Who Said What In Chicago – Part II

Back in the good, old days – way before Al Gore invented the Internets and you could use the Google to look up anything you wanted – members of the media covering Big Ten football were members of an elite group known as the Skywriters.

Each fall, this group of about 20 or so writers would pile into a small airplane and make the rounds of each of the Big Ten campuses, meeting with coaches as they kicked off their respective fall camps.

The writers – no electronic media were allowed on the trip – were granted complete access to a team for an entire day. They interviewed any player they wanted, toured the facilities, made their way in and out of the locker rooms and watching every minute of practice.

That night, they were treated to dinner, frosty cold beverages of their choice and a fine cigar as they traded notes, swapped stories and interacted with coaches, athletic directors and conference officials. The next morning, all would pack up, squeeze into the airplane and go off to the next destination.

Of course, that was a simpler time when maybe 100 media outlets covered the Big Ten. Now, counting all the entities which try to cover the 11 teams, there are well over 10,000.

Was it better in the old days when there was more access but a gentleman’s agreement not to publish scandalous items? That’s not for me to say. I do know, however, that the toothpaste is out of the tube and we will never see those days again.

Case in point: Last week’s Big Ten Media Day and Kickoff Luncheon, the 36th annual get-together between conference coaches and media. In this day and age of immediacy, coaches and players are much more guarded about what they will say in front of writers and broadcasts. But sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – you can find a pearl or two among the dead clams.

Yesterday, we had a few things you may not have heard out of last week’s meetings from five of the Big Ten coaches. Today, we’ll wrap up our Chicago report with the other six, listed in alphabetical order according to schools.

Tim Brewster, Minnesota In his first season as a head coach, Brewster had a rough go of it. Of his team’s 11 losses, some were real doozies. It all started with a 32-31 overtime loss to Bowling Green in the season opener. Prior to that game, Minnesota had won its previous 12 home openers in a row and had been 24-3-1 against current MAC teams.

There was also the game at Northwestern where the Gophers blew a 35-14 lead in the third quarter and lost 49-48 in double OT. And there was the 27-21 loss at home to Division I-AA North Dakota State.

All difficult and painful losses, but not totally unexpected … at least according to Brewster.

“Change is a difficult process,” he said. “We changed head coaches, we changed systems. We changed a lot of things. We feel like at the University of Minnesota that our change is really going to benefit us as we move forward. I like to say we took two steps back so that we can take that one big step forward.”

Of course, some skeptics remain unconvinced. When a reporter asked the coach if there was anything he could do to transform Minnesota into the kind of program that could consistently battle Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin for the league championship, Brewster replied with a little history lesson.

“You’re a young guy, right?” he said. “You don’t realize that the University of Minnesota has won six national championships and 18 Big Ten championships. The University of Minnesota is truly one of the top schools in the Big Ten.”

Of course, Brewster didn’t stop to point out that his was an ancient history lesson. The Gophers haven’t won a Big Ten championship since 1967 and won their most recent national title in 1960.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern – No one really knows what to make of Fitzgerald’s Wildcats. They could be a trap game for several opponents or they could go into the tank, leaving the conference’s youngest coach vulnerable. He has a 10-14 record in two seasons at the helm, but NU fans got used to success under Gary Barnett and Randy Walker, and Fitzgerald admits he feels a sense of urgency to get to the postseason.

“We had six wins last year, but we’re not satisfied with six wins,” he said. “Of course, back in 1993 when I arrived on campus at Northwestern (as a player), if we would have had six wins, we would have had a parade down Central Street. We’d have shut it down and had a purple party here in Chicago.”

In order to keep moving in the right director, Fitzgerald overhauled his coaching staff over the winter. He hired Mick McCall away from Bowling Green to be his offensive coordinator and lured Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz away from Madison to lead the defense. Hankwitz has been an assistant coach for 38 years, and his teams have had 32 winning seasons.

Northwestern also has a new athletic director in Jim Phillips, and as any head coach knows, his tenure becomes more tenuous the moment he loses the AD who hired him. Fitzgerald acknowledged the presence of Phillips, perhaps seeing him looking over his shoulder from time to time.

“I thought that I didn’t sleep a lot,” Fitzgerald said, “and now I look at Jim and he’s a great role model for sleep deprivation.”

Jim Tressel, Ohio State Tressel is never going to lead the conference in potent quotables, but this year reached a new low even for him. A couple of cases in point:

Q. Coach, you’re 6-1 against Michigan in seven years. To what do you attribute your success against Michigan and is this perhaps the best rivalry in all of sports?

A. We’ve had very good players.

Q. Jim, you guys are the overwhelming No. 1 pick in this conference in the preseason poll with Wisconsin, Illinois, but there’s no Michigan or Penn State in that top three. How accurate do you think that poll is?

A. It hasn’t been very accurate in the past, which is a little frightening.

Q. Coach, would getting to a national championship game – and losing it again – have a positive outlook or would that be a negative and a disappointing season for you if it happened again?

A. Well, if that happened again that means we were the Big Ten champions, and I would never be disappointed about being the Big Ten champions. I would be very proud of that. If we got to the game and didn’t win it and didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing or didn’t prepare as well as we were capable, obviously I would be disappointed in that, so I guess that was a bad answer.

Tressel does have a dry sense of humor but it is rarely on public display, and never at an event such as this one.

Joe Paterno, Penn State Of all the coaches in Chicago, Paterno was clearly the one who couldn’t hide the fact he would rather have been elsewhere. That is probably because the 81-year-old veteran knew what kind of questions were coming his way.

When a reporter asked him what kind of impact Terrelle Pryor would have for Ohio State, Paterno grumped, “I don’t think that’s my decision to make. In fact, I think that’s a dumb question to be honest with you. I have absolutely no idea.”

Later, when the subject of retirement came up, Paterno got even more fidgety.

When asked if he sought any counsel from Purdue’s Joe Tiller, who is retiring after this season, Paterno replied, “Do you think I want to go with some guy that sits on his rear end and fishes for advice? You’re crazy, and that’s exactly what I would tell him. Joe has got to do it his way; I’ve got to do it my way.”

Finally, after telling another reporter he didn’t want to talk about retirement and getting another question right after that, an exasperated JoePa threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Let me spell it: I-D-O-N-T … How many times can I say it?”

Why do they suddenly want to run Paterno and his 372 career victories out of Happy Valley on a rail? Could be the fact that in the 15 seasons the Nits have been in the Big Ten, they have won only two Big Ten championships – outright in 1994 and a co-title with Ohio State in 2005.

It also could be that over the past five seasons, JoePa’s teams have posted a 19-21 conference record – and that includes a 7-1 mark in ’05.

Joe Tiller, Purdue – Some made a big deal about Tiller arriving in Chicago fresh from a fishing trip in Wyoming, but the coach typically vacations there in the summer. Also, he was the lone Big Ten coach to eschew wearing a coat and tie … but again, he never wears a tie.

That is because he is about as non-conforming as you will see from a conference head coach. He will retire after this season, probably without getting as much credit as he deserves (from me included) for turning around a Purdue program that was foundering when he got there.

Tiller is 83-54 in 11 seasons in West Lafayette and is probably the reason why more and more conference coaches have embraced his style of wide-open offense. When he was asked if he took pride in changing the Big Ten from a run-oriented league, Tiller gave one of his patented tongue-in-cheek answers.

“Not really,” the coach said. “I think it was going to happen sooner or later. Young people like to throw and catch and run around and high-five each other and enjoy having fun playing the game. I think the style of offense is a fun style, I guess, to participate in. You know, young people, if you want to keep them involved in the sport of football, you have to provide an outlet that is enjoyable to them, not just a highly disciplined or regimented style of play. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the spread offense has really swept the nation.

“To me, it’s almost a reflection of our society in that things can be instant in the spread offense. And I often times refer to our society as being an instant gratification society so the spread offense just fits right in. We’ve just done our part to help America be better.”

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin The Badgers remain the contrarians of the Big Ten. While nearly everyone else is embraced the spread offense, Wisconsin continues to recruit road-grading offensive linemen and big, bruising running backs.

And that’s just the way Bielema likes it.

“The thing I like about being at Wisconsin right now is we’re unique,” he said. “Five years ago when the spread first started coming into the league, you needed preparation versus those teams. For us now, Wisconsin is unique. You line up with a fullback and tailback and have some big ugly guys in front that come downhill. It’s a different preparation for us. I like that.”

Bielema, who is a glittering 21-5 in two seasons in Madison, did take some heat in Chicago for a 2008 non-conference schedule that features Akron, Marshall, Fresno State and Cal Poly.

One reporter asked, “Isn’t this below what’s to be expected of a program that’s been to 13 bowl games in the last 13 years and that is a perennial contender for the conference championship?”

Bielema smiled that squint-eyed smile of his and fired back, “Do you want to answer your own question or do you want me to?”

He later explained that his program substituted a Nov. 22 date at the end of the season for a Sept. 20 contest against Virginia because he didn’t think it fair to his team to play the Cavaliers and then immediately sail into the conference season, which begins with a trip to Michigan and then back-to-back night home games with Ohio State and Penn State.

