Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ohio State Football Is Bigger Than All Of Us

I have a good idea for those looking to get a reaction out of Buckeye fans: Tell them James Laurinaitis is overrated.

Believe me, I've been there. But on the giving end.

James Laurinaits is overrated (albeit pretty great).

(Chaos ensues)

I get creamed every time I mention that James Laurinaitis is overrated. There's a good reason for this: the vast majority of Ohio State fans (myself included, mostly) are lunatics, thus unable to understand the difference between overrated and worst football player in the history of football players. Overrated means one is not as good as they are generally perceived. Underrated, the opposite of that. But nowhere in those definitions did I say overrated means terrible and underrated means great.

Example: Tracy McGrady is overrated, while Eduardo Najera is underrated. Now, am I saying that Najera is better than McGrady? Of course not. It's seems obvious, right? Wrong. That's just not the way psychotic fans react when you throw out the dirty 'O' word.

Anyway, I might be coming around a bit on this Laurinaitis guy. Two different interviews I've read with his teammates really point to how great of a leader he is.

First, Marcus Freeman, with's Adam Rittenberg:

AR: I hate to make you describe a shower scene, but take me back to after the LSU loss when you and the other juniors talked about coming back for this season.

MF: Just a lot of emotion. Sitting on that bench and thinking, 'Hey, I don't think I'm going to come back and have this feeling again.' But we got in the shower, everybody's disappointed. I forget who was the first person to say something, but it was weird that all of us that had major decisions about coming back were all in the shower at the same time. (Alex) Boone or Malcolm (Jenkins) or someone said, 'Hey, I'm coming back. I'm not leaving college football like this.' And then James (Laurinaitis) said, 'I'm coming back, too,' and I said, 'I'm coming back, too.' We all knew we really had to go home and think about it, but that was the first feeling of, 'Hey, let's come back and do it one more time. Let's go out with a bang our senior year.'

Of those juniors, was there a guy who really surprised you by coming back?

MF: I definitely think both James and Malcolm. Any time you're in a situation to be a top-10 pick and you have the ability that they have, you're pretty certain that these guys are going to the NFL. I was very surprised when both of them said they were coming back, but I think if you really take a second and looked at their character, it's something that wouldn't surprise me. They love to be at Ohio State, they love college football, they love playing for Ohio State.

You've played with James for so long and you're always linked together. Does that ever frustrate you?

MF: That's a friendship that has grown since the first day we met. Me and James will be friends for the rest of our lives, no matter what happens here at Ohio State or in the NFL. I'm always proud of him and he's proud of me. We have a great competition between each other. We're each other's biggest critics. If I see James messing up, I'm gonna tell him and if he sees me messing up, he's gonna tell me. That's what true friends can do. They can tell you when you're messing up or when you need to pick it up. That's something we both do with each other. Looking over to my right or left, I know I'm going to have the utmost confidence in James to do his job, and I hope he has the same in me. It's not only a friendship, but a great teammate.

Next up, DT Dexter Larimore, with's Bill Greene:

"I think there's a time and a place where you have to get in people's faces and be very vocal," Larimore stressed. "But for the most part true leadership is a way of life. It's being the guy that's early to practice or to the weight room. It's being the guy that's in the film room all the time. When you get ready to head for home and you see James and Marcus Freeman still in there working, it makes you get back in there and give more of yourself. They don't have to say a word and you know you need to match their commitment to the program. That's leadership. When we watch film and we see an All-American like James Laurinaitis busting his tail on every play and every single rep, that has an effect on the entire team. He's the best practice player, because he's the one giving 100% on every play. When you watch him in practice you see why he's so successful. He loves our team so much and he wants our team to excel so badly. That's why he does the things he does. It's all for the good of the team. That's leadership in my book. That's why he is the player he is and the person he is. We all follow his lead and hopefully we'll get back in the championship game again this year. As a group, we want to win a national championship so badly and that drives all of us every single day."

Listen, I'm usually pretty cynical when it comes to pieces like this - it's part of the reason I can barely stomach; as solid as Geoff Hobson is, he gets bated into believing that this will be the year for John Thornton - and then he convinces the average fan of the same thing. But anyway, I don't all-of-the-sudden think Laurinaitis is in A.J. Hawk's league (nor will I ever), and I still think he'll continue to pile up misleading tackling totals...BUT...he is obviously a heck of a player. And I just moved him up a notch in my personal rankings because of the glowing terms in which two of his teammates spoke of him.

Does that make me a sucker?

-Brad Spieser (