How does a guy from Michigan become one of the most revered players in recent Ohio State history? No problem if your name is Craig Krenzel, who celebrates his 27th birthday today.
Born in Sterling Heights, Mich., on July 1, 1981, Krenzel engineered two victories over the Wolverines during his career and led the Buckeyes to an undefeated season and the national championship in 2002. But while the Scarlet and Gray faithful were chanting his name following a Fiesta Bowl upset of defending national champion Miami (Fla.), those same fans wondered “Craig Who?” when he was recruited in 1999.
Former OSU head coach John Cooper signed Krenzel as part of his recruiting class that year ranked No. 2 in the nation. The 6-4, 255-pound quarterback prospect completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 1,760 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior for Sterling Heights (Mich.) Henry Ford II High School, and earned honorable mention All-America honors from USA Today.
Still, Krenzel wasn’t projected as one of the Buckeyes’ top prospects in the class of ’99, and he spent most of his first three years in the program riding the bench. Late in the 2001 season, though, the window of opportunity suddenly opened.
Starting quarterback Steve Bellisari was suspended due to an alcohol-related arrest on the eve of the next-to-last regular-season game, and although head coach Jim Tressel – who had taken over for Cooper in ’01 – started fellow sophomore Scott McMullen, Krenzel came off the bench against Illinois to throw for 164 yards and a touchdown.
Tressel had seen enough to install Krenzel as the starter the following week against archrival Michigan, and the QB made his first college start a memorable one. Krenzel led the Buckeyes to a 26-20 victory, their first win in Ann Arbor since 1987.
That set up the following season, one of the most magical in Ohio State history. With Krenzel at the controls, the Buckeyes began piling up heartstopping win after heartstopping win. The title run began in the Pigskin Classic with a 45-21 win over Texas Tech, and the victories continued through an emotional 14-9 triumph over Michigan that propelled OSU into the national championship game.
Waiting for the Buckeyes at the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl was the University of Miami, defending national champions and owners of a 34-game winning streak, the third-longest in Division I-A since 1920.
The Hurricanes were coached by former OSU assistant Larry Coker, who had taken over the program in 2001 and had a spotless 24-0 record. Coker had a star-packed roster headlined by the likes of such future NFL stars as running back Willis McGahee, tight end Kellen Winslow II, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safety Sean Taylor.
Leading the offense was senior quarterback Ken Dorsey, who had thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Dorsey had been under center for each of the Hurricanes’ 34 consecutive victories, and he needed only one more to tie the NCAA record for most wins in a row by a starting quarterback.
Miami had such a high-powered offense and stingy defense that practically no one gave Ohio State a chance to win the national title game. Oddsmakers installed the Hurricanes as prohibitive 13½-point favorites. Several national college football analysts didn’t think it would be that close.
But the Buckeyes were ready and fought the Hurricanes to a 17-17 draw at the end of regulation. That set up one of the most thrilling finishes in the history of college football and Krenzel took center stage.
Miami scored a quick touchdown on its first overtime possession, but Krenzel went on what amounted to a one-man attack. The Hurricanes stopped the Buckeyes on the first three plays of their possession to force a fourth-and-14 situation before Krenzel stood in against a furious rush, stepped up and found Michael Jenkins along the sideline in front of Taylor and cornerback Glenn Sharpe. The 17-yard pass play kept OSU’s championship hopes alive with a first down at the 12.
Three plays later, faced with fourth-and-3, Krenzel withstood another withering rush before delivering the football to receiver Gamble, who appeared to flash open momentarily in the end zone. But the pass bounced off Gamble’s hands as the OSU receiver and Sharpe became tangled in the end zone.
As the ball fell harmlessly to the turf, Miami players began a wild celebration of their second national championship in a row. What the Hurricanes had not noticed was a penalty flag laying in the end zone. Field judge Terry Porter had seen evidence of Sharpe interfering with Gamble before the football arrived, but Porter had trouble getting the flag out of his pocket. Once he threw the flag and things settled down on the field, the Buckeyes had new life with first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
On third down, Krenzel took a quarterback sneak behind right tackle Shane Olivea and twisted his way into the end zone to send the game to a second overtime.
With Miami’s defense running out of gas, the Buckeyes had an easier time of it in the second extra session. Tailback Lydell Ross ran around left end for a 9-yard gain on the first play before Krenzel pushed ahead on a quarterback draw for a first down at the 11. A pass to Jenkins got the ball to the 5, and running back Maurice Clarett polished things off with a touchdown run up the middle.
Kicker Mike Nugent added the extra point for a 31-24 lead and the Buckeyes had shifted the pressure back to the Hurricanes.
On the second play of the next series, Ohio State middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm put a ferocious hit on Dorsey and knocked him out the game. Sophomore backup QB Derrick Crudup came on, however, to complete an important third-down pass for 8 yards to fullback Quadtrine Hill before Dorsey returned and found Winslow for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-3 to preserve the drive.