Of course, Bielema’s team had better watch out for Cal Poly. They went 7-4 last season and have 10 starters back off an option offense that averaged a school-record 39.2 points per game.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former OSU linebacker Thomas “Pepper” Johnson.

Born July 29, 1964, in Detroit, Thomas Johnson was a 6-3, 216-pound all-state terror at MacKenzie High School when he joined the Buckeyes for the 1982 season. Nicknamed “Pepper” by an aunt who observed him regularly sprinkling pepper on his breakfast cereal, Johnson teamed with Chris Spielman in 1984 and ’85 to give the Buckeyes one of the most awesome one-two linebacker punches in college football history. Johnson topped 140 tackles in each of his last two seasons and was voted the team’s defensive most valuable player both years. Earning All-America honors as a senior, he was also voted as one of the team captains in both his junior and senior seasons.

After completing his OSU career, Johnson was a second-round selection in the 1986 NFL draft by the New York Giants and he anchored a defense that won Super Bowl championships in 1986 and 1990. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and spent 13 seasons in the NFL with the Giants, Browns, Lions and Jets. Since 2000, he has been an assistant coach for the New England Patriots, first with linebackers and now with the defensive line, and has won three more Super Bowl rings with that team.

Johnson’s son, Dionte, played four seasons at fullback for Ohio State from 2004-07, and when the younger Johnson was voted team co-captain for the ’07 season, it made the Johnsons only the third father-son combination in school history to serve as captains. The others are Jim (1960) and Kirk Herbstreit (1960 and 1992) and James and Jeff Davidson (1964 and 1989).

Also sharing birthdays today: comic and self-styled Professor Irwin Corey; former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum (who is married to former U.S. Senator Howard Baker); U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.); former pro wrestler, manager and Cyndi Lauper confidant Captain Lou Albano; Sixties and Seventies television actor Robert Fuller (Jess Harper on “Laramie” and Dr. Kelly Brackett on “Emergency”); former Cincinnati Reds infielder Dan Driessen; Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley; Rush lead singer Geddy Lee; singer/songwriter Patti Scialfa (Mrs. Bruce Springsteen); Project Runway consultant Tim Gunn; boxing training and commentator Teddy Atlas; country singer Martina McBride; actor Wil Wheaton (Gordie in “Stand By Me” and Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”); and documentary filmmaker extraordinaire Ken Burns.

In addition to the birthdays, lots of other historical events have occurred on July 29 including: Adolf Hitler became leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1921; the first Summer Olympic Games after World War II began in London in 1948; U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law that created NASA in 1958; “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz claimed his first victim in 1976; Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer wed in 1981; and talk show host Tom Snyder died of leukemia in 2007.

AND FINALLY

** The Sporting News is counting down its top 50 college football teams and today reached No. 28. In that spot is Notre Dame. Yes, I think the Fighting Irish will be better this season. It’s pretty difficult for them not to be better than last year’s 3-9 disaster. But the 28th best team in the nation? No way, no how. They have an offensive line that gave up 58 sacks last year and a defense that allowed 29 points a game. You don’t solve those kinds of problems overnight.

** SN ranks Notre Dame a full 18 spots ahead of Purdue. We get to see just how accurate those rankings are on Sept. 27 when the Boilermakers invade South Bend. Purdue took a 33-19 win over Notre Dame last season in West Lafayette although the Irish did have the upper hand in total yardage, 426-371.

** All I can say is Tom Crean must be one helluva coach. Indiana University announced today that it had given its newly hired basketball boss a two-year contract extension – before he has coached his first game for the Hoosiers. Crean originally signed an eight-year, $18 million deal with IU. The extension matches the length of the deal the coach had with Marquette before moving to Bloomington to try and fix the Kelvin Sampson mess.

** During induction ceremonies over the weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ernie Banks asked commissioner Bud Selig if he could be placed on the Chicago Cubs’ active roster on Aug. 31 – which would make him eligible for the postseason. The 77-year-old Mr. Cub never made it to the World Series during his playing days. There is something that’s just wrong about the fact Ernie Banks never played in a Fall Classic and a guy like Jose Canseco played in four of them and got two rings – 1989 with Oakland and 2000 with the Yankees.

** The count of NFL first-round draft choices signed to contracts now numbers 28. The lone holdouts are Nos. 7 through 9 – DT Sedrick Ellis of New Orleans, DE Derrick Harvey of Jacksonville and (naturally) LB Keith Rivers of Cincinnati. The largest contract so far has gone to QB Matt Ryan, who got a six-year, $72 million deal from Atlanta with $34 million guaranteed.

** In case you missed it, Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston came to terms with the New York Jets. The sixth overall pick in the draft agreed to a five-year deal worth $50 million, with $21 million of that guaranteed.

** Further proof that the U.S. economy remains strong for the upper class. Of those 28 first-rounders signed, the contracts are worth more than $600 million. And before you pooh-pooh that amount, arguing many of those contracts will be voided before their conclusion, understand that $275 million of that figure is guaranteed money.

Who Said What In Chicago – Part I

A whirlwind trip late last week to Chicago for the annual Big Ten Media Day and Kickoff Luncheon put a severe crimp in the blog. And trying to squeeze a vacation in before football season gears up in earnest will limit the number of entries over the next couple of weeks.

But while I’m still around, we’ll get to what was said (or implied) in Chicago by the 11 conference coaches.

You have no doubt already heard and read the meat and potatoes of what went on in the Windy City. Over the next two days, we’ll deal with some of what you may not have heard or read.

We’ll take the coaches in alphabetical order according to schools with the first five today, finishing with the other six tomorrow.

Ron Zook, Illinois Zook led his team to a 9-4 record and a Rose Bowl berth last season, just one year after a 2-10 campaign. But he was pragmatic about last year’s success, perhaps because he saw similar things happen when he was at Florida.

“Until we can take a freshman class and go through all four years and win consistently,” he said, “then I think you can say that you’ve turned the corner. Not until then.”

Zook, who has a career coaching record of 36-37 and a lifetime bowl record of 0-3, was perhaps the most stoic of all the coaches at the event. Perhaps his best one-liner came after a reporter asked if he was happy having such a tough season opener against Missouri and its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Chase Daniel.

“Well,” Zook replied, “they’re not going to change it, so I might as well be happy about it.”

Bill Lynch, Indiana – The Hoosiers overcame seemingly insurmountable odds last season in the wake of the death of Terry Hoeppner. Somehow, they pulled out a 7-5 regular season and earned the program’s first postseason bid in 14 years.

But Lynch’s team cannot afford to rest on those laurels. On offense alone, IU lost top receiver James Hardy and neither quarterback Kellen Lewis nor running back Marcus Thigpen went through spring practice drills. Lewis was suspended but Thigpen had an excuse.

“Marcus missed spring practice because we let him run track,” Lynch said. “He had an outstanding spring with our track team and was very competitive in the Big Ten and at a national level. We felt like going into his fifth year, he kind of earned that opportunity.”

Even with all of his offensive firepower, Lynch will need some help on defense. The Hoosiers gave up 20 or more points in each of their final 12 games of the 2007 season, and 30 or more in five of their last six. That included a 49-33 loss to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl.

IU hasn’t won a bowl game since a 24-0 win over Baylor in the 1991 Copper Bowl.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa An offseason checkered with team members running afoul of the law was about the last thing Ferentz needed. Since 2004 when the Hawkeyes tied Michigan for the Big Ten championship, the team has finished no higher than a tie for third and is 19-18 over the past three seasons.

That includes an 11-13 mark in conference play, so when Iowa players began showing up on the police blotter with alarming frequency, university officials insisted Ferentz make an addition to his coaching staff.

“I think we’re going to call him a player development coach,” the coach said. “It is a result of going back and looking at things and just re-examining every step that we’ve taken. Our goals are really to help our players, particularly our younger players. I think that’s been a constant – a lot of the bad decisions have been made by players in their first and second years on campus.

“So our goal with the position is going to be better supplement the coaching staff, better help our players with the transition, have another person for them to meet with and visit with, and perhaps offer a little bit more accountability.”

When Ferentz was asked if he had filled the position, he shook his head.

“We’re not looking to hire Dr. Phil,” he said. “I don’t think he’s available or we can afford him, so we’ll have to skip that.”

Rich Rodriguez, Michigan In a few short months, Rodriguez has gone from the relative comfort of his home state to a caldron of controversy in Ann Arbor. He has endured a rocky recruiting season, player defections, and an ugly court fight regarding the buyout clause of his contract at West Virginia.

Through it all, however, he appears to remain matter-of-fact about the job that lies before him.

“I’m not a pessimist or an optimist,” he said. “I’m more of a realist, and I prefer to tell it like it is. We’ve lost some of the best players that probably have ever played at the University of Michigan on offense. We’re talking about the first pick in the draft (OL Jake Long), a second-round pick at quarterback (Chad Henne), one of the all-time leading

rushers in Mike Hart and two wide receivers (Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham). We also lost a lot of talent offensively up front.

“We have one starter returning and that’s it. But some of these young guys – when you’re young and you haven’t played a lot, you’re hungry. And a hungry player to me is a guy who is pretty exciting to watch.”

