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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

Local Buckeye fever high, even in May

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Last night's Meet the Buckeyes event could have been held in an open cornfield and attendance still would have been strong.

Patrons could have been served burgers and beans for their $100 admission fee and you wouldn't have heard much griping.

A sold-out crowd of 800 showed up to the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, many of whom sought autographs and others who simply wanted to be in the company of some of Ohio State's all-time great athletes and coaches.

"Every day I'm more amazed by the enthusiasm and support of the Buckeye nation," OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel said. "It's just exciting. On a May evening, it's truly amazing."

Former Buckeye football coach Earl Bruce was the featured speaker. It was Bruce who was influential in starting the program 22 years ago. It's been going strong every other year since.

"We've weathered three head basketball coaches, three head football coaches and three athletic directors," event coordinator Phil Harrison said.

Harrison said the event has raised about $500,000 for OSU's athletic grant fund.

"People are nuts about Ohio State," said Craig Krenzel, the quarterback on OSU's national championship team in 2002. "Anybody that's been to Ohio State and attended the university knows what a great place it is and has memories upon memories."

Krenzel factors into many memorable moments. Considered a mediocre quarterback talent wise, Krenzel made up for his deficiencies with numerous clutch plays throughout the championship season. He rushed for two touchdowns in an upset of Miami in the national title game.

"I think it had to do with the type of players we had and the quality and character of my teammates," Krenzel said. "The close games we won all season long, including that championship game were a byproduct of the character of the people out on the field."

Krenzel, who had a brief stint in the NFL, now works in commercial real estate in Columbus. Krenzel's wife, Beth, recently gave birth to the couple's second child, a girl.

Former Buckeye basketball great Katie Smith was the only female honoree. Quite possibly OSU's greatest women's basketball player ever, Smith broke the Big Ten career scoring record and was named the league's MVP as a senior. Smith will soon begin her 11th year in the WNBA and her fourth with the Detroit Shock. Detroit is coming off a superb season that ended with a loss to Phoenix in the WNBA finals.

"I like our chances," Smith said. "We have to get our rookies up to speed and we have to get some people healed up, but we have a really good nucleus and a lot of talented newcomers. I think we're a little deeper than last year, so I'm looking forward to winning the Eastern Conference and making a run at the playoffs."

Others on hand were former OSU football coaches Bill Conley and Tim Spencer.

After consecutive berths in the national title game, the Buckeye football team is in a position that warrants crowds like last night's. But with success comes expectations - and the bar is constantly being raised in Columbus, and obviously in Toledo as well.

"When you stop and think about expectations, the flipside would be worse," Tressel said. "Expectations are hard because you have to try to live up to them and that becomes a challenge. That's exciting. When people don't expect much from you that means they're not going to support you much. That's a lot worse."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com



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