Monday, October 31, 2011

BRAXTON MILLER'S LATE HEROICS MORE THAN JUST A GAME-WINNER

Players congratulate Braxton Miller (5) Saturday
night in their win over Wisconsin. (AP/Tony Dejak)
COLUMBUS — It is not very often that you get to witness something truly special up close and personal.

Sure, in my seven seasons covering the Ohio State football team I have witnessed some pretty memorable moments, but nothing I would categorize as "truly special."

Well, that is, until late Saturday night in Columbus, when true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller's 40 yard pass fell into the hands of receiver Devin Smith in the end zone with 20 seconds remaining in their game against Wisconsin. The play gave the Buckeyes an improbable 33-29 win over the heavily favored Badgers.

Now, if you have followed Miller during his high school career, moments like what happened Saturday night shouldn't really surprise you. Scrambling around and making game-winning throws, which seem to turn the impossible into the incredible, has been the kid's method of operation for quite some time now.

No, what made the touchdown toss "truly special" wasn't the actual play itself, but all that it represented.

It healed wounds, it mended scars, it's given a team and a fan base who have been put through the ringer these past several months — with NCAA scandals, player suspensions, a coach's resignation and a subpar win-loss record — some real hope.

It turned a season that had about as much promise as the current housing market and suddenly gave it meaning. Where the Buckeyes were just hoping to become eligible to play in a bowl game — any bowl game — now have a decent possibility of making it to the inaugural Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis, where if they win, a berth in the Rose Bowl would follow.

It took just one pass to make that magic happen.

The Miller pass not only saved a season, it may have saved a job. It's no secret that Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell's job security wasn't in the best standing. Many have already replaced him with former Florida head coach Urban Meyer as soon as the final gun sounds in Ann Arbor on Nov. 26.

Perhaps that's why Miller winked at Fickell prior to taking the field for the game-winning drive against Wisconsin. Miller's wink and words of "Don't worry ... I've got this," may also be translated as "Don't worry, coach ... I've got you."

The pass acted as the world's largest therapy session.

Fans were electrified as if the Buckeyes had won the BCS title game — not a victory that improved the team's record to a less than impressive 5-3. The players were laughing, smiling, singing and some even shed a few tears of joy. It wasn't just a win for them, it was a day of reckoning.

Just when it appeared the prospects of the program were about to flat-line, Miller's pass became 40 yards worth of resuscitation.

"It's about time we caught a break because these guys have fought through hell," OSU senior center Michael Brewster said.

Even members of the Ohio State media — myself included — were jumping up and down, hugging and giving high-fives to one another on the field after Miller's pass was grasped by Smith in the end zone. It was a surreal moment that myself and many others will never forget.

After the final gun sounded, fans and players alike stormed the field around Miller, giving him congratulatory pats on the back and thanking him for saving the season. It wasn't a post-game celebration ... it was a revival.

It was salvation. It was redemption. It was a promise of brighter days in Columbus.

The pass from Miller did all of that.

It was a "truly special" moment.