Rodriguez added that he has been able to cope fairly well with the turmoil of the past few months, with the notable exception of when offensive lineman Justin Boren left the program and decided to transfer to Ohio State. On his way out the door, Boren questioned Rodriguez’s motivational methods as well as his family values.

“If I paid a whole lot of attention to a lot of stuff that was written, it would have probably been a little bit tougher,” Rodriguez said, “but after a while it was just stand in line and throw some darts my way. There were so many things out there that happen and it’s really nobody’s fault; it’s just the day and age that we are in today, the rumor mill and how they spread so many things out there that weren’t even true, so many things I wasn’t aware about.

“Maybe I’m being ignorant, but the only one that really worried me was a question about our family values and how we approached the young men on our team. That was the one that really upset me most because that’s the one we take the most pride in. Any player that’s ever played for us in 15 years as head coach will tell you it’s just the opposite, not only on our team but also amongst our staff, and anybody that has touched our program. That’s the one that upset me the most. Nobody has a closer family-tied union than our football program. That one upset me the most.”

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State After last year’s 7-6 finish, which included all six losses by a touchdown or less, Dantonio has one of the teams considered to be a dark horse title contender.

A couple of weeks ago, the coach was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game and obviously still had baseball on his mind when he noted, “Where we sit right now as a program is on first base. We’re on first base trying to get to second. First base was a bowl game for us. Now, it’s important to take a step forward, not a step back, and I do believe that’s where we’re headed.”

Before Dantonio was hired last season in East Lansing, he had spent six seasons with the Spartans as an assistant coach, first under Nick Saban and later under Bobby Williams. He feels that his prior knowledge of the MSU program led to a successful first season as head coach.

“Familiarity breeds success,” he said. “It was the same when Coach Tressel was hired at Ohio State. He had coached there and he knew about the traditions. He knew about Woody Hayes. He knew about Script Ohio. He knew about John Stillwagon.”

Good thing Coach Dino and his Spartans are entertaining Ohio State in East Lansing this season. At the age of 59, Jim Stillwagon is still an imposing figure and I wouldn’t want to get his name wrong.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

It’s a little light on the birthday front today. Sharing birthdays this July 28th are Oscar-winning film producer David Brown (“Jaws,” “Cocoon,” “Driving Miss Daisy”); former NBA star and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley; Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez; Garfield creator Jim Davis; ditzy actress Georgia Engel (Ted Baxter’s wife on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Robert Barone’s mother-in-law on “Everybody Loves Raymond”); Emmy-winning actress Sally Struthers (Gloria on “All In The Family”); actress Elizabeth Berkley (wholesome Jessie on “Saved By The Bell” and less-than-wholesome Nomi in “Showgirls”); Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright; former MLB pitcher Vida Blue; and longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.

AND FINALLY

** With new head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, UCLA is getting its share of preseason love from the prognosticators. That hasn’t translated into any recruiting luck for the Bruins, though. In July alone, they lost defensive back prospect Byron Moore of Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne to USC and cornerback Marlon Pollard of San Bernadino (Calif.) Cajon to (gulp!) Notre Dame. Both players had been UCLA verbals. The Bruins still have a top DB prospect committed in Sheldon Price of La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat, but the Irish are after him, too, as well as Cal and Oregon.

** The defections of Moore and Pollard left UCLA with only seven verbal commitments for its 2008-09 recruiting class. Normally, that would be a decent number this time of year. But this is no normal year. Several teams already have more than twice that number, including USC (15) and Texas (19) while Ohio State has more than three times the number of verbals (24) as the Bruins.

** Out of the “Nothing Better To Do With My Life” file comes the story of a guy named Jim Purol. Recently, he set a new Guinness world record for Most Seats Sat In During A 48-Hour Period. It seems that Mr. Purol plunked his fanny down in every one of the Rose Bowl’s 92,542 seats – and apparently someone was there to document each of those sittings.

** Here is an interesting stat from Major League Baseball: Among pitchers with at least five at-bats this season, two major league hurlers have higher batting averages than ERAs. Through July 25, Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs was hitting .356 with 21 hits (including two homers) in 59 trips to the plate. His 2.96 ERA ranked 10th in the majors at the time. Also, Hong-Chih Kuo of the Dodgers was hitting .333 (3 for 9) and had a 1.89 ERA in three starts and 21 relief appearances.

** During the first half of this season, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez appeared in 45 games, converting 38 of 41 save opportunities. That represented the highest first-half total in the 40-year history of the save rule. Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox set the single-season record with 57 saves in 1990. Thigpen didn’t get his 38th save that season until Aug. 15.

** Whitey Ford will celebrate his 80th birthday in October and shows no signs of slowing down. On Saturday at the annual golf outing in Cooperstown, N.Y., which is part of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend festivities, Ford helped his team to the championship over a second-place team that included fellow Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and newly inducted member Goose Gossage.

Searching For A Quarterback

Most Ohio State football fans believe legendary coach Woody Hayes was an astute evaluator of talent. You don’t win 205 games (238 overall) and a handful of national championships without knowing a good prospect when you see him.

Still, Hayes was always the first to admit that he didn’t bat 1.000 when it came to plugging the right players in the right positions. Sometimes, he tried to jam the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

Take the end of the 1960 season, for example.

The Buckeyes had a good, solid campaign in 1960, going 7-2 and finishing in third place in the Big Ten. The co-captains that year were offensive tackle Jim Tyrer, who went on to a lengthy pro career mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs, and halfback Jim Herbstreit, the father of former OSU quarterback and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

Other stars on the team included fullback Bob Ferguson, left tackle Bob Vogel, quarterback Tom Matte and middle guard by the name of Gary Moeller.

Ohio State won its first three games that season by a combined score of 78-7 – shutouts of SMU and USC started things off, and that was followed by a 34-7 shellacking of No. 2-ranked Illinois. In the game against the Illini, halfback Bill Wentz took the opening kickoff of the second half 102 yards for a touchdown.

The following week, the Buckeyes went to Purdue and came home with a 24-21 loss. Hayes always took sole blame for that defeat, saying that he made the mistake of working his team as hard that week as he did the week before for the Illinois contest. As a result, he took a tired team to West Lafayette.

That loss was followed by three more wins in succession, but any chance of a conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl went away with a 35-12 loss at Iowa in week eight. The Buckeyes returned to Ohio Stadium the following week to finish the season with a 7-0 win over Michigan.

Any victory over the Wolverines was reason for celebration, but Hayes allowed himself only a few minutes to enjoy himself. Almost immediately after the final gun sounded, he had a nagging thought: “Who is my quarterback going to be next year?”

Matte was a two-year starter but was graduating, and the Buckeyes had no clear-cut favorite to step into his role of running the offense. Knowing that he couldn’t work out any new players after the season had officially ended, Hayes made a quick decision. While the other players were showering and celebrating their victory over Michigan, the coach summoned two freshmen to his office and told them to get dressed. They were going out on the field for a mini-workout.

As the gathering darkness surrounded the Horseshoe – empty now with the exception of clean-up crews – Hayes took his two freshmen to the field. Each had starred for the Ohio State freshman team that fall, and the coach knew each player would find his way into the lineup as sophomores in 1961.

He just wanted to see if either one of them could play quarterback. Calling some improvised plays, Hayes put the players through some quick drills designed to gauge their footwork, balance and arm strength. Unfortunately, neither player passed the test.

The old coach gave a shrug, muttered to himself and told the pair to hit the showers. Afterward, he took them to the Faculty Club for dinner and a chance to get to know them a little better. Even though neither of those players were ever play quarterback for Hayes, they each became excellent players for the Buckeyes and went on to have illustrious NFL careers.

Their names: Matt Snell and Paul Warfield.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State basketball player Je’Kel Foster. Born July 22, 1983, in Natchez, Miss., Foster was star for his hometown high school team before playing one year at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and one year at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. At Chipola in 2004, Foster was the Florida JUCO player of the year after averaging 17 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds. He played for the Buckeyes in 2005 and ’06, serving as team co-captain for the 2006 squad that won the school’s first outright Big Ten championship in 14 years. Foster finished his two-year career as a Buckeye with averages of 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Foster is currently playing pro basketball in Europe. Last season, he played for a team in Paris and this year was on the roster for the team in Oldenburg, Germany.

Others sharing birthdays today: former U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole; U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); fashion designer Oscar De la Renta; funkmaster George Clinton; Secretariat jockey Ron Turcotte; Seventies heartthrob Bobby Sherman; Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”); eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken; The Eagles drummer and lead singer Don Henley; film actors Willem Dafoe, Danny Glover and John Leguizamo; former Saturday Night Live member David Spade; former Heisman Trophy winner and Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson; singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright; Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon; and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

AND FINALLY

** For a school with as much tradition as the University of Texas has, you might have thought the Longhorns had a whole host of retired jersey numbers. Not true. When UT-Austin officially retires the jerseys of Bobby Layne, Tommy Nobis and Vince Young, they will be only the third, fourth and fifth players to receive that honor. The first two were Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

** Britt Mitchell, a 6-9, 300-pound offensive line prospect from Roscoe, Texas, has decided not to attend Oklahoma after signing a letter of intent with the Sooners. OU head coach Bob Stoops is OK with the decision, however, since Mitchell is putting off going to college, instead enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.

