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College football: Fiesta Bowl

At OSU, football is king

By Keith Niebuhr
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003


Kirk Herbstreit, a college football commentator for ESPN, is a former Ohio State quarterback. He earned three letters and was the Buckeyes' passing leader in 1992, when he guided them to an 8-3-1 finish. They tied Michigan that fall, 13-13. Herbstreit shared his thoughts with Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr.

If you grew up in Gainesville, you grew up dreaming of playing for the Florida Gators. I'm from Dayton (Ohio), so I grew up dreaming of playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. My dad (James Herbstreit) played at Ohio State and was a captain there. He coached with Woody and Bo Schembechler. So I kind of grew up with it in my blood. To be able to play there was a dream.

The best way to describe (being an Ohio State football player) is that if you go to a school like Ohio State, it's no different probably than going to Nebraska, Michigan or Tennessee. It's big-time football. You're the big man on campus.

The thing that always sticks out is the camaraderie of the fellows. On the bus, guys cracking on each other, going to the game or going to an event. That's the stuff that's so great.

On the night before (home) games, we stayed downtown in a hotel. You walk down to the police escort, and you get like an eight-patrol police escort down to the stadium. Sirens are going off and the closer you get to the stadium the more the tailgaters are yelling things toward the buses. The place is going nuts. By the time you pull into the stadium, you're ready to cover a kickoff because you're so wound up. People are just going crazy. And they all look forward to the Buckeyes arrival.

Ohio Stadium is one of the few Big Ten stadiums that has an SEC or southern football kind of atmosphere, not only with the traditions but the excitement level in the stadium. And I think that's what makes college football so great.

Any kid that gets recruited by Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and Miami, something has to be a catch with a school. For me, the catch was the opportunity to win a championship. I don't think today's kid necessarily cares about the history. It's more about competing at a high level. The Big Ten conference has been a little down the last couple of years, but if you grow up in that area you still feel like it's elite football. To compete in that conference and be a part of some great games, like going up against Penn state and Michigan, and to have an opportunity to win a national championship, is amazing.

It was a dream for me. I'm a sick, demented person when it comes to college football because of the way I was raised. I lived it all my life. The years I spent at Ohio State were the greatest of my life. And what's probably topped that is doing what I'm doing now and following the sport. When I'm on the air I try to be objective. But when the camera goes off I love to see Ohio State do well.

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