaker. Penton is also community director for the Central Ohio chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Among the celebrities who have birthdays today: jazz pianist Dave Grushin; former Fifth Dimension lead singer Billy Davis Jr.; former Scandal lead singer (and the current Mrs. John McEnroe) Patty Smyth; former Berlin lead singer Terri Nunn (“Take My Breath Away”); three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond; former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe; actor Chris O’Donnell (“Scent Of A Woman,” “Batman Forever”); Emmy Award-winning actor Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”); Academy Award-nominated director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”); eclectic actor Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore, “I ♥ Huckabees”); country singer Gretchen Wilson; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter; Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jason Kendall; New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington; and currently incarcerated Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

It was also the day when many famous people of the past were born, including U.S. Gen. Abner Doubleday (who may or may not have invented baseball); Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck; character actor Peter Lorre (“The Maltese Falcon,” “Casablanca”); Col. Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s longtime manager); and Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson, perhaps the finest all-around athlete (male or female) of all-time.

THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO TODAY

You know those bar code symbols that are affixed to everything from eggs to newspapers these days? They are officially known as “Universal Product Codes,” and they were developed in 1973 by George J. Laurer, who improved several earlier forms.

The original UPC appears in U.S. patent No. 3832686 awarded to Ilhan Bilgutay, who created four bars of varying widths and put them into groups of two. Laurer added space between the bars, thereby creating a symbol that occupies more space than the Bilgutay original.

The following year, on June 26, 1974, the first item ever scanned using the present-day UPC occurred at 8:01 a.m. when a 10-pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum went through the scanner at Marsh’s Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. That pack of gum is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

WORST SPORTS ANNOUNCERS

Everybody has a list of something these days. The folks over at Maxim (one of those publications you read only for the well-written articles, of course) have a list of their “Ten Worst Broadcasters In Sports.” Here is their list along with why they’re ranked where they are:

1. Chris Berman, ESPN – The godfather of taking a spectacular athletic moment and butchering it with bulls**t. Never fails to shoehorn his trademark nonsense into a game.

2. Chip Caray, TBS – A fountain of inaccuracies.

3. Joe Morgan, ESPN – The most condescending broadcaster in sports.

4. Dick Vitale, ESPN – A mugging cartoon whose catch phrases like “dipsy-doo dunkaroo” send fans scrambling for a dull razor.

5. Bryant Gumbel, NFL Network – Gravitas only matters if you don’t suck.

6. Bill Walton, TBS – The undisputed king of hyperbole.

7. Billy Packer, CBS – The Dick Cheney of college basketball broadcasting, Packer is a crotchety antagonist who brings the joy of a diaper change to every gig – along with doses of racism and sexism!

8. Mike Patrick, ESPN – During an overtime game between Alabama and Georgia last September, Patrick began peppering booth partner Todd Blackledge with questions about Britney Spears and her whacked-out personal life. Blackledge’s answer: “Why do we care at this point? Is she here?”

9. Walt Frazier, MSG – Tone down the pimp-wear, criticize your sorry-ass team once in awhile, and please put down the thesaurus.

10. John Madden, NBC – Became a parody of himself long ago.

AND FINALLY

** Notre Dame continues to get some love in the preseason polls. The Fighting Irish, who weren’t even as good last year as their 3-9 record would indicate, have already been picked by some analysts as their surprise team of 2008. Now, ESPN.com college football writer Mark Schlabach has reshuffled his preseason top 25 and has Notre Dame in the No. 25 spot. The Irish may be improved this season – how could they get much worse? – but let’s see if they can get to .500 before vaulting them into the rankings.

** Did you hear that Louisville tried to sue Duke after the Blue Devils football team pulled out of the final three games of a four-year contract? A Kentucky Circuit Court judge dismissed the case, saying that Duke’s performance on the field was so poor that any Division I team would suffice as a replacement. The Blue Devils are 6-45 over the past five years and 13-90 since 1999.

** Care to try and name the last two freshman running backs to lead national championship teams in rushing? Try Herschel Walker of Georgia in 1980 and Maurice Clarett of Ohio State in 2002.

** When Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez hit his grand slam the other night of New York’s Johan Santana, it gave Hernandez the exact same number of career slams as Derek Jeter … and one more than Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder.

** Here’s more major league baseball minutiae: Last week, Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard struck four times in the same game for the 10th time in his young career that spans only 488 games. Want to know how many times Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones has worn the golden sombrero during his 1,965-and-counting-game career? Zero.

