It wasn’t real for Bryce Haynes until someone handed him a black T-shirt and a black baseball cap with CHAMPS written on the front in bold, gold block letters. Quickly, he got his hands on two copies of The Columbus Dispatch with headlines of NO. 1 and HISTORIC VICTORY! on the front pages.
He put the hat on backwards, threw the shirt over his shoulder, folded the newspapers in his hand and looked around at the disarray of cameras and confetti and media and security.
That’s when he knew.
“It just kind of sunk in that we really, actually won the national championship,” Haynes said.
The Pinecrest Academy grad and Ohio State long snapper soaked in the Buckeyes’ 42-20 victory Jan. 12 against Oregon in the first-ever College Playoff Championship long after the 85,689 spectators left AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. There were teammates to hug, family photos to take. