When compiling a list of the best linebackers ever to play at Ohio State, the list is long. Spielman, Cousineau, Hawk, Laurinaitis, Gradishar, Pepper Johnson, etc etc etc.
While he rarely shows up on the list of all-time best LB, Matt Wilhelm is one of my favorites. And on his next-to-last play of his career, he saved a National Championship for us.
In the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, Miami was facing third down and goal from the Ohio State 1 yard line. The Buckeyes led 31-24 in the second overtime, and the Hurricanes had to score a touchdown or lose the game.
QB Ken Dorsey turned and handed the ball on an off-tackle run to Quadtraine Hill. He was hit at the line of scrimmage by Wilhelm, but kept his legs moving. Hill’s momentum kept him moving forward to the 1-foot line, and Wilhelm used his upper body strength to force the ball carrier backwards. He stayed on top of Hill and rode him to the ground, keeping him just shy of the end zone. Miami would fail on fourth down when LB Cie Grant forced a bad throw from Dorsey into the end zone and the title was ours.
Matt Wilhelm, you are our guest of honor today!
35 days until kickoff!
I grew up with the name Chris Spielman dominating the news. When I was in junior high, he was a running back and a linebacker at Massillon High School, a mere seven miles from my house. He humiliated both offenses and defenses across the state week after week. Guys in this town still have nightmares from when they were 16 year-old kids and would get punished having to try and tackle him on Friday night. They don’t talk about getting tackled by him because the concussion took that memory away.
Dude was even on a Wheaties box before he turned 18.
Then he chose Ohio State. Actually, his father told him to choose Ohio State or “never come home again”. Spielman was apparently considering that school up north.
In 1986 he was all over the field against Michigan, recording 29 tackles in a single game. No, that’s not a misprint. 29 tackles in one game.
So by the time I got to see him up close for the first time, he was a legend.
In 1987, I went up to Michigan Stadium to see the Buckeyes/Wolverines game. Four days earlier, Ohio State had fired head coach Earle Bruce and it was considered a travesty in every part of Ohio except the university president’s office. The players were pissed, and they were fully supporting Bruce.
During pre-game warmups that cold morning, we were right along the end zone wall, screaming for our Bucks. The players (who, in solidarity, had all put on white headbands with the name “Earle” emblazoned upon it in black Sharpie) were fired up and loving the atmosphere of the day. Hundreds of high-fives and hugs being exchanged between players and fans. It was electric.
Except for Spielman.
I have never seen a scarier sight in my life than when #36 came near our corner of the end zone. The look in his eyes was of pure anger and pure hunger. Nobody reached out to wish Spielman luck. They were too afraid of him. He looked as if he would literally plunge a rusty 6-inch shank in your jugular vein if you got in his way.
We were terrified of him and we were on the same freaking team.
And then we watched Michigan’s offense try to use only half of the field, constantly running to the side of the field that didn’t have a guy named Spielman on it. They clearly remembered the attack they had witnessed in 1986 (seriously, 29 tackles!) and tried their best to avoid a repeat.
That day, Spielman and the rest of the Buckeyes gave Bruce his final win at Ohio State, beating Bo Schembechler 23-20. Thanks, Chris!
36 days until kickoff!
Is was just a few short years ago that a trio of linebackers roamed the middle of our defense, and they were vicious. A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, and today’s hero, Bobby Carpenter.
These three were easily the best batch of men to play LB at the same time for Ohio State (although we’re pretty sure that Chris Spielman could have scared the piss out of any two of them at once), but what made them special was the way they bonded together off the field as well.
As a matter of fact, Bobby Carpenter may have won the 2005 Michigan game for the Buckeyes without playing a single down that counts.
Carpenter broke his leg on the first play that Michigan tried from the line of scrimmage…and the play was called back due to a flag. A tearful Carpenter would later return to the sidelines on crutches, unable to play in his final Michigan game of his life.
Midway through the 4th quarter with Ohio State trailing by 9 points, the rally cry around the bench began….the team wanted to win this one for Bobby. Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr, Anthony Gonzalez, and the rest of the offense joined in the call for their defensive ally, and the Buckeyes played like their lives depended on a victory. They marched down the field for a quick TD to cut the deficit to two points, then held firm on defense as Michigan could not hold onto the ball very long.
The offense retook the field with under 4 minutes to play and with Carpenter right there on the edge of the field screaming, and they marched nearly the entire length of the field……without ever seeing a third down play. Antonio Pittman took it in from a yard out for the game winner with 25 seconds left as Ohio State won their 4th game in 5 years against their hated rival.
Carpenter would never play another game in scarlet and gray. But the legend of what he brought to the field lives on.
42 days until kickoff!
P.S. Before any diehards get upset, we were going to highlight Paul Warfield at #42, but very few quality pictures exist of him in a Buckeyes #42 jersey. TONS of Browns and Fins pics, but no OSU. We did not overlook PW.