Who’s Who In ’08 Heisman Race

It’s never too early to begin the preseason Heisman hype. And since I’ve got an honest-to-goodness vote, here is an alphabetical list of 15 players I’m going to zero in on once the 2008 season begins a mere 66 days from today. (Of course, I reserve the right to add and/or subtract to this list before the end of November.)

Todd Boeckman, QB, Ohio State – Yes, I know what you’re thinking but I said in a print column last fall and I’m sticking with it. If you are the quarterback on the No. 1 team in the nation, by all rights you ought to be a Heisman candidate. Last year’s late swoon aside, I thought Boeckman did a credible job in his first year as a starter. I think he continues to improve and get better, especially with a push from behind by freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor.

Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma – Bradford will be only a sophomore in a Heisman field that will be top-heavy in upperclassmen. But the mold was broken last year, so if the Sooners rebound like many experts believe they will, their quarterback will undoubtedly make the short list of bona fide contenders. It’s difficult to believe he could improve much on his freshman season, however. After all, you can’t get much better than No. 1 in the country in pass efficiency.

Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech – The 6-3, 208-pounder is definitely a wild card pick especially since his team is considered a one-dimensional offensive freak show. Nevertheless, a freshman year during which he led the nation with crazy numbers – 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 TDs cannot be ignored. If he somehow improves on those kinds of numbers, he certainly gets into the mix this season and sets himself up for potential glory in 2009.

Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri – Daniel has had all winter to think about how he dropped last year’s Heisman in Tim Tebow’s lap. All the Mizzou quarterback had to do was play under control in the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma. Instead, he lost his cool and the Sooners ran away with a 38-17 victory. But Daniel came back to lead a big victory over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and finished the season having completed 68.2 percent of 563 pass attempts, good for 4,306 yards and 33 scores. If the Tigers can approach the level of success they enjoyed last year, Daniel will again be in the Heisman race until the end.

Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida – Dark horse alert! A lot of people who should know what they’re talking about figure the Bulls are going to topple West Virginia this season and become the Big East’s representative in the BCS. If they do, expect Grothe to be the catalyst. He’s not the most physical specimen around, and at only 6-0 and 213 pounds, his penchant to run the football may not allow him to stay healthy all season. But the kid’s a winner. Eight times in high school Grothe led his team to come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter and he did it twice more last year with USF.

Cullen Harper, QB, Clemson – Here is the best quarterback in college football you’ve never heard of. If the Tigers can avoid their usual slow start, Harper could establish himself as an early front-runner for national honors. Last year in his first year as the starter, he led the ACC in pass efficiency by completing 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards and 27 touchdowns against only 6 picks. Plus, he has the luxury of playing in the same backfield with the one-two tailback punch of James “Thunder” Davis (1,064 yards, 10 TDs) and C.J. “Lightning” Spiller (768 yards, 3 TDs).

Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech – Crabtree had to have someone throwing him all those footballs last year and Harrell was the guy. There is no doubt that the 6-3, 203-pound gunslinger is a one-trick pony and Tech quarterbacks are more products of head coach Mike Leach’s pass-happy system than star players. But there is no use denying the raw numbers. Last year, Harrell completed 512 of 713 attempts (71.8 percent) for 5,708 yards and 48 TDs. If Hawaii’s Colt Brennan could make it to New York last year on numbers alone, why can’t Harrell do the same thing in ’08?

Percy Harvin, WR, Florida – I look for the Gators to rebound from last year’s rather disappointing 9-4 finish, and Harvin could be the guy that lights their fire. Heisman voters love a do-everything player and the 5-11, 178-pound speedster certainly fits that bill. He can hurt defenses at running back and receiver, then go break your heart as a kick returner. Maybe you think there’s no way Harvin can take the award playing on the same team as the incumbent winner. If that’s the case, you’ve forgotten Reggie Bush won the year after his quarterback Matt Leinart took home the trophy.

Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan – Can you imagine voters giving the trophy to a guy from the Mid-American Conference? Heck, Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t finish any higher than ninth despite a stupendous year at Miami (Ohio) in 2003. Still, LeFevour is worth a mention here. He is the quarterback of the team that is likely the class of the MAC this season, and probably the best player in that conference. He was MAC freshman of the year in 2006 and followed that with league offensive player of the year honors last season, a campaign that saw him become only the second player in NCAA history to total 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. (The other one was Vince Young. Remember him?)

