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Published: Saturday, 11/17/2001

Bellisari sacks himself

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - As Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari walked off the Ohio Stadium field last Saturday following the Buckeyes' 35-9 victory over Purdue, something unusual happened.

Fans cheered.

They yelled things such as, “Way to go Steve,” and “Good job Steve,” as hands were extended and dutifully slapped by the new conquering hero.

Bellisari, who probably would be the people's choice at any position other than quarterback, got a boyish grin on his face and admitted minutes later, “It was nice. It feels good. I'm not going to lie to you.”

Today, when OSU's game against Illinois in Ohio Stadium concludes, Bellisari, the Buckeyes' senior co-captain, an honor bestowed upon him two years in a row, won't even leave the stadium.

That's because he isn't expected to even be there, according to Ohio State athletic director Any Geiger.

The resurrection of Steve Bellisari might have come to a hapless, almost pitiful end yesterday morning when he was arrested and charged with two counts of drunken driving and running a stop sign. His blood alcohol level of 0.22 was over twice the state's legal limit of 0.10.

Bellisari, 21, was suspended indefinitely, which means he will probably also miss Ohio State's final regular-season game at Michigan next Saturday. He'll be replaced by inexperienced backup quarterback Scott McMullen, a sophomore.

Geiger said the length of Bellisari's suspension will be up to the discretion of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, but issued this statement:

“This is a very unfortunate situation for Steve and our team. I spoke with Steve earlier this morning. He is most distressed by how his actions could affect his team.

“For the past 10 months, we've discussed the importance of decision-making in good quarterback play; the same is true in life. This can be a good life lesson.”

Words such as “incredulous” and “unbelievable” were the immediate responses of those who know Bellisari best.

“It's a shocking development,” Geiger admitted at a hastily called press conference yesterday afternoon. “Coach Tressel, I think, was upset. He's not a demonstrative person in that respect. I called him and informed him this morning shortly after I knew and he was as stunned as I was.”

It's not known if Bellisari's name will be included among the 12 seniors and their immediate families who will be introduced as part of Senior's Day festivities prior to today's last home game, scheduled to start at 12:10 p.m.

Geiger said he and Tressel agreed that with 104,000 people in attendance along with a national television audience, “The focus of the day ought to be on the game and the people playing the game. I just think that we didn't want to have distractions.”

It's reported that many of Bellisari's teammates are angry that he would make such a bad decision given the opportunity at hand. The Buckeyes (6-3, 4-2) are two victories away from at least a share of the Big Ten title and a chance to represent the conference in a BCS bowl, either the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar.

It's because of Bellisari's recent rejuvenation that OSU has renewed hope and is in control of its own destiny.

After a slow start that created much ire among OSU faithful, Bellisari put together the two best back-to-back games of his career, guiding the Buckeyes to wins over Purdue and Minnesota.

After completing just 42 per cent of his passes in OSU's first seven games this season for three touchdowns and six interceptions, Bellisari connected on 26 of 37 passes (70.3 per cent) for five touchdowns without an interception in the last two games.

When he struggled earlier this season, Tressel had ample opportunity to insert McMullen, but failed to do so, leaving the impression that while his senior and three-year starter was badly floundering, McMullen wasn't good enough to even merit a trial.

McMullen has completed two of his eight pass attempts this season for 43 yards with one interception.

This will also serve as a measure of Tressel, in his first year, and how he intends to establish discipline, especially in light of all the problems that infected the program last year.

“It's a defining moment because it happened,” Geiger said. “It's not a planned thing, but clearly players and the public watch what happens, so de facto it helps define.”

The timing of this incident, the fact that it occurred at all and that it involved someone of Bellisari's stature as one of the team's most popular and respected players has left almost everyone involved with the program perplexed, disheartened and even with a feeling of betrayal.

“I'm disappointed,” Geiger said. “I'm disappointed for Steve. His progress, his performance as a person has been impeccable under really extraordinary circumstances.

“To have this abrupt of a change in that trend is really something out of the blue as far as we're concerned.

“While I'm disappointed, my heart also goes out to him as this has had to be an awful day for him without any question.

“I'm concerned and upset for our coaches and for Steve's teammates, because we have a tough task on our hands tomorrow in any event.”



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