** Does the name Mike Souchak ring any bells for your oldtimers? Souchak was a standout receiver at Duke from 1948-50, and was inducted into that school’s athletic hall of fame in 1976. He also had a successful pro golf career, winning 15 times on the PGA Tours in the 1950s and ’60s and playing on the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 1959 and ’61. Souchak later went into the golf cart business and ran Golf Car Systems until his death July 10 due to complications from a heart attack. He was 81.

** It’s been a rough last couple of months for Marshall. In the early morning hours of July 5, former linebacker and running back Donte Newsome was shot and killed outside a Huntington night club. A few hours later, it was reported that longtime team physician Dr. Jose Ricard had died of heart failure at the age of 81. Ricard had been team physician for the Thundering Herd since 1981. That news came on the heels of the June 15 death of former MU linebacker Johnathan Goddard, who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

** The Atlantic Coast Conference has become the first in college football to stop hiding behind government technicalities when it comes to talking about injured players. Beginning this fall, the ACC will release twice-weekly reports from its coaches to announced levels of injury – from “out” to “probable.” The reports will not address specific injuries, but it will be a step in the right direction as coaches begin to make a full disclosure of what players are shelved and why. And as Virginia head coach Al Groh says, “That means I don’t have to answer those stupid questions (about who’s hurt) during the week.”

** I will be in transit to Chicago tomorrow, heading for the annual Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon. Therefore, no blog entry on Wednesday. Look for plenty from Chicago, however, including a grilling of Big Ten Network officials on where they stand with regard to an agreement with Time Warner.

Excerpting The Book

In honor of Troy Smith, who celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday, here is an excerpt of my book, “When Legends Were Made: Ohio State Buckeyes.”

While all other 19 chapters are devoted to one player or coach and the one game that transformed him into a Buckeye legend, Troy’s chapter deals with his performances in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Michigan games.

Troy Smith spent his first Ohio State-Michigan game in uniform as a redshirt freshman freezing on the sideline as the Buckeyes continued their march to the 2002 national championship.

Two years later, Smith had taken control of the quarterback position and had a game for the ages against the Wolverines. The 37-21 win capped a comeback of epic proportions, both for the team and its sophomore signal-caller. Just six weeks earlier, both had been relegated to the college football scrapheap.

The Buckeyes had started the 2004 season with Smith’s classmate Justin Zwick under center, and he led them to three straight victories, including a heart-pounding 24-21 home win over Marshall that came down to a 55-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent on the game’s final play.

But when the team entered its Big Ten conference schedule, the bottom dropped out for Zwick and the Buckeyes. OSU dropped a 33-27 overtime decision at Northwestern, returned home for a 24-13 loss to Wisconsin and then went to Iowa to absorb a 33-7 drubbing at the hands of the Hawkeyes.

Ohio State was facing the prospect of beginning a conference season with four consecutive losses for the first time in 82 years and was facing it without Zwick, who had suffered a separation of his throwing shoulder against Iowa.

Enter Smith, who threw his first collegiate touchdown pass to account for the only score against the Hawkeyes before leading the Buckeyes to victories over Indiana, Penn State and Michigan State. The following week, OSU went to Purdue and came back with a 24-17 defeat, leaving the team with a 6-4 record heading into its 2004 season finale with Michigan.

The Wolverines entered the Nov. 20 contest on an eight-game winning streak, boasting a 9-1 record and ranked No. 7 in the country. They were already on their way to a Rose Bowl date against Texas and installed as a 4½-point favorite to beat the unranked Buckeyes.

But Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and his team had no idea what kind of a buzzsaw they would encounter when Smith took the field and began to work his magic. The sellout crowd of 105,456 fans in Ohio Stadium was barely settled in its seats when the first burst of fireworks went off.

Coming out in a shotgun formation, Smith picked up 8 yards around right end on the first play of the game and then senior fullback-turned-tailback Branden Joe took a sweep around left end for 5 yards and a first down.

Three plays later, though, the Buckeyes were faced with third-and-12 when Smith faded to pass. As Michigan linebacker (and former Cleveland Glenville teammate) Pierre Woods bore down on the OSU quarterback, Joe got just enough of Woods to allow Smith time to get the throw away.

Streaking down the middle of the field on a post route was redshirt freshman receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who had a step on Michigan safety Ernest Shazor. The ball from Smith was on the money and Gonzalez motored into the end zone with a 68-yard touchdown reception, the first score of his career.

Nugent added the extra point and the Buckeyes enjoyed a 7-0 lead with 13:47 left in the first quarter.

That was about all Ohio State fans had to cheer about in the first period, however. The Wolverines responded with touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to take a 14-7 lead.

First, Michigan QB Chad Henne drove his team 87 yards in nine plays, capping that drive with a 4-yard pass to junior receiver Jason Avant. Then, after OSU punter Kyle Turano shanked a 21-yarder in his own territory, Henne took advantage of a short field and finished off a six-play, 43-yard drive by handing the ball to tailback Mike Hart for a 1-yard plunge.

Michigan had a 14-7 lead with 6:03 still remaining in the first quarter, a period in which the teams combined for three touchdowns, 11 first downs and 266 total yards.

But while many times during the 2004 season Ohio State had not responded well to adversity, this game served as a performance in stark contrast.

Late in the first quarter, the Buckeyes started a possession on their own 1-yard line and proceeded to control the line of scrimmage like they had at no other point all season. All it took was a stare from Smith and the quarterback’s simple admonishment, “We are not going to lose this game.”

The drive began with Joe giving the team some breathing room when he rushed for 17 yards on the first two plays, and then Smith found freshman receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on a crossing pattern that gained 17 more.

Later in the drive, Smith hooked up with Holmes on a third-and-4 play that covered 34 yards, moving the ball to the Michigan 25-yard line. Two plays later, Smith took a quarterback draw 14 yards through the left side of the line, and then three plays after that, he slithered through a crack in the line and into the end zone on a 2-yard sneak.

Nugent tacked on the PAT to complete the 12-play, 99-yard drive, the Buckeyes’ longest touchdown march in six seasons.

And they weren’t through. While the OSU defense rose up to limit Michigan to just 29 yards on its final four possessions of the first half, Smith and the offense continued the pressure.

Ginn gathered in a 42-yard pass from Smith on the next possession and junior tight end Ryan Hamby had a 20-yard catch as Ohio State pushed its way to a first-and-goal at the U-M 2. But the Buckeyes couldn’t get the ball in the end zone and wound up turning it over on downs.

However, the good field position ultimately paid off as they got the ball back and turned to Nugent, who knocked through a 21-yard chip shot to give the Buckeyes a 17-14 lead with 2:16 left until halftime.

Smith and Ginn got their team into position for more points near the end of the half when the OSU quarterback first scrambled for 18 yards and then hit his freshman receiver for a 26-yard play. The drive got only as far as the Michigan 24 as time was running out, but Nugent came on to hit a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the half to give the Buckeyes a 20-14 advantage.

As the second half began, the OSU defense was still smothering Michigan. The Wolverines’ first possession of the third quarter was a three-and-out series that netted minus-4 yards, and their second wasn’t much better – six plays for 16 yards.

But after that second possession, U-M punter Adam Finley got off a 48-yard rocket that Ginn fielded on his own 18 and then brought the crowd to its feet. He ran out of the grasp of two Michigan defenders, cut to the far sideline and outraced Finley to the end zone, polishing off the 82-yard return that gave Ohio State a 13-point cushion at 27-14.

That lead swelled to 20 when the Buckeyes got the ball back. Smith couldn’t top his 99-yard drive but came close by engineering a 97-yard march that all but put the top on Michigan’s coffin.

Again, the OSU quarterback turned to Joe to get the team out of its hole and the running back responded by going 12 yards on the first play of the drive. After that, Smith took it upon himself to run for 8 yards and then 11 before scrambling out of harm’s way on a pass play and not stopping until he had galloped 46 yards, bobbing and weaving his way through the heart of the Michigan defense.

That gave the Buckeyes a first-and-10 at the U-M 18, and three plays later Smith hooked up with Holmes again. It was a beautiful faked fade pattern that Holmes broke back to the middle of the field, and Smith’s throw was perfect for a 12-yard touchdown.

Nugent again added the extra point, finishing the 10-play drive and making it 34-14 in favor of the Buckeyes with 1:53 to play in the third quarter.

The Wolverines came back to at least make the game interesting with a 62-yard drive that took just 64 seconds to execute. Henne connected on all three passes he threw during the march, including a 38-yard touchdown to senior receiver Braylon Edwards, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone.

But even though Michigan had climbed within 13 points at 34-21 at the 10:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes didn’t seem too worried about weathering a comeback. Turano fired the first salvo with a 71-yard punt to pin Michigan back at its own 20, and the OSU defense stuffed the Wolverines there as they gambled and lost on a fourth-and-1 play at the 29.

The Buckeyes turned that sequence into a 48-yard field goal by Nugent, pushing the lead back to 16 points with just 7:15 left in the game.