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia – The Bulldogs are everyone’s preseason pick to keep the SEC’s streak of national championships going and Moreno has emerged as UGA’s star offensive player. Last season, he ran for 1,334 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman and figures to up those numbers with more carries this year. Moreno has already drawn comparisons to former Georgia greats Garrison Hearst (who finished third in the 1992 Heisman voting) and Herschel Walker (the 1982 winner). That’s some pretty lofty company.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma – Murray was injured part of last season or would have made a much bigger splash. Even so, he racked up 764 yards and scored 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Since the Sooners are expected to make a run at the national title game this season, and since Bob Stoops loves to let his featured tailback run the ball, if Murray can stay healthy, look for some huge numbers – numbers that Heisman voters will be hard-pressed to ignore.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia – If Moreno isn’t the touchstone for the Georgia offense, it’s Stafford. The 6-3, 237-pounder is still a little streaky for my taste, but more than one NFL scout has projected him as the first quarterback taken in the 2009 draft. Stafford will have to make some improvement on his completion percentage (just 55.7 in 348 attempts) and his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (19-10) if he is truly to make a dent in this year’s Heisman race.

Tim Tebow, QB, Florida – I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that Tebow won this thing last year. It’s true that he had a very good season, throwing for 3,286 yards and 32 TDs while rushing for 895 yards and 23 scores. I mean, anyone who accounts for 55 touchdowns in a single season has accomplished something truly remarkable. I’m just not sure that, as a sophomore, he was the most outstanding player in college football in 2007. Like it or not, though, he was the winner and enters this season trying to join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winners.

Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State – The preseason favorite around these parts, Wells had a breakthrough season last year with 1,609 yards and 15 TDs. Since he did most of that work with a bad ankle and broken bone in his hand, one can only wonder what he can do at 100 percent. If the Buckeyes decide to run the ball more this season, their schedule sets up in such a way that Beanie could make an assault on Eddie George’s school record of 1,927 yards in 1995. And we all know what award Sir Edward won at the end of that season.

Pat White, QB, West Virginia – His head coach Rich Rodriguez went to Ann Arbor and his backfield mate Steve Slaton bolted to the NFL, and still White is a bona fide Heisman candidate – but only if he can stay healthy. He remains extremely dangerous with his arm and legs, and even though Rodriguez is gone, his spread option attack remains. It is an offense in which White thrives, and it is quite possible the Mountaineers could be undefeated when they host South Florida in the Dec. 6 regular-season finale for both teams.

MORE REASONS WHY I HATE ESPN THE MAGAZINE

The big, glossy rag usually features more than its share of self-absorption but the June 30 issue may have set a new low in that regard.

Stephen A. Smith, who probably fist-bumps himself when no one’s looking, offered this piece of journalistic pie: “Justin Timberlake was nice enough to stroll over to me at the Staples Center and say, ‘I’m a huge fan of yours. I watch you all the time. Keep doing your thing.’ I know it’s name-dropping, but I appreciate the love.”

If you thought that was bad, here is Stuart Scott’s description of meeting Presidential candidate Barack Obama: “When I met Obama last year, he walked up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘You and I have spent many evenings together.’ I don’t get star struck often, but at that moment I felt the way I did at a Prince concert three years ago when, in the middle of a song, Prince walked to the edge of the stage and pointed directly at me. Grown men aren’t supposed to feel like OMG! OMG! OMG! But when he did that, I got weak in the knees. And when Obama told me he watches (SportsCenter), it was exactly the same.”

Add in Mike Greenberg’s fashion tips on page 36 (“Summer is the season of linen”) and a four-page spread on the national oil-wrestling tournament in Turkey (and I’m not making that up), and you’ll understand why we can’t use “The Rag-a-zine” to line the birdcage. No self-respecting bird would drag his bottom on it.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

On a lighter note, some of the fine folks celebrating birthdays throughout the world today include actress June Lockhart (“Lassie,” “Lost In Space”); civil rights advocate Dr. James Meredith; Oscar, Emmy and Grammy award-winning singer Carly Simon; Seventies television icon Jimmie “Dyn-O-Mite” Walker; comic actor Ricky Gervais (the original version of “The Office”); pop singer George Michael; Nickelback bassist Mike Kroeger; retired NHL star Doug Gilmour; Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo; New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado; and TV chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain.

