Last year’s improbable national championship was made sweeter by being unexpected. It was made sweeter by 12 years of waiting, 12 years of near-misses, 12 years of agonizing defeats. It was made sweeter by more than a decade of disrespect, of feeling disrespected. Then at the end of last season—in a little more than five weeks—it was all erased.
And now the Buckeyes are here, enjoying the view.
In 2012, ESPN The Magazine’s Wright Thompson profiled Urban Meyer and his decision to return to coaching and to Ohio State. At one point Meyer stood in front of the incoming freshman football class and tempted them with an anecdote of walking across the stage at graduation to shake the university president’s hand while wearing a set of championship rings, “a fist of diamonds.” The players in that room—Pat Elflein, Taylor Decker, Jacoby Boren, Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington, Cardale Jones, Joshua Perry, Michael Thomas, and Tyvis Powell among them—have a ring now. They are the leadership of this team, and they want another.
Earlier in the profile, though, Meyer hinted at what currently stands in their way. “Building takes passion and energy,” he said. “Maintenance is awful. It’s nothing but fatigue. Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful.”
The Buckeyes are done building. Last year was unexpected; this season is nothing but expectation. The championship run earned them a ring, but also a target and the burden of maintenance. The Buckeyes are loaded, the first unanimous number-one team in the history of the AP poll. The two schools closest to reaching undisputed top status were Alabama in 2013 and Florida in 2009, both with 58 of 60 first-place votes, both reigning champions. Neither won the title. Meyer coached that Florida team, and no one understands the imminent challenge better than him. He knows that it requires an insatiable appetite to win again.
That constant hunger is the difference between those who get a glimpse of this view and those left wanting. As Don Draper asserted in season five of Mad Men: “Even though success is a reality, its affects are temporary. You get hungry even though you’ve just eaten. … You’re on top and you don’t have enough.”
On September 7 (and the weeks after), the view changes. The Buckeyes will be at the bottom of a mountain alongside everyone else, looking up, eager and hungry.