After that, the Wolverines got no closer than the OSU 31-yard line. Their next-to-last drive fizzled on another fourth-down play and then Ohio State safety Nate Salley put the exclamation point on the Buckeyes’ win when he intercepted a Henne pass in the final seconds.

The 37-21 victory was chock full of outstanding individual performances by Ohio State players. Ginn grabbed five receptions and returned four punts for 210 all-purpose yards. His punt return for a touchdown was his fourth of the 2004 season, tying the all-time NCAA record for the most in a single season and establishing new single-season and career records at Ohio State.

Holmes and Gonzalez combined for five receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown apiece while on defense, linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter combined for 20 tackles and knocked down four of Henne’s passes.

But all of those stellar performances were outshone by Smith. He turned in the finest running and passing day ever for an Ohio State quarterback, rushing for 145 yards and one touchdown while throwing for 241 yards and a pair of scores. In their long and illustrious history, the Buckeyes had never had a quarterback rush for more than 100 yards and throw for more than 200 in the same game.

“I think us coming together as a team was what did it,” Smith said. “You don’t really realize what this rivalry is really all about until you’re in it and get a ‘W.’ Our hats are off to Michigan, but today was Ohio State’s day.”

As he sat in the victorious locker room, the quarterback laughed and soaked up the moment, all the time wearing a 50,000-watt grin. But to fully realize what that smile meant, history had to be rewound to discover that the quarterback’s future as a Buckeye was touch-and-go on more than one occasion. In fact, he nearly never donned a scarlet and gray uniform at all.

The hardcover book is scheduled to be released next month, but you can pre-order it right now (and for less money than you can buy it in bookstores). Just follow this link: When Legends Were Made: Ohio State Buckeyes.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to running back Jonathan Wells. Born July 21, 1979, Wells was an all-state performer for John Curtis Christian School in his native River Ridge, La., and helped that school to three consecutive 4-A state championships. He lettered at Ohio State from 1998-2001, and rushed for 1,294 yards as a senior in ’01. He was also the team MVP that season, a year that included 129 yards and three TDs against Michigan as the Buckeyes won a 26-20 decision. Wells was a fourth-round selection by the Houston Texans in the 2002 NFL draft and played with the Texans through the 2005 season. His best season was his first when he started 11 of 16 games and rushed for 529 yards and three TDs. Wells is currently in the Indianapolis organization but has not played in the NFL since 2005.

Also born on this day in history: Oscar-winning director Norman Jewison (“The Cincinnati Kid,” “In The Heat Of The Night,” “Moonstruck”); former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr; U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming); veteran character actor Edward Herrmann; Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau; action film director Tony Scott (“Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide”); Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Geoff Jenkins; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher CC Sabathia; Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow; British golfer Paul Casey; actor Josh Hartnett; comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams; wry comic actor Jon Lovitz; Olympic gold medal-winning soccer player and iconic shirt-remover Brandi Chastain; and pop singer Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou but known much better as Cat Stevens).

Several other luminaries who have passed into history shared July 21 birthdays. They include Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway; violin virtuoso Isaac Stern; U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota); and one of my all-time favorite comic actors Don Knotts.

AND FINALLY

** Midway through yesterday’s first round of the British Open, I suddenly remember why rooting for Greg Norman is an exercise in futility. Even when he was at the peak of his game, he never seemed able to close the show in a major. Norman won two Claret Jugs, taking home the Open championship in 1986 and ’93. But yesterday marked the eighth time in his career that he had the 54-hole in a major and failed to win.

** Of course, if you’re feeling sorry for Norman, don’t. Outside of the major championships, he has been ultra-successful. He won 87 tournaments worldwide including 20 on the PGA Tour, and he has been extremely successful in business, owning an estate that has been estimated as high as $500 million. And he got to go home yesterday with new wife Chris Evert. All in all, that ain’t too bad.

** I know the Miami Dolphins are in serious need of bodies as they rebuild for the future. But someone is going to have to explain to me how you give up the likes of defensive end Jason Taylor for only two future draft picks – a second-round selection next year and a sixth-rounder in 2010. That’s the best the Dolphins could get for a six-time Pro Bowler?

** Just like clockwork, NFL teams are beginning to come to terms with their first-round draft picks as training camps begin to open. Within the last week, St. Louis has signed No. 2 pick, defensive end Chris Long of Virginia; Baltimore inked No. 18, quarterback Joe Flacco of Delaware; and the New York Jets signed No. 30, tight end Dustin Keller of Purdue. Of course, Keller was New York’s second first-round pick. They chose defensive end Vernon Gholston of Ohio State at No. 6 and he remains unsigned.

** Just in case you care, the Seattle SuperSonics will henceforth be known as the Oklahoma City Thunder. Pardon me, but that sounds more like an arena league team than an NBA franchise.

** One of these days – maybe – Michelle Wie will get a headline for actually winning a golf tournament.

** Remember that fine CBS received for Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show? Sure you do. Well, a three-judge panel in a Philadelphia federal appeals court this morning threw out the $550,000 fine, ruling that the Federal Communications Commission “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in issuing the fine for the fleeting image of nudity.

** Congratulations to former Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern on being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was an honor long overdue.

Ranking OSU’s All-Time Best Receivers

If you really want to get an argument going among Ohio State fans, try coming up with a list of the best receivers in school history and then start ranking them.

In trying to pare the list down to a personal top 10, I started with a list of nearly two dozen, each of whom led the Buckeyes at least one season in receiving. Of course, the list is going to be heavily swayed by recent players who benefit from playing in more wide-open offenses. After all, as recently as 1973, no Ohio State receiver reached double figures in receptions for the season.

I further pared the list by eliminating tight ends such as John Frank and Jim Houston – we’ll rank the best players at that position at a later date. Still, I have a top 10 that doesn’t have room for some of the top performers in school history. But, hey, you’ve got to make the cut somewhere.

This is my list of Ohio State’s top 10 receivers of all-time. See how it compares to yours.

1. David Boston – Kind of amazing how this guy doesn’t get move love from the Buckeye Nation seeing how he’s pretty much the gold standard for Ohio State receivers. In only three seasons, Boston established the school record for career receptions with 191. He also has the top two single-season totals – 73 in 1997 and 85 the following year – and grabbed 10 or more receptions in a game five times in his career. No other Buckeye receiver in history ever did that more than twice.

2. Cris Carter – If not for Boston, Carter would be the no-brainer at No. 1. But they were different kinds of receivers. While Boston overpowered defensive backs, Carter beat his opponents with grace, finesse and an innate ability to remain airborne for ridiculous lengths of time. Although his OSU career lasted only three years, Carter still managed to set several school records, including becoming the first Buckeye receiver to crack the 1,000-yard mark when he set then single-season records in 1986 with 69 catches for 1,127 yards. Because his college career ended on a sour note, he’ll likely miss out on the College Football Hall of Fame. But after an ultra-productive NFL career, Carter seems a sure bet to get a bust in Canton.

3. Gary Williams – Raw speed, soft hands and God-given ability allowed Williams to become a pass-catching machine for the Buckeyes in the late 1970s and early ’80s. He caught a pass in every game he ever played at Ohio State, setting the school record at 48 for most consecutive games with at least one reception. When he finished his career after the 1982 season, Williams was the career leader in receptions (154), receiving yards (2,792) and TD catches (16). He remains in the top six in all three categories more than a quarter-century after playing his final game ins scarlet and gray.

4. Joey Galloway – In terms of blazing speed, Galloway has few peers in Ohio State history. He used those talents along with a penchant for running crisp, precise routes to finish his career with 108 receptions for 1,894 yards and 19 touchdowns. Perhaps the best thing about Galloway, however, was his adaptability. He worked with three different starting quarterbacks during his career and became one of the favorite targets of each of them. His career average of 17.5 yards per catch still ranks ninth all-time in school history.

5. Michael Jenkins – Neither flashy nor flamboyant, all Jenkins did during his time as Buckeye was catch passes. When he finished his career after the 2003 season, he wound up the school’s career leader in receiving yardage with 2,898 as well as third in total receptions with 165. Of course, even if he hadn’t piled up all those catches and all those yards, one particular reception late in the 2002 season would have forever cemented Jenkins’ place in Ohio State football history. All you ever have to do to put a smile on any Buckeye fan’s face is utter two simple words: “Holy Buckeye.”

6. Doug Donley – Somewhat overshadowed by Williams and somehow forgotten over the past 25 years, Donley combined with Art Schlichter to terrorize Big Ten secondaries throughout the late 1970s. The man dubbed “White Lightning” because of his blinding speed on artificial surfaces led the Buckeyes in receiving for three consecutive years, becoming the first to accomplish that feat in nearly 20 years. Donley became the first receiver in OSU history to crack the 2,000-yard mark for his career, and his 2,252 yards still ranks sixth all-time. Better yet, his average of 21.24 yards per catch still ranks No. 2 in school history.

7. Cedric Anderson – If there is a guy who gets lost in the mention of top Ohio State receivers since 1980, it would have to be Anderson. It shouldn’t be that way. He was overshadowed by playing with Donley and Williams, but when opponents paid too much attention to that duo, Anderson struck. He managed to catch 80 passes for 1,707 yards and 12 TDs during his career. But more than raw numbers was what Anderson could do after the catch. His lifetime average of 21.3 yards per catch is tops in school history.