It’s also the 84th birthday of Academy Award-winning director Sidney Lumet, whose 50-year career has resulted in such Hollywood classics as “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network” and “The Verdict.”

AND FINALLY

** I like boxing. Not too keen on that MMA stuff, but I still like what they call the “Sweet Science” even though most guys are simple headhunters these days with no idea what a body shot looks like. That’s why I’m a little disappointed Welsh super middleweight Joe Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs) is refusing to lace ’em up against middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs). At least that’s what Calzaghe is saying right now. Most people figure when the price gets high enough, he will sign a contract to meet Pavlik, the Youngstown, Ohio, native, who has one of the best nicknames in sports: “The Ghost.”

** NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller issued an apology for saying on-air that Rocco Mediate looked like the guy who cleans Tiger Woods’ pool. Later, Mediate said he wasn’t offended by what Miller said. So why did Miller apologize? And whom did he offend? The Loyal Order of the International Brotherhood of Pool Boys?

** Speaking of NBC, something you may have missed about the network’s announcement that it had extended its contract through 2015 to broadcast Notre Dame football games: The extension came despite the fact the Fighting Irish had their lowest ratings last year since NBC began broadcasting their games in 1991.

** SI.com basketball writer Chris Mannix has come up with an interesting concept. He held a mock NBA draft with a twist – every current player in the league was eligible. Not surprisingly, he figured the Bulls would select LeBron James at No. 1. But the head-scratcher was down at No. 14. That’s where Mannix had Golden State selecting former Ohio State center Greg Oden, who missed all of his rookie season following knee surgery. Oden was “selected” ahead of such players as Tony Parker, Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady, Carlos Boozer, Steve Nash and Michael Redd.

One Of OSU’s Earliest Stars

Today marks the 113th anniversary of the birth of one of Ohio State’s earliest football stars. You may not know his name but you’ve probably seen his picture.

Gaylord Roscoe “Pete” Stinchcomb was born June 24, 1895, near Sycamore, Ohio, a tiny village just northeast of Upper Sandusky. He became a football, basketball and track star at nearby Fremont High School, and was enticed to continue his playing career at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were experiencing their first taste of recognition on the national scene thanks to halfback Chic Harley, who had led the team to a perfect 7-0 record in 1916 and the school’s first conference championship.

Stinchcomb joined the varsity squad the following season and together with Harley made for one of the most lethal backfield combinations in college football. According to newspaper accounts of the day, “Harley lit the fire and Stinchcomb fanned the flames.”

In the season opener against Case, the Buckeyes suffered a potentially devastating blow when Harley suffered an injury and spent most of the afternoon on the sidelines. But Stinchcomb took over at halfback and scored a couple of touchdowns as Ohio State rolled to a 49-0 victory.

Two weeks later, in the conference opener against Northwestern, Harley was back at full strength and provided the blocking for three touchdown runs by Stinchcomb during a 40-0 win.

Ohio State eventually stormed its way to another undefeated season, going 8-0-1 (the lone blemish being a 0-0 tie against Auburn) and outscoring its opposition by a whopping 292-6 margin. More importantly, the Buckeyes had clinched another conference title, their first back-to-back outright championships. That is a feat that has been equaled only twice since – 1954-55 and 2006-07.

Harley and Stinchcomb each missed the 1918 season while serving in World War I, but they made a triumphant return the following year. With Harley at halfback and Stinchcomb moving to quarterback, the Buckeyes won their first six games including their first-ever victory over Michigan, a 13-3 win at Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, the duo missed out on another Western Conference championship when the team suffered a 9-7 upset loss to Illinois in the 1919 season finale. After the season, Harley and Stinchcomb earned first-team All-America honors. It was the third award for Harley and the first for Stinchcomb.

With Harley having graduated, Stinchcomb moved back to a halfback position in 1920 and finished his collegiate career with another undefeated regular season and conference championship. He scored three times in the team’s 55-0 season-opening win over Ohio Wesleyan, then returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown the following week to help OSU to a 37-0 victory over Oberlin.

Against Wisconsin in the conference season opener the next week, Stinchcomb scored on touchdown receptions of 36 and 48 yards – the latter with just 50 seconds remaining – to key a 13-7 win over the Badgers. It was Wisconsin’s only loss that season.

