"PLEASE LORD, DON’T LET ME #$%@ THIS UP"
Imagine for a moment that you aren’t a middle manager at a small industrial smoothing firm, but rather that your dreams came true and you’re an astronaut. You have just concluded your maiden space voyage–only the second in American history–by splashing into the warm ocean off the coast of Florida. As the helicopter comes to pluck your bobbing capsule from the sea, the explosive escape hatch blows off and you scramble out into the water as your priceless vessel sinks to the bottom three miles below.
Did you blow the hatch prematurely? Did it blow on its own? No matter. America’s greatest possession is on the seafloor and you’re riding home in a soggy spacesuit. Khrushchev is laughing. You screwed the pooch. You’re finished.
Except that you didn’t screw it, and you’re not finished…for you have found the Unscrewable Pooch.
Had that been the story of your life, your name would be Virgil Ivan Grissom, folks would know you as Gus, and you’d be a bonafide American hero. Maybe in your next life. Hell, maybe in mine. (Just kidding, I am an astronaut.)
What Gus Grissom found on that fateful day was that even though many people suspected he had blown the hatch in a panic, it didn’t matter. The capsule was gone, sure. But no one really cared in light of the reality of what he’d done in going to space–in proving that Alan Shephard’s maiden flight wasn’t a fluke. It quickly became apparent that the men of the Mercury program were not subject to the zero-defect rules of the test pilot world because the circumstances of their endeavors made them untouchable. The pooch, for them, was unscrewable.
Unscrewable pooches are rare in life, but they do happen. I make mention of this phenomenon because quite recently, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had an unscrewable pooch presented to him. And he eschewed it, then screwed it.
Consider the following scenario: The Orange Bowl. Your beleaguered defense is missing three of its best players, two of whom are vital to what little pass coverage your squad can muster. Your team has been ravaged by the flu the week before the game–an illness so bad that many of your best players missed practice and your standout tight end needed three liters of IV fluids to play. You’re starting from a bad spot.
On the fifth play of the game, your marquee QB takes a hit which injures his right side and throwing arm. By the start of the second half, he’s wincing with every movement. He’s obviously hurting badly and not up to snuff.
What do you do? Well, here’s where the pooch becomes unscrewable if Urban makes the right move. Kenny Guiton is a 5th-year senior backup–likely the most capable backup in the country. His career at OSU has consisted of mop-up duty and two early-season starts against cupcakes (though he did manage to grab the OSU single-game TD pass record in the latter of those outings). He’s beloved by fans and announcers alike. His story is that of the loyal apprentice and humble team player.
If Urban pulls Braxton Miller and puts Kenny Guiton in the game, three things happen:
1. The weight of winning the game is almost totally lifted from the Buckeyes. At that point, they’re a wounded shell of the B1G Leaders Division champions. Winning is still the goal, as it always is, but if a team loses the game after its best player is crippled and goes out, the loss becomes largely a matter of fate and circumstance. If the Buckeyes win in that scenario, well, the fine citizens of Columbus would find many a car wrongside-up come sunrise.
2. A young man gets his just reward. Second banana is not an admirable position in any profession. You're always getting sawed in half, or eaten by an alien when you accompany Spock to the planet's surface. It’s pretty bad in college football, as well, as it usually ensures that Number Two will never see the inside of an NFL stadium without a ticket. In some cases that’s justified, but in the case of Kenny Guiton the opposite may well be true. One need not have the mind of a Gruden to dissect these two QBs and realize that Kenny G may have far better pro-style talent than Braxton Miller. Guiton has been a stalwart, dependable, and hardworking member of the program through thick and thin (and there have been some mighty thin points). What better way to show the young man you respect every ounce of sweat he offered up than to put your trust in him to win the Orange Bowl against long odds? What better demonstration of magnanimity by a coach than to send a loyal veteran out on a high note?
3. Braxton Miller doesn’t embarrass himself. Miller certainly did some great things in the Orange Bowl, including that XBrax 360 run to give OSU their first touchdown. But letting him play hurt and unfocused ended in a crushing turnover, which gave the ball back to Clemson after Dabo’s innate desire to at least try to "Clemson" the game away led to the Tigers throwing an interception with a little over a minute left in the game. It wasn’t a death blow per se, but more of a flaming bag of dog flop on the already dark doorstep of the season that could have been. Allowing your star QB to throw an interception as his last pass of the season doesn’t do much for team spirit or recruiting in the critical south Florida region.
All Urban Meyer had to do was turn to Kenny Guiton, say "the game is yours son, give me your best shot," and the pooch would’ve become unscrewable. Urban would’ve been the coach who got dealt a blow by fate in a bowl game and gave a young man a shot to win it all in his last go-around as a Buckeye. Cinderella Story. Former Greenskeeper. You know the drill. The venerable but wounded Miller would’ve been rested and spared the blow to his passing game, which had already been rattled down the stretch.
Pride goeth before a fall. All Urban Meyer had to do to make the Orange Bowl an unscrewable pooch was pull Braxton. The 2014 Orange Bowl would’ve become the enduring tale of how he gave a good kid a shot at winning the big one when the star was hobbled. If that kid had fallen short, well then that would be life and fate. Urban would’ve showed that football in an academic setting is as much about teaching lessons as it as about winning and money (it isn’t, but its nice to go through the motions now and again for the sake of fooling ourselves just that little bit).
But he didn’t. He stuck with Braxton Miller and the rest is history, with Buckeye fans cringing and Meyer & company facing a hail of jeers from detractors of all flavors. Now the Buckeyes are left with more questions than answers in a long off-season.
Your capsule’s at the bottom of the ocean, Urban, and you’re not going to the moon.