8. Santonio Holmes – Never the biggest or the fastest on his team, Holmes simply knows how to get open and then what to do with the football after he catches it. He had a somewhat rocky beginning to his Ohio State career, but once he got himself into the starting lineup, Holmes became one of the most reliable pass-catchers in recent years. He quietly finished fifth in school history in receptions (140) and receiving yardage (2,295) and trails on Boston and Carter on the all-time list of touchdown catches with 25. Holmes also had three games in his career of 150 yards or more, topped by 224 against Marshall in 2004.

9. Terry Glenn – Many people don’t remember that Glenn was originally a walk-on because of academics. They also forget that he started only one year for the Buckeyes. But that one season was an electrifying one as Glenn smashed nearly every receiving record on the OSU books. He had 64 receptions for 1,411 yards and 17 touchdowns. The reception total shattered the existing single-season mark by nearly 300 yards and still stands second all-time; the TD mark remains the OSU record for a single season. His 21.22-yard career average per catch also puts Glenn third in school history, just a hair behind Anderson and Donley.

10. Billy Ray Anders – Every one of the players on this list was a high school star before he got to Ohio State. Not Anders, however. He didn’t even play high school football. On a dare, he went out for the team as a sophomore walk-on and became team captain by his senior year in 1967. By his own admission, Anders was the slowest receiver on the team. But what he lacked in quickness, he more than made up for with great hands. Oldtimers still talk about a touchdown catch he had during a 14-10 win over Iowa in 1966. On a third-and-8 play, Anders slipped to the turf while making his cut and still managed to reach up and snag the ball one-handed to sustain the winning touchdown drive. By the time he finished his career in 1967, he was the school’s all-time leading receiver with 108 catches for 1,318 yards.

Not bad for a program generally not known for producing top-notch receivers. And my list doesn’t even include guys like Ted Ginn Jr., Jeff Graham, Dee Miller, Mike Lanese, Dick Wakefield, Bob Grimes, Bob Shaw, Dick Wakefield, Bruce Jankowski and Brian Baschnagel. Give me just those guys and you’d have a pretty good top 10.

If you like to check out my other positional top 10s, simply click on these links:

Top 10 OSU Quarterbacks

Top 10 OSU Running Backs

Top 10 OSU Fullbacks

FLOYD OF THE BUCKEYES

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to the late Floyd Stahl, who worn many hats in the Ohio State athletic department during his career.

Born July 18, 1899, Stahl was a baseball player at Illinois and earned the distinction of beating out the legendary Red Grange for the starting centerfield job in 1926. After graduation, Stahl went into coaching and first earned a name for himself by guiding Dayton Stivers to three consecutive Class A Ohio basketball championships from 1928-30.

Three years later, Stahl arrived at Ohio State – but as head coach of the baseball team. He spent six seasons in that capacity, and during the same time, he was also on Francis Schmidt’s football staff as backfield coach.

In 1939, Stahl left Columbus and became baseball coach at Harvard, directing the Crimson to their first Ivy League championship.

Beginning in 1943, Stahl also became head basketball coach at Harvard, and led the team to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1946. Ironically, the Crimson was knocked out of the tourney in the Elite Eight by Ohio State.

Stahl returned to Ohio State the following year to take over the baseball program again and remained in the dugout with the Buckeyes through 1950. That same year, he became head basketball coach, remaining in that capacity until succeeded by freshman coach Fred Taylor following the 1957-58 season.

While he was basketball coach, Stahl also served in the OSU athletic department as an associate athletic director, and one of his duties was to make travel arrangements for the football team. Normally, that wasn’t a problem. But when the football team earned a trip to the 1955 Rose Bowl, Stahl was sent to California to make the arrangements for the bowl game – during the middle of basketball season. That left Taylor in charge for at least two varsity games that season.

Stahl became a fulltime assistant AD in 1958, and eight years later came out of coaching “retirement” to pilot the Ohio State golf team for one season.

For his OSU coaching career, Stahl compiled a 129-108-1 career record in baseball, 84-92 in basketball and his golf team won the Big Ten championship in 1966 and finished tied for 12th at the NCAA tournament.

Stahl, who was elected to the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, remained a fixture in the OSU athletic department throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, serving in a variety of capacities.

He died July 15, 1996, just three days shy of his 97th birthday.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Those around the world celebrating birthdays today include: former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn; figure skating commentator Dick Button; actor Burt Kwouk (he played Inspector Clouseau’s manservant Cato in the Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” movie series); film director Paul Verhoeven (“Robocop,” “Basic Instinct,” Total Recall” and “Showgirls”); billionaire and former U.S. Presidential candidate Steve Forbes; British entrepreneur Richard Branson; Fifties and Sixties singer Dion Dimucci (“A Teenager In Love,” “Abraham, Martin and John”); Martha and the Vandellas lead singer Martha Reeves; Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre; Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets; Seattle Seahawks receiver Deion Branch; TV actor James Brolin (also the current Mr. Barbra Streisand); actress Kristen Bell; Grammy-winning bluegrass singer/musician Ricky Skaggs; three-time Masters champion golfer Nick Faldo; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African president Nelson Mandela, who is 90 today.

AND FINALLY

** I may change the name of this blog to “Rick Reilly Is An Idiot.” Coming off a blithering performance at Monday night’s Home Run Derby, the so-called Sportswriter of the Year jetted over to Royal Birkdale along with the other ESPNites to give “insight” on the British Open. One of his nuggets from the first day: 53-year-old Greg Norman is a nice story but it won’t last. Hey, Genius. Norman finished his second round early Friday and was the leader in the clubhouse at even par.

** It looks like the Cleveland Browns will be without one of their offensive leaders for the first part of the season. Veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius – one of those guys who just knows how to get open on third down – will likely miss the first six weeks of the regular season after a second knee surgery in six months. Jurevicius, who seems like he’s been in the league forever but is still only 33, caught 50 balls last season for 614 yards and three touchdowns.

** Down I-71 in Cincinnati, the Bengals are simply trying to retain a shred of respectability. But I have to say, this particular item doesn’t give me any comfort. According to ESPN.com, Cincinnati has interest in former receiver and legal nightmare Chris Henry if the NFL reinstates him. I can sum that news up in six little words: you have got to be kidding. Are my Bungles really that desperate?

** From the Dayton Daily News: Bo Schembechler’s widow claims he “would be elated” about the changes going on right now at Michigan under new head coach Rich Rodriguez and that the Ann Arbor community is “really jacked up and excited” about the prospects of the Wolverines’ 2008 season. Interesting take. I wonder how jacked up they’ll be after the season opener against Utah … and after the Big Ten season begins with Wisconsin and Illinois back-to-back … and after a Nov. 22 trip to Columbus.

** Good news for those of you with the NFL Network – no more Bryant Gumbel during game telecasts. Longtime New York Giants radio announcer Bob Papa will take over play-by-play duties this year for the NFL Network. Papa will team with holdover color man Cris Collinsworth for the network’s eight Thursday night games this fall.

** The other night I ate at a real family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.

Big Ten Football Nuggets

Since there is now less than 50 days before the kickoff of the Big Ten season, here are some things about each of the conference football teams that maybe you didn’t know.

ILLINOIS

Ron Zook’s squad reeled off nine victories last year, ended Ohio State’s record conference winning streak in the process, and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, a crushing 49-17 loss in Pasadena to USC seemed to expose the Illini as an overachieving team playing in what is perceived nationally as a weak conference.

In the wake of losing his top two players – running back Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker J Leman – Zook will be faced with proving his program can take the next step. It won’t be easy. First, Illinois has not strung together back-to-back winning seasons since 1989 and ’90. Secondly, despite his success last season, Zook’s six-year record as a college head coach is still under water at 36-37.

Additionally, the Illini get no favors from the schedule-makers this year. They kick off the season Aug. 30 on the road in St. Louis against Missouri, led by Heisman-worthy quarterback Chase Daniel.

Then things get rough. The conference season has Illinois traveling to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State. The Illini haven’t won in Madison since 2002 and in Ann Arbor since 1999, and they’ve never come home victorious in five previous trips to Happy Valley.

INDIANA

The Hoosiers got a huge boost last week when starting quarterback Kellen Lewis was reinstated. Lewis had been under indefinite suspension since March for violation of team rules, and missed all of spring practice after throwing for 3,043 yards and 28 touchdowns last season and leading IU to its first bowl game since 1993.

There was some speculation that Lewis’ suspension would continue into at least part of the 2008 regular season, but Indiana head coach Bill Lynch isn’t crazy. He shed a little bit of light on the subject in late May, saying that Lewis was “doing the things we’re asking him to do,” estimating that he would re-evaluate the situation in late June.

Obviously, the only part about the situation Lynch wanted to re-evaluate was whether or not he wanted to coach a team relegated to the bottom of the Big Ten pack. In addition to his passing yardage, Lewis was also his team’s leading rusher last season with 736 yards and nine TDs.

Simply put in Bloomington – no Lewis, no chance.

