While the 2012 Ohio State football team tries to finish an unbeaten season Saturday against Michigan, one of the previous five unbeaten and untied squads in school history will be there to cheer them on.
The 2002 national championship Buckeyes will be in attendance for their 10th anniversary celebration, and cornerback Dustin Fox has some advice as the current Buckeyes try to join his team in Buckeye lore.
"Just live in the moment," said Fox, now a radio personality on sports radio station 93.2 The Fan in Cleveland. "Just don't think about anything else but the fact you're playing one play at a time, one quarterback at a time. Play four quarters. Just be ready.
"Especially for all the young players who haven't played in a Michigan game before, the hits are harder, the intensity is up a notch. It's different. You have to be ready for it and you have to be ready to handle the adversity when it hits you at some point in the game. Who responds the best will most likely win."
Those Buckeyes certainly knew something about winning, becoming the first team in NCAA history to go 14-0 and capping the campaign with a double overtime victory against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Coached by Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes also eked out close wins vs. Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan on their magical run.
In that vein, they bear some resemblance to the current Buckeyes, who had to beat Purdue and Wisconsin in overtime, score late to knock off visiting Cal, and hold off Michigan State and Indiana by a combined four points.
While this year's squad is constructed a little bit differently than the 2002 version – this year's more dependable unit is the offense rather than the defense – Fox knows what must be going through the minds of the OSU players going into the Michigan game.
"The team is built differently, so it's very unique," Fox said. "I'm sure they're thinking about the game itself and not really what it means because that's what we did. When we played the Michigan game, we were 12-0 going into it. That's all we thought about was just, we have to win this next game. We focused more on the rivalry than what it meant if we won.
"We didn't even think about what was going to happen until Will Allen picked off that ball (vs. Michigan) and we were like, ‘Oh (crap), we're going to play for a national championship.' "
The reunion, organized by quarterback Craig Krenzel and All-America safety Mike Doss, will include at least 65 members of the 2002 squad. Team members will have dinner tonight at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill in the Grandview Yard with a public reception scheduled for 8:30. They will tailgate Saturday morning then be recognized in the north end zone between the first and second quarters in what will surely be a deafening moment in Ohio Stadium.
"It could be better if they were going to play for a title, but it's going to be special," Fox said. "Having the team back, having Tressel back, I think it'll be special for the players because all those guys were recruited by Jim. I think it's going to be unbelievable."
Senior right tackle Reid Fragel, recruited by Tressel in the class of 2009, agreed with that sentiment even though the coach had a hand in the scandal that resulted in major NCAA violations and cost the Buckeyes the chance to play for this season's BCS national championship.
"I don't really think it will be awkward," Fragel said. "I think everybody is kind of looking forward to seeing him since we haven't really seen him in a while. I don't think there's any bad blood with him and the guys on this team at this point. What's done is done, it happened, and I think everybody has kind of moved on. Not really thinking about the ban situation or anything like that, just looking forward to seeing him.
When the reunion plans were first in the works, there were questions about whether both Tressel – who was dismissed in May 2011 – and star tailback Maurice Clarett – who faced his own NCAA issues at Ohio State – would be in attendance.
Neither was ever banned from Ohio State, though, and OSU athletic director Gene Smith confirmed to BSB in September that the two would be welcomed back. Both are planning to be in attendance, which is fitting, Fox said.
"You couldn't have it without those two guys," Fox said. "People ask me all the time if I'm salty or mad at Clarett or something. I'm like, the dude changed my life. We couldn't have won a title without him. We all pitched in to win that thing, and obviously he was a huge, huge part of it with some of the big plays he made that year.
"Same thing with Tressel. None of us would have believed that we could do that and we fed off of his steadiness, I think, throughout the season. There's so many ups and downs and you get behind in games, you go to overtime in games, you're in close games, you have to look to your fearless leader to keep you grounded."
Those two were major parts of the last undefeated season in school history. The players looking to join them on Saturday will try to grab inspiration from their presence.
"Just knowing that you're around greatness and stuff like that, it's just a reminder that this is The Ohio State University," safety Orhian Johnson said.