Gophers go straight to the top

Michael Dougherty

Ohio State entered the 1969 Rose Bowl with the number-one ranking and a perfect 10-0 record. The Buckeyes’ opponent that day was second-ranked Southern California, who were 9-0-1 and led by Heisman Trophy winning running back Orenthal James Simpson.
Despite 171 yards rushing and 85 yards receiving from O.J., the Buckeyes topped the Trojans 27-16 to win the national championship.
Gophers coach Glen Mason was a freshman linebacker on that Ohio State squad. His current team (3-2 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten) will play the Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) this Saturday at Columbus, Ohio.
Mason, who was also an assistant coach for Ohio State, said he is excited to return to his alma mater — especially with all of the hoopla that’s sure to surround homecoming and the 30th anniversary of the 1968 national championship.
“I’ve got a great affection for Ohio State and its personnel,” Mason said. “I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the Ohio State University. I’m one of those people that owes a lot to the game of football and a lot to Ohio State. If I hadn’t been offered a scholarship to play football I don’t know where I’d be.”
But Mason’s current position is not an enviable one, considering he’s preparing to face the current No. 1 team in the nation. Some people have suggested Ohio State’s current squad could move to Cleveland and begin play next season as the next NFL expansion team.
Mason, however, said he couldn’t think of any other place he’d rather be.
“When I used to play golf, even when I was in a slump, I just liked to play golf,” Mason said. “I didn’t say `Oh my God, this is a tough golf course with a lot of water and a lot of out of bounds, I don’t want to play.’ That’s the wrong attitude.
“What’s the very worst thing that could happen when we go down there? We get beat. But the very best thing is that we beat them.”
Despite Mason’s positive spin on how to prepare for a potential spanking, he said he can’t help but appreciate how talented the Buckeyes are.
Ohio State boasts the best linebacker in the nation, 1997 Butkus Award winner Andy Katzenmoyer. The Buckeyes also have receivers David Boston and Dee Miller, two guys who Gophers defensive coordinator David Gibbs said are better than anyone in college or pro ball.
“Ohio State is ranked No. 1 and they should be ranked No. 1,” Mason said. “A lot of teams talk about winning national championships and set goals to win national championships, but that should be their only goal because they are so talented.”
Mason said he isn’t concerned about the 30th anniversary festivities, but some of his players said they are extremely interested in finding out about their coach’s playing days when he played for the legendary Woody Hayes.
“Some of my players probably question if I ever went to college, but it’s not a big motivational thing for me,” Mason said.
Mason lettered for Ohio State in 1970, but broke his ankle one week before the start of his senior 1971 season. When talking about his playing days, he said he makes no bones about the fact he wasn’t an every-down player.
Gophers running back Thomas Hamner and defensive end Curtese Poole, who are both from the Columbus area, said they are hoping to find out a little more about Mason.
“Coach Mason in a uniform, strapping it on, that would be a great sight to see,” Poole said.
“We’ll have to try to find some pictures of him,” Hamner said. “He probably was a long-haired hippie.”
Gophers quarterback Andy Persby, who will be making his second straight start over Billy Cockerham, said he doesn’t believe Mason when the coach shrugs off his playing days.
“He probably did look like a hippie,” Persby said. “Coach always says he never played, but I think he did. But he’s really excited to go there for the game.”
While he said he knows his team will have its hands full with the hostile homecoming crowd, Mason said the Buckeyes still hold a special place in his heart.
“The support and guidance that I received from the people at Ohio State was unbelievable, and I love Ohio State — I really do,” Mason said. “I hope everybody would have that feeling for the place they went to school and played.
“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat them.”