Playing your best is what matters tonight


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Jim Tressel has a card of his own.

The Ohio State coach passed it out to players this week, much like Urban Meyer used with his players after the Auburn loss. Meyer's had rings on one side and a Danny Wuerffel quote on the other.

Tressel's was another of those motivational ploys coaches use to try to inspire. He was asked about it at his final pregame news conference, the card with a quote that one of his players said was from Confucius.

"Obviously, that one didn't work," he said. "It wasn't Confucius. It was Nelson Mandela. Some of them work, some of them don't."

All of the pep talks, inspiring stories and practices will be on display tonight when Florida takes on Ohio State with a national championship at stake. Butterflies are hatching this morning in stomachs all around the Gator and Buckeye Nations, whether they be digesting burritos in Scottsdale, hot wings in Gainesville or alligator tail in Columbus, Ohio.

So many questions will be answered tonight, questions that have lingered longer than any season before. Can Florida's heralded defense handle Ohio State's version of the spread offense? Can Chris Hetland make a big field goal? Will Fox's Chris Myers ask on camera of the Florida coach as he's sending in a play, "So what trick play is this that you're calling?"

That's what this dragged-out game will be more than anything, answers to questions that have been asked since Dec. 3 when the matchup was announced. And ultimately, the answer.

Once the winner is decided, there could be major BCS ramifications. Michigan's loss to USC reduced the impact of what an easy Ohio State win might be, but there's still the Boise State factor. Just don't go too far into thinking the result of one game decides which conference is better or who is the better coach.

It's one game.

And it is just a game.

We have been given examples of that on both of these teams. Maybe that's why they both made it, to offer some perspective.

Win or lose, life goes on for Ohio State wide receiver Tyson Gentry. On April 14 of 2006, he went up to catch a pass and landed hard, breaking a vertebrae and his neck. He is in a wheelchair, unable to walk or even bathe himself.

He'd love for Ohio State to win tonight. But what he really wants is to have that day back. "It's definitely hard to see them out there," he said this week. "But it's not going to do me any good to get down about it. Life goes on."

There's the real inspiration for Ohio State's team. Reggie Nelson's situation is part of Florida's. Even though Nelson doesn't want to talk to his teammates about his mother's death, preferring to internalize his pain, they want this to be a special night for him.

It will be a special night either way for two Ohio State assistant coaches — Jim Bollman and Joe Daniels. In May, Bollman had triple bypass surgery. In June, Daniels found out he had kidney cancer just three days after he suffered a mild heart attack.

Think those two are happy to be here?

"It has been amazing to watch those guys," said Tressel. "It's inspiring to watch those guys."

Inspiration comes from so many different sources, whether it's a coach screaming in a player's ear or a mother telling her son to do the best he can. It can come from the corny, the rah-rah, or simply from an individual's internal motor that makes him want to be the best.

It can come from a grandmother was has passed away or a grandfather who took you to the park to pass the ball. It can come from a desire to impress the NFL or from a desire to do something special in what is probably the last game of your career.

So many players on these two teams have obviously been inspired some way. Guys like Dallas Baker and Steven Harris needed a coach to save them. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith needed a bevy of support.

It doesn't matter who or how. All that matters is that they are here, ready to play in the game of their lives.

BCS ramifications, TV ratings, predictions, inspirational messages, conference revenues, bowl gifts, none of them matter once the ball is kicked off.

All that matters tonight is playing the best you possibly can, whether it's for yourself or someone else or a lot of someone elses.

This is the game for which they will all be remembered. That's pretty heady stuff and probably unfair. But it's the biggest reason of all to play your best game.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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