The Buckeyes continued their winning ways, topping off the regular season with a 7-0 win at Illinois. With just 0:04 showing on the game clock, Ohio State scored when Stinchcomb was used as a decoy to draw several Illini defenders to the wide side of the field before quarterback Harry Workman connected with end Cyril “Truck” Myers for a 37-yard touchdown. Stinchcomb kicked the extra point to account for the final point of the contest.

The victory propelled the Buckeyes into their first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl, a game that resulted in a 28-0 loss to California that so thoroughly disappointed university officials the school would not accept another invitation to Pasadena for 29 years. The loss wasn’t exactly Stinchcomb’s fault, though. He ran for a team-high 82 yards on 11 carries before exiting the game in the second half with an injury.

Stinchcomb finished his Ohio State football career with a 21-2-1 record and earned his second straight All-America honor in 1920. Football wasn’t the only thing that defined Stinchcomb, however. He later capped his collegiate athletic career in the spring of 1921 by winning the NCAA long jump championship, and also served as president of the OSU Student Council during his senior year.

After graduation, Stinchcomb rejoined Harley and played for the Chicago Staleys of American Professional Football Association (the precursor of the National Football League) and the former Ohio State teammates won themselves another championship. Stinchcomb ran for 180 yards and a team-high four touchdowns in 1921 while Harley played quarterback and completed 8 of 13 passes for 120 yards and three TDs.

The following year, Harley left the team but Stinchcomb remained and was among the team leaders in rushing, receiving, punt returns and scoring as the Staleys became the Chicago Bears. Following the 1922 season, Stinchcomb departed Chicago and played with pro teams in Columbus, Cleveland and Louisville before retiring from the game in 1925.

He returned home to northern Ohio and began a successful construction business in Findlay.

Stinchcomb made regular appearances at Ohio State football games, especially for the annual captains’ breakfasts, until his death in 1973 at the age of 78. That same year, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame

In the 35 years since his death, Stinchcomb’s legacy has been largely lost. But it had been reborn several times in recent history because of an iconic photograph taken after a muddy game in 1920. One of the most recent showings of the photo came during a second-season episode of the long-running sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in which fictional New York Newsday sportswriter Ray Barone remodels his basement as a home office.

Adorning one wall, located just above Raymond’s desk, is the photo showing the mud-caked smiling face of Gaylord Stinchcomb. Here is a link to that famous photo: Muddy Grin.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Another former Buckeye was born on this day.

Antoine Winfield was born June 24, 1977, in Akron, Ohio, and was a star at Garfield High School and was the state’s defensive player of the year in Division I before signing with Ohio State in 1995. Winfield became known as one of the top cover men in college football and won the Thorpe Award in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive back. Buffalo selected him with the 23rd pick of the first round in the 1999 NFL draft and Winfield played with the Bills for five seasons. He moved to Minnesota following the 2003 season and has been a starter with the Vikings ever since. Winfield’s nine-year career stats in the NFL include 128 games (112 starts), 590 tackles and 18 interceptions.

Also celebrating birthdays today: two-time U.S. Open golf champion Billy Casper; rock guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck; Fleetwood Mac founding member Mick Fleetwood; Tears For Fears lead singer Curt Smith; actress Michelle Lee (the third “Knots Landing” cast member this month); former New York Gov. George Pataki; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich; actress Sherry Stringfield (“ER”); actor Peter Weller (“Robocop”); fiery former Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella; and former Duke and current Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick.

Among those passing into history on this day: Declaration of Independence signers Matthew Thornton (1803) and Thomas McKean (1817); U.S. President Grover Cleveland (1908); comedian Jackie Gleason (1987); NFL Hall of Fame receiver Don Hutson (1997); actor Brian Keith (1997); and ventriloquist Paul Winchell (2005).

NEVER LET THE FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY

Some blogger on beacherreport.com posted an entry with his/her “Top Ten College Football Traditions Fans Love to Hate.” Situated at No. 7 on the list was dotting the “i” in Script Ohio.

Obviously, this nudnik knows nothing about the tradition and what’s more has never witnessed it either on TV or in person. How do I know? By this description: “How did this become important? Seems like it would be a bigger deal at Mississippi. Why not have two band members cross the t?”

The “t”?!?!? Where exactly is the “t” in the word “Ohio”? Maybe this idiot think the band spells out the word “State.”

