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November 6, 2012

Time and Change - Keith Byars

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

In this installment of Time and Change I had the chance to visit with former running back Keith Byars. All of the Heisman Trophies and awards aside, I personally believe Byars may have been the most talented running backs to ever wear the scarlet and gray and certainly played one of the greatest games in what was one of the most exciting contests ever in Ohio Stadium history.

The day was October 13, 1984, and I was in attendance for the Buckeyes versus the Illini. My brother was the Most Valuable Player, Team Captain, All-Big Ten offensive tackle for Illinois in 1975. We were seated with many former Varsity O football letter winners and the game became quite uncomfortable for me in two ways.

First and most unbelievably, the Buckeyes fell behind the Illini 24-0 in the middle of the second quarter. Secondly, my brother was so excited, standing and cheering every successful Illini play, that I was spending most of the first half trying to calm him down as we were seated with many of my Varsity "O" brethren and they were not too happy, to say the least.

Finally, while reassuring me and the other fans, the Bucks closed the score to 24-21 by halftime, and then, led by Byars, produced one of the most exciting second halves I have ever seen.

During the third quarter, with the score tied at 27, Byars made one of the most incredible plays I have ever seen. He broke through the right side behind great blocks by Scott Zalenski and Barry Walker. He started up the east sideline and then cut back to the middle of the field, when his left shoe flew off his foot. It didn't bother Byars as he blew right by the speedy Illinois secondary for a 67-yard touchdown. The crowd went nuclear, the stadium shook and my brother simply shook his head, with a smile on his face. It was happening again and he knew it.

The game continued back-and-forth with the Buckeyes finishing off a last minute drive, with Byars scoring his fifth touchdown with 36 seconds remaining in the game. Byars ended the day with five touchdowns and set a new Ohio State record with 274 yards rushing and the Buckeyes won 47-38.

Keith went on to earn first-team All-American honors for the Buckeyes that year. He then went on to play 12 years in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets.

As we constantly scrutinize the greatest Buckeyes of all time, let us review Keith's credentials:

  • 1984 1st team All American
  • 1984 2nd in the voting for the Heisman Trophy
  • 1984 Big Ten Conference Most Valuable player
  • Voted NFL All Pro 1990
  • NFL Pro Bowl 1993
  • Played in the 1996 Super Bowl XXI for the New England Patriots

    As I do quite often in Time and Change, I asked Keith some of his opinions of NCAA and Ohio State Football and he was quick to share his thoughts.

    "I have always loved Ohio State Football," Byars said. "Growing up, I always wanted to play for Woody Hayes. Then, when I was recruited during my senior year at Dayton Roth, some of those other schools confused me for a while, but I always knew Ohio State was the place for me."

    Byars also shared some of his thoughts on the changes he sees that have occurred since his playing days for the Buckeyes.

    "The media scrutiny is one of the biggest changes I see," Byars said. "When I played, ESPN was a baby and now it is a huge conglomerate. Today, you have Twitter, social media, the internet and everyone knows everything these kids do the moment they do it. "It has to be a constant effort by the coaches to keep these kids aware of the fact that they are always in the spotlight. You have to remember, these kids are only 18-22 years old. Some of them are now away from home for the first time in their lives. We all know you don't always make the best decisions at that young age and these kids need to be careful, because one of those bad decisions, picked up by the media, could affect their lives for the next forty years."

    One of the other changes Byars identified was offensive line play.

    "While we always have tough offensive lines at Ohio State, the guys I played with were much tougher," Byars said. "Back then, it was all about firing off the ball, helmet to helmet contact and creating the hole for the back to run through. Today it all about positioning and the back finding the opening."

    Byars was quick to credit his offensive lineman in 1984 & 1985.

    "Our line was the best offensive line I ever saw college or NFL," Byars said. "We had Jon Frank, a great blocking tight end, Jim Lachey, William Roberts, Kirk Lowdermilk, and Mark Krerowicz, all who played in the NFL.

    "I will never forget the look in their eyes during that last drive during the 84 Illinois game. The game was tied 38-38 with 3:18 to go in the game and they said 'We ain't plying for no tie!!'" (The current NCAA overtime period was introduced in 1996).

    "It was vintage Ohio State Football," Keith said. "We knocked them off the ball and ran it down their throats. When we had the ball 3rd and goal at the Illinois 6 yard line, everybody in the stadium knew we were going to run the ball; the fans knew it, we knew it, Illinois knew it and they couldn't stop us. "I remember it like it was yesterday.

    I've had a lot of great experiences in football; I've played in bowl games, a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl, but that Illinois game was by far the greatest experience I've ever had."

    Keith Byars, like all the other former Buckeyes with whom I have spoken, who played in the NFL, value their Ohio State experiences above and beyond all others. Once a Buckeye, Always a Buckeye. Some things never change.



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