Subsequent facemask and pass interference penalties against the Buckeyes gave Miami first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, but backup tailback Jarrett Payton was stopped at the 1 on first down and Dorsey missed an open tight end Eric Winston on second down near the goal line.
On third down, Wilhelm and fellow linebacker Robert Reynolds wrestled Hill to the ground for no gain to set up the game’s final play. OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio called for outside linebacker Cie Grant to blitz, and when Grant blew in from the edge unblocked, Dorsey had no choice but to fire the ball earlier than he wanted. The ball fluttered to OSU safety Donnie Nickey, who batted it to the ground and the Ohio State celebration was on for the school’s first national title since 1968.
The final game stats showed Miami with a commanding lead in first downs (19-14) and total yardage (369-267) but the Buckeyes were simply more opportunistic. They created five turnovers while the Hurricanes had only two.
Dorsey wound up completing 28 of 43 passes for 296 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Winslow was on the receiving end of one of the scores, part of a performance that included 11 receptions for 122 yards. Miami clearly missed McGahee down the stretch. He carried 20 times for 67 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game with a knee injury. The rest of his team combined for a net of minus-2 yards on 13 carries.
But the game-altering performance came from Krenzel. Despite finishing only 7 for 21 in the passing department for 122 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, he was voted the game’s most valuable player. It was an honor well-deserved because of the quarterback’s gamesmanship and the fact that he repeatedly confused the Hurricanes enough to rush for a game-high 81 yards and two touchdowns.
Krenzel completed his Ohio State career in 2003, earning another Fiesta Bowl MVP award, and had a brief NFL stint with Chicago in 2004. He was with the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2005 and ’06 seasons, but an elbow injury effectively ended his playing career.
Krenzel returned to the Columbus area and works as an investment analyst for real estate services firm Crawford Hoying Smith.
Also celebrating on this first day of July are such worldwide luminaries as actress Olivia de Havilland (last surviving member of the cast of “Gone With The Wind”); Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel; French actress Leslie Caron (“Gigi”); M*A*S*H actor Jamie Farr; choreographer Twyla Tharp; NHL Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert; Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry; B-52s lead singer Fred Schneider; prolific actor/writer/comedian Dan Aykroyd; Olympic gold medal sprinter and long jumper (and wannabe singer) Carl Lewis; ubiquitous actress/model/party girl Pamela Anderson; Grammy winning rapper Missy Elliott; actor Andre Braugher (“Homicide: Life On The Street”); and actress Liv Tyler, whose many film credits include portraying elf princess Arwen Undómiel in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Of course, she is also the daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
Several other celebrities who have passed into history also shared July 1 birthdays. Some of those include writer George Sand; big bandleader Tommy Dorsey; actor Charles Laughton; movie director William Wyler; cosmetic tycoon Estée Lauder; actor Harold Sakata (he played Oddjob in “Goldfinger”); film director Sydney Pollack; and Diana, Princess of Wales.
This also marks the anniversary of what some scholars believe was the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. On July 1, 1987, WFAN in New York City was launched as the world’s first all-sports radio station, triggering a whole new species known in scientific circles as Self-Importantus Blowhardiness.
** According to depositions in the contract lawsuit between West Virginia and Rich Rodriguez, the coach was unhappy about the public criticism that came his way after last year’s season-ending loss to Pitt, a game that kept West Virginia out of the national championship game. How do you suppose Coach Rod is going to feel the first time his team loses a game the fans in Double-A think he should win?
** Just wondering what might have happened if the Mountaineers had taken care of business against Pitt? LSU would likely have gone to the Sugar Bowl where it could have beaten up on Hawaii, and Les Miles could have taken the job at Michigan. Ohio State and West Virginia would have squared off in the national championship game and Rodriguez would have likely remained in Morgantown.
** Watched CNBC this morning and heard all the doom and gloom about a slowing economy and worldwide recession. Really? They must not have heard about that in the NFL. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys are each building new stadiums with construction price tags of more than $1 billion each. The new Cowboys Stadium will be ready in 2009 and the new Giants Stadium comes online in 2010.
** There’s a buzz in New York about the fact that Fox broadcaster Joe Buck disparaged lefthander Andy Pettitte’s chances of making the Hall of Fame because he was in the Mitchell Report. Whether or not Pettitte took HGH once, twice or a hundred times doesn’t really matter. A guy with 210 wins, no Cy Youngs, only two All-Star selections, less than 2,000 strikeouts and a career ERA of 3.84 simply doesn’t have the credentials to get a plaque in Cooperstown.
** Congratulations to golfing great Greg Norman and tennis legend Chris Evert, who got married Sunday in the Bahamas. It was his second trip to the altar, her third. Cost of the wedding was estimated at $2 million (more evidence of that terrible economy).