Just in case you care, the top 10 most hated traditions on this particular list are:

1. Stanford’s tree mascot

2. Tennessee fans singing “Rocky Top”

3. Florida State’s Seminole chief throwing his spear into the turf

4. South Carolina’s piped-in rooster crow

5. Texas mascot Bevo the longhorn steer charging onto the field

6. Colorado mascot Ralphie the buffalo charging onto the field

7. Dotting the “i” in Script Ohio

8. USC’s Trojan warrior mascot charging onto the field atop a white horse

9. Clemson players rubbing Howard’s Rock for good luck

10. Penn State’s piped-in lion roar

NFL NETWORK TO BUDDY UP WITH ESPN?

The National Football League has been exploring a possible partnership of its NFL Network and ESPN, according to a report in Monday’s Wall Street Journal.

The report says that NFL Network president and chief executive officer Steve Bornstein has been engaged in “high-level discussions” with Disney executives in recent months. Among others rumored to have been involved with the talks are NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Robert Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., ESPN’s parent company.

The report says that one possible scenario would see the NFL Network combined with ESPN Classic, which has a higher rate of distribution than the NFL Network. ESPN would then potentially increase the number of games broadcast on the NFL Network, currently eight, in order to increase subscription fees.

The report says that even though talks have been going on, there is nothing to suggest that a deal might be imminent.

Even though I’m not in favor of much more under the ESPN umbrella, I wouldn’t mind this kind of merger. Currently, my cable provider (Time Warner) does not carry the NFL Network, which features a lot of programming I would watch. It does, however, carry ESPN Classic, which features a lot of programming I have no desire to watch.

AND FINALLY

** With yesterday’s announcement that Barry Melrose will take over head coaching duties with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I wonder if the New York Mets know that their former manager Yogi Berra is available?

** Congratulations if you selected Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels for your fantasy team. As of right now, the guy has 31 saves. Of course, the top five guys in the American League — Rodriguez, George Sherrill of Baltimore (25), Mariano Rivera of New York (21), Jonathan Papelbon of Boston (21) and Joakim Soria of Kansas City (20) — would all be leading the National League. Brian Wilson of the Giants and Kerry Wood of the Cubs lead the NL with 19 apiece.

** In case you missed it last night, Felix Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners became the first American League pitcher in 37 years to hit a grand slam when he connected off Mets ace Johan Santana. You’re a real baseball trivia expert if you knew the last AL pitcher to hit a bases-loaded jack was Cleveland’s Steve Dunning in 1971 — two years before the designated hitter began to water down the Junior Circuit.

** Between now and Sept. 13, everyone is going to tell you how poor old slow Ohio State has no chance to keep up with the thoroughbreds that populate Pac-10 standard bearer USC’s roster. What you probably won’t hear is that the Buckeyes are 11-2 against the Pac-10 (including bowl games) since 1991.

Woody Wasn’t OSU’s First Choice

After the 1950 Michigan game, the contest which has come to be known as the “Snow Bowl,” Ohio State officials and fans couldn’t wait to get rid of head coach Wes Fesler. Unfortunately, their first choice as a replacement decided against taking the job.

When Fesler was hired by OSU as Paul Bixler’s replacement following the 1946, the Buckeye Nation could not have been happier. Fesler was returning to Columbus as a conquering hero. He was a three-time All-American end for the Buckeyes from 1928-30, becoming only the second man in program history after Chic Harley to achieve that feat.

During his playing days, Ohio State never finished higher than fourth in the Western Conference standings, but Fesler enjoyed two victories over archrival Michigan in his three seasons. That included a 7-0 win in 1929 at Ann Arbor, only the third time in 14 trips up north that the Buckeyes had come back victorious.

When Fesler graduated from Ohio State in the summer of 1931, he spurned several offers to professionally in the fledgling National Football League, deciding instead to begin a coaching career. He began as an assistant on Sam Willaman’s staff at OSU and spent two seasons with his alma mater before accepting an offer from Harvard to become backfield coach for the football team as well as head coach of the men’s basketball team. (Fesler had also been an All-America guard in basketball while at Ohio State.)

He stayed at Harvard for eight seasons until getting the urge to try his hand at being a head coach in football. Fesler returned to Ohio to become head coach at Ohio Wesleyan in 1941 but the school interrupted its athletic program the following year because of World War II and Fesler was out of a job.