IOWA

The honeymoon in Iowa City is pretty much over for Kirk Ferentz, whose teams have posted a 19-18 record since tying for the conference championship in 2004. Ferentz’s program seems to have become rudderless on the field and has experienced a spate of trouble off it. No fewer than nine Hawkeyes have either been dismissed or left the program in the past year due to legal problems.

As a result, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced in late May that the school would hire something called a “life skills advisor” to work primarily with the football team. Ferentz put a little different spin on the subject, dismissing it as “a new staff position to focus on player development.”

Meanwhile, Ferentz is looking to shore up his offense in 2008, a unit that ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring. The task won’t be any easier with the loss of top rusher Albert Young to graduation. But the Hawkeyes do have a few things going for them – eight returning starters on a defense that finished third in the league in scoring, conference favorite Ohio State is not on their schedule and their toughest games – against Penn State, Wisconsin and Purdue – will all be at home.

In nine years under Ferentz, Iowa has posted a 40-17 record in Kinnick Stadium but is just a paltry 17-28 on the road.

MICHIGAN

You probably know by now that Steven Threet is going to be the first starting quarterback in the Rich Rodriguez era. What you probably don’t know is that when Threet transferred from Georgia Tech before ever throwing a pass for the Yellow Jackets, few observers thought he would ever get a chance to play for U-M much less become the starter.

But when Lloyd Carr stepped down at the end of last season and the Wolverines settled upon Rodriguez and his spread-option offensive attack, heir apparent QB Ryan Mallett decided the attack was not for him and he transferred to Arkansas. Into the breach stepped the 6-5, 228-pound Threet, who is by no means the prototypical fit for Rodriguez’s scheme. But he ran the spread offense during his senior year in high school, and that gave him a leg up on the competition.

Most observers believe Michigan will struggle in its initial season under Rodriguez – the Wolverines may even miss out on going to a bowl game for the first time since 1974. How U-M progresses throughout 2009 and beyond, however, will become the ultimate barometer for whether or not Rodriguez was a good hire.

MICHIGAN STATE

If you’re into playing hunches, you may want to get some money down on the Spartans because several preseason publications envision Michigan State as a Big Ten title contender – Dark Horse Division.

Why the love for Sparty? The schedule for starters. MSU kicks things off at California and a victory there against the rebuilding Bears could serve as a huge springboard because the Spartans’ next six games are against teams that posted a combined record of 34-40 in 2007.

Then there is the fact that each of Michigan State’s six losses a year ago were by a touchdown or less. Illinois used a similar season in 2006 as a steppingstone to a breakout year in ’07 and the sentiment is that head coach Mark Dantonio can work something similar in East Lansing.

I don’t necessarily buy it, but that’s because I think as a head coach, Dantonio is a terrific defensive coordinator.

MINNESOTA

There may have been a lot of grumblings among the fan base but university officials knew head coach Tim Brewster’s first season with the Gophers was going to be a tough one. From the first time he set foot on campus, Brewster began a complete overhaul of Glen Mason’s system knowing full well that his program would suffer growing pains.

Perhaps a 1-11 season that included a loss to Division I-AA North Dakota State and the school’s first Big Ten record without so much as a single win or tie since 1920 wasn’t exactly expected. But Minnesota officials will be patient with Brewster, especially since the program should get a big shot in the arm when the new TCF Bank Stadium opens for business on campus in 2009.

That’s not until next year, of course. The Gophers will have to improve in all phases of the game to improve upon last year’s horrible season. If you’re looking for something to hang your hat on, try the fact that seven of their 11 losses came by seven points or less and two of those were overtime defeats by a single point. At least it’s something.

NORTHWESTERN

The popular perception may be to write off the Wildcats, but they may play a role in this year’s conference race. Maybe not as title contenders, but they could throw a huge monkey wrench into the proceedings.

Early in the season, NU plays at Iowa on Sept. 27, just one week after the Hawkeyes visit Pittsburgh. Then the Wildcats take on both Purdue (Oct. 18th) and Illinois (Nov. 22nd) just one week after those respective teams have taken on preseason favorite Ohio State.

Add in the fact that Northwestern has neither Penn State nor Wisconsin on its 2008 schedule, and you can overlook the Wildcats at your own peril.

Of course, if Pat Fitzgerald can’t coax a better performance out of his defense this year, it’s not going to matter. The Cats gave up 28 or more points in nine of their 12 games last season, and allowed four opponents to score more than 40. That doesn’t even count losing to Duke and allowing the Blue Devils to break the NCAA’s longest current losing streak at 22. Ugh.

OHIO STATE

With the exception of USC, don’t expect the Buckeyes to work up much of a sweat during their nonconference schedule. OSU opens with Youngstown State and Ohio University, and hasn’t lost to an instate school since 1921.

As far as Troy is concerned in week four, the Trojans are coming off a Sun Belt championship. But Ohio State is an impressive 43-1 at home against nonleague opponents going all the way back to 1991 – the early years of the John Cooper era when things were not nearly as rosy. The only home loss during that span? The 2005 loss to eventual national champion Texas.

That loss brings up another point about the run the Buckeyes are currently on. Since 2005, the team has a 33-5 record. Of those five losses, one in each of the past three seasons has come against the eventual national champion.

If he can stay healthy, Beanie Wells should make an assault on Eddie George’s single-season rushing record of 1,927 yards. If Wells can do that, he would become only the second Buckeye ever to amass 4,000 yards in his career – and would still be some 1,500 yards behind Archie Griffin’s school record.

PENN STATE

From the upturned cuffs of his pants to his team’s nondescript uniforms, you would think Joe Paterno is old-school all the way. But the 81-year-old coach is decidedly nontraditional when it comes to a Division I-A playoff. He wants one and calls the reasons against it bogus.

“To be frank with you, I don’t know what the reasons are not to have a playoff,” Paterno told a Pittsburgh audience in mid-May. “You can talk about missing class and all that kind of stuff, (yet) you see (the college) basketball (season) go on forever. You have a lot of bogus excuses, but obviously the majority of people who have the say don’t want it.”

Paterno’s stance is a bit strange in that any kind of a playoff at the I-A level is likely to never affect the longtime coach. His Nittany Lions are not considered a national championship contender in 2008, a season many believe will be JoePa’s last hurrah in Happy Valley. His contract runs out following the season and university officials have reportedly indicated – at least privately – that it will not be renewed.

But just because Penn State doesn’t figure in the national title picture, don’t completely rule the Lions out of the Big Ten championship chase. If they can find a quarterback to run the spread offense, and find suitable replacements for linebackers Dan Connor (graduated) and Sean lee (out for the season after ACL surgery), remember where you heard first that the Nittany Lions may be the surprise team of the Big Ten in 2008.

PURDUE

Joe Tiller has already anointed assistant Danny Hope as his successor as head coach following the 2008 season, but the question is how much input Hope will have this fall when it comes to crunch time? Maybe more than you may think.

The Boilermakers hired Hope away from the head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky – Hope’s alma mater – and installed him as associate head coach on the 65-year-old Tiller’s staff. But Hope previously spent five years in West Lafayette, coaching the offensive line that provided protection for former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees.

One other thing – Hope is every bit as offensive-minded as Tiller. He was offensive coordinator at Louisville in 2001 when the Cardinals went 11-2 and quarterback Dave Ragone threw for 3,056 yards and 23 touchdowns. That should be music to ears of returning QB Curtis Painter, who led the Big Ten last season with 3,846 yards and 29 TDs.

If Tiller is to make any noise in his final season at Purdue, though, he is going to have to do two things – shore up a defense that allowed 28.3 points in its conference games last season and simply win more games. Since going 6-2 in league play in 2003, the Boilers are 15-17 against Big Ten competition. That simply won’t cut it.

WISCONSIN

The Badgers would appear to have an abundance of talent on the offensive side of the ball, starting with studs P.J. Hill at tailback and Travis Beckum at tight end and continuing with unsung stars such as Kraig Urbik and Gabe Carimi on the offensive line.

But it won’t mean much if U-Dub doesn’t settle its quarterback conundrum between lefty transfer Allan Evridge and junior Dustin Sherer. Evridge attempted only 12 passes last season in relief of departed starter Tyler Donovan while Sherer threw none.

Evridge had some success as a part-time starter for Kansas State way back in 2005, but his stats are far from gaudy – dating back to his days as a Wildcat, he has completed only 12 of his last 49 pass attempts. That’s a less-than-healthy 24.5 percent.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Happy birthday today to former Ohio State linebacker Jerry Rudzinski. Born July 16, 1975, in Dayton, Ohio, Rudzinski grew up in Centerville and was a two-time All-Ohio pick at Kettering Alter. He won Division III defensive player of the year honors as a senior and went on to become a four-year letterman for the Buckeyes from 1995-98. Rudzinski started two seasons at outside linebacker and was co-captain of the ’98 team that narrowly missed winning the national championship. He lives in Columbus, is a frequent analyst on various area radio shows and is regional manager for the Stryker Corp., a medical technology company.