By 1945, he had landed the positions of assistant football coach and head basketball coach at Princeton, then moved to Pittsburgh a year later to take over the Panthers’ football team. One season later, after going just 3-5-1 at Pitt, Fesler returned to his alma mater and became the 18th head coach at Ohio State.

During his first two years, university officials and fans wondered if bringing back the old football star as coach was a mistake. Fesler’s teams combined to go just 8-9-1 in his first two seasons and never finished higher than fourth in the conference standings. Worse yet, they had lost back-to-back games to Michigan – 21-0 at Ann Arbor in 1947 and 13-3 in Ohio Stadium the following year.

It didn’t matter that the Wolverines entered both of those games ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation. The Buckeyes wanted results and they wanted them quickly.

Fesler managed to stem the tide of criticism in 1949 when his team went 7-1-2, tied for the conference title and notched a 17-14 win over California in the 1950 Rose Bowl, the program’s first-ever win in Pasadena. But keeping a lid on the enthusiasm was a 7-7 at Michigan, a game that prevented the Buckeyes from capturing the outright Big Ten title.

When the 1950 team finished with a 6-3 record, topped off by the bizarre 9-3 loss to Michigan in the Snow Bowl, Fesler’s fate was sealed. He resigned after the season to take the head coaching job at conference rival Minnesota.

Fesler knew that his resignation came one step ahead of a pink slip from the university, which already had picked out his successor. OSU athletic director Richard Larkins had already focused his attention on luring Don Faurot away from Missouri. Ten years earlier, when Larkins was working under longtime AD Lynn St. John, Faurot was a finalist for the job when it went to a young Ohio high school football coach by the name of Paul Brown.

Faurot was a native Missourian who had played his college football in Columbia in the mid-1920s. He had returned to the Tigers as head coach in 1935 and had compiled a fine 78-44-8 record in eight seasons that included a couple of Big Eight championships. During that time, he devised a new kind of offensive formation that allowed for multiple options out of the same alignment. It was the Split T formation and Faurot is credited for its invention.

Despite all he had accomplished, Faurot was 48 and beginning to wonder what the world was like outside Missouri. He was intrigued at the possibilities of coaching at Ohio State, especially since the Buckeyes had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Vic Janowicz returning for his senior season.

If he was ever going to make a career move, now was the time.

In Columbus, Larkins coordinated a six-man search committee that selected seven finalists for Fesler’s vacated spot but the interview process was supposed to be a mere formality. Faurot met with the selection committee on a Saturday in early February 1951 and was immediately offered the job. He accepted and went home to Missouri to clean out his office.

Less than 48 hours later, as Larkins was preparing to call a news conference to announce the hiring of Faurot at the new head coach, his office telephone rang. It was Faurot, telling Larkins that he had changed his mind. He was staying at Missouri.

The AD went back to the selection committee and asked for a second choice. The name that was suggested was Woody Hayes, then the head coach at Miami (Ohio). Hayes was offered the job, he accepted immediately and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ironically, all three principals in the story eventually made it into the College Football Hall of Fame. Fesler made it first, inducted as a player in 1954 along with an illustrious class that included Michigan running back Tom Harmon, Jay Berwanger of Chicago, the first Heisman Trophy winner, and the trophy’s namesake, longtime coach John Heisman.

Faurot was inducted in 1961 and Hayes was enshrined in 1983.

Faurot continued to coach at Missouri until 1956 when he became the school’s athletic director. During his career, he worked with such assistant coaches as Bud Wilkinson and hired the likes of Frank Broyles and Dan Devine while he was AD.

In 1972, five years after retiring from the athletic department, Missouri remained its football field Faurot Field. He remained a fixture in Columbia until his death in October 1995 (during homecoming week) at the age of 93.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

A trio of Buckeyes celebrate birthdays today: former linebacker Mike McCray, ex-athletic director Jim Jones and current defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

Michael McCray was born June 23, 1965, in Dayton and had an excellent prep career at two different high schools. As a freshman and sophomore, he attended Roth and started on the team that won the 1982 state championship in basketball. He later transferred to Dunbar, where he was a prep All-American in basketball and track. McCray is probably best remembered for recovering a fumble in the 1987 Michigan game, a turnover that began Ohio State’s comeback from a 13-0 deficit. McCray’s recovery led to a 61-yard touchdown pass from Tom Tupa to Everett Ross and touched off the Buckeyes’ eventual 23-20 win in Earle Bruce’s final game as head coach.

James L. Jones was born June 23, 1936, and was a high school math teacher and coach for the first part of his professional career until Woody Hayes hired him to be his “brain” coach — a precursor of today’s academic counselor. After four years on Hayes’ staff, Jones joined the university’s athletic department, serving as assistant director from 1970-77 and associate director for 11 years until being named Ohio State’s sixth director of athletics in 1988. He retired in 1994 and still lives in Columbus.

James Heacock was born June 23, 1948, in Alliance, Ohio, and is the longest tenured assistant coach at Ohio State, joining John Cooper’s staff in 1996 as defensive line coach. He retained that title when Jim Tressel was hired in 2001 and became the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator in 2005, winning the Frank Broyles Award last season as the nation’s top college assistant. Heacock has also been an assistant coach at Muskingum College, his alma mater, as well as Washington and Bowling Green, and served eight seasons as head coach at Illinois State from 1988-95. Heacock’s younger brother, Jon, took over the head coaching duties at Youngstown State when Tressel left for OSU.

Others celebrating birthdays include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; nighttime and daytime soap actor Ted Shackelford (“Knot’s Landing, “The Young and the Restless”); heavy metal band Danzig founder Glenn Danzig; Grammy winner and American Idol judge Randy Jackson; Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand (“Fargo”); Scottish golfer Colin Montgomery; singer Jason Mraz; and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Also, happy belated birthdays to a couple of ex-Buckeyes. On Saturday, former defensive back Rob Kelly turned 34 while former linebacker Greg Bellisari celebrated his 33rd.

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY

Much has been made about the historic ramifications of Sen. Barack Obama and how he will be the first African-American to be nominated by a major party for President of the United States. Obama, however, will not be the first African-American nominated for that office.

That distinction belongs to Frederick Douglass, who was formally nominated for President by the Republican Party on June 23, 1888. Douglass was named on the fourth ballot of the nominating process, which eventually selected Benjamin Harrison. And in another quirk of history that sounds strangely familiar to recent events, Harrison won the presidency despite garnering fewer popular votes than opponent Grover Cleveland.

Sixteen years earlier, Douglass also became the first African-American nominated for vice president. He was drafted onto the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872 to run with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President. (Women would not be allowed to vote in the U.S. for another 48 years.) Douglass was nominated without his knowledge and he neither campaigned for the ticket nor acknowledged the nomination.

AND FINALLY

** Here’s another reason (and they’re beginning to pile up) why I’m thinking about changing my NFL allegiance from Cincinnati to Cleveland. The Browns are contemplating a trade with San Diego for receiver Eric Parker, an excellent receiver and punt return guy who missed the entire 2007 season after toe surgery. It is a classic case of the Browns trying to upgrade with a still-productive player at a reduced price. How have the Bengals improved this offseason? Well, they signed receiver Doug Gabriel in early April only to cut him six weeks later. And they gobbled up free agent linebacker Brandon Johnson, who has a grand total of four tackles in nine career games over two seasons. See what I mean?

** Best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to veteran announcer Pat Summerall. The 78-year-old former NFL kicker and lineman as well as longtime CBS football and golf announcer underwent emergency surgery Thursday in Dallas to stop internal bleeding caused by a reaction to medicine he was taking. Doctors say although it was touch-and-go for awhile, Summerall is improving and should make a full recovery. Summerall is no stranger to the surgeon’s scalpel. He underwent a liver transplant four years ago and had a hip replaced in January.

** There doesn’t seem to be much urgency in the NFL right now to sign first-round picks. Only three of the 31 players taken in the April draft have contracts – No. 1 Jake Long with Miami, No. 3 Matt Ryan with Atlanta and No. 4 Darren McFadden with Oakland. Those three have inked deals worth an estimated $189.5 million.

** Under the heading of mixing business with pleasure, Anheuser-Busch is contemplating a merger with Grupo Modelo – makers of Corona – to avoid a $46 billion takeover bid from Belgian brewer InBev. It is the maker of such beers as Beck’s, Labatt and Stella Artois. If InBev somehow gains control of A-B, which accounts for nearly half of annual U.S. beer sales, it will have cornered about a quarter of the beer market for the entire world.

** Finally, in tribute to the late George Carlin, I leave you with one of his best witticisms: “Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”

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