Others celebrating today include: former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; International Tennis Hall of Fame member Margaret Court; NFL Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders; The Police drummer Stewart Copeland; dancemeister Michael Flatley; actress Phoebe Cates (she played red-bikinied Linda Barrett in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”); poker bad boy Phil Hellmuth; PGA Tour player Adam Scott; and comic actor Will Farrell.

Several other celebrities who have passed into history also shared July 15 as birthdays. They include religious leader Mary Baker Eddy; explorer Roald Amundsen; baseball player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson; popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher; actress Barbara Stanwyck; dancer Ginger Rogers; and reluctant Super Bowl I star Max McGee.

AND FINALLY

** I used to love the All-Star Game, but honestly, could the Midsummer Classic get any more commercial? One of these years, the first sentence out of Joe Buck’s mouth is going to be something like, “This welcome to the Aquafina/Baby Ruth/State Farm Insurance Major League Baseball All-Star Game presented by Chevrolet in cooperation with MasterCard, Holiday Inn and Budweiser, America’s Lager and the King of Beers, is brought to you by Viagra, Taco Bell and ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,’ starring Brendan Fraser and Jet Li and opening near you August 1st.”

** Could we please have a major sporting event that started before 8:45 p.m. in the East? By the time the AL finally won in 15 innings, most the kiddies in the Eastern, Central and even Mountain time zones were fast asleep.

** Was anyone but me rooting for the game to continue another inning or two? I wanted to see what would happen to Bud Selig’s grand plan of awarding home field advantage in the World Series in the event of a tie.

** Lost amid all of the fawning over Yankee Stadium was this nugget: New York left fielder Hideki Matsui may need season-ending knee surgery. Who might the Yankees go after as a replacement? A rested and ready Barry Bonds.

** Notre Dame is reportedly set to announce its new athletic director today, and if you’ve heard of him, you’re one up on me. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Indianapolis lawyer Jack Swarbrick is the man. He was a leader of Indy’s successful bid this past spring to bring the 2012 Super Bowl to the city, and – perhaps most important in South Bend – Swarbrick is a Notre Dame grad.

One-And-Done Scenario Ridiculous

Every couple of weeks so far this summer, someone has foisted the idea that if the Ohio State football team loses even one game this fall, the Buckeyes will be passed over when it comes time to hand out invitations for the BCS National Championship Game.

I can envision such a scenario, especially if there a couple of other undefeated or one-loss teams. But the supposition that OSU will be jumped by a two-loss team just seems ludicrous to me.

Performances by the Buckeyes in the last two national title games should have absolutely no bearing on how the 2008 season plays out. If past performance in a championship game is going to be part of your criteria for choosing teams going forward, Oklahoma should forever be eliminated from consideration. Didn’t the Sooners lose two title games in a row, including a particularly embarrassing 55-19 loss to USC in the 2005 game? I don’t ever remember hearing the notion that Bob Stoops’ team had to go undefeated the next season to earn a three-peat.

It was borderline sickening last year to watch ESPN the morning after West Virginia and Missouri lost season-ending games, throwing the BCS standings into turmoil. What was most sickening was the posturing by many of the so-called experts, making cases for their own personal favorites.

Even then, there were those who seemingly wanted to discount Ohio State’s season during which it was undefeated and ranked No. 1 for much of the year. It also seemed difficult to fathom a two-loss LSU team could have vaulted all the way from No. 7 in the next-to-last BCS standings to the No. 2 position. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

How? Because many people somehow managed to discount the Tigers’ losses to Kentucky and Arkansas, each of which wound up with five losses last season. Since those defeats came against conference opponents, and the conventional reasoning is that the SEC is just a half-step below the NFL in terms of talent, LSU received the national title bid over a one-loss Kansas team, who’s only loss came in a seven-point decision to then-No. 4 Missouri.

The talking heads opined that since Kansas did not win its own conference, it was not worthy of getting a shot to win the national championship. The same argument was made for why LSU got the nod over SEC rival Georgia, which also lost two games. But while one could argue that the Bulldogs were the hotter team down the stretch with six consecutive wins to finish the regular season, they didn’t even get to the conference championship game.

I have no problem with that reasoning. However, if that is the applicable way to look at the final BCS standings, it seems difficult to believe any two-loss team should be able to leap over the champion from a BCS conference to make the national title game. And that is what some people would have us believe if Ohio State finishes 11-1 and that one loss is to USC.

If the Buckeyes go to Southern California and get their doors blown off, then they probably will have forfeited their chance at a playing in Miami in January. But if they play well against the Trojans – even in defeat – it would not be out of the realm of possibility for them to climb back up the polls by season’s end.

That game happens in week three of the 2008 season. There are 11 more weeks of upsets, twists and turns, and running the table after the USC game would allow Ohio State to inch its way back up the rankings.

Then if it comes down to a scenario where the Buckeyes are in position to go to the BCS game again and the fix is in, let’s just drop the façade. Forget the polls and all the hard work and the games and the pageantry and just let ABC and ESPN decide in August which teams they’d like to have in the January title game.

That would be just about as fair.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

We have a trio of Buckeye birthdays today – Rickey Dudley, Otis Winston, Terence Dials.

Rickey Leshun Dudley was born July 15, 1972, in Henderson, Texas, and played football and basketball for Ohio State in the early to mid-1990s. He was originally recruited to play basketball and was a four-year letterwinner for Randy Ayers’ program. Then, John Cooper persuaded him to come out for football and he was a starting tight end in 1994 and ’95. Oakland drafted Dudley in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft with the eighth overall pick, and he played nine years in the league with the Raiders, Browns and Buccaneers. He retired following the 2004 season with 221 career receptions for 3,024 yards and 33 TDs.

Otis Winston was born July 15, 1973, in Toronto, Ohio, and was also a two-sport star at Ohio State. He played basketball for the Buckeyes from 1993-95, but earned more acclaim as a member of OSU’s track team. Winston was an All-American high jumper in 1993 and the Big Ten outdoor high jump champion in 1995, and won back-to-back conference indoor high jump titles in 1995 and ’96. He still holds the school record in the outdoor high jump at 7-4½. Winston is now an ordained minister and part-time screenwriter who lives in Columbus.

Terence Jerome Dials II was born July 15, 1983, in Detroit, and moved with his family to Youngstown, Ohio, where he became a star basketball player at Boardman High School. After graduation, Dials became a three-year starter for the Buckeyes from 2004-06. He was a two-year captain and Big Ten player of the year in 2006 when Ohio State went 26-6 and captured its first outright conference championship in 14 years. Dials has played the past two years in the NBA Summer League, and has played two professional seasons in France, making the French ProA All-Star Game in 2007.

Other luminaries from around the world celebrating birthdays today include: adventure novelist Clive Cussler; former Detroit Lions defensive tackle-turned-actor Alex Karras; TV actor Ken Kercheval (he played Cliff Barnes on “Dallas”); movie actor Patrick Wayne (John’s son and chairman of the John Wayne Cancer Institute); actor Terry O-Quinn (John Locke on “Lost”); pop singer Linda Ronstadt; political commentator and blogger Adrianna Huffington; former wrester and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura; Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose; Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker; My Chemical Romance lead guitarist Ray Toro; and Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the sultan of Brunei and probably the richest man in the world. With oil prices fluctuating wildly these days, it is difficult to figure how much money the sultan has at any one time, but his worth is estimated at somewhere around $55 billion.

Last and by no means least, a very happy 21st birthday to my daughter Jessica.

AND FINALLY

** Thanks to ESPN for ruining a perfectly otherwise entertaining Home Run Derby last night. The Worldwide Leader’s hype machine was in overdrive we were told Josh Hamilton’s performance was one of the best moments in Yankee Stadium. Up there with Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech? Don Larsen’s perfect game? Reggie Jackson’s back-to-back-to-back World Series home runs? Oh, and by the way, guys … Hamilton didn’t even win the competition.

** As long as I’m venting, how much did ESPN overpay Rick Reilly to come over from Sports Illustrated? Reilly acted like Hamilton appeared out of thin air in Texas while fans in Cincinnati knew all about his inspirational story last year. Hey, Rick. Just because it’s the first time you’ve paid attention to the story doesn’t make it news.

** Finally, I know I’m going to upset her legion of fans – and you know the reason why you’re fans – but honestly, can someone take Erin Andrews aside and help her with her interview skills? Repeatedly asking, “What does this feel like?” doesn’t exactly make for compelling television.

** If the Packers really want to poke the stick in Brett Favre’s eye, why not trade his rights to Miami or Oakland? Then he can play for struggling franchises with micromanaging GMs and/or owners. One year of playing in the shadow of Bill Parcells or Al Davis ought to keep him retired once and for.

** This probably won’t come as a shock to any football fan in Ohio, but when Sporting News did a recent ranking of the NFL’s top 25 running backs, no Bengal or Brown was named in the top 15. Rudi Johnson of Cincinnati and Jamal Lewis of Cleveland – a couple of guys who may have their best days already behind them – were ranked 19th and 21st, respectively. The no-brainer at the top was San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson. Here is the entire list: SN’s Top 25 NFL Running Backs.

** As the temperature reaches 90 degrees here in central Ohio, I leave you with this thought, courtesy of Yogi: “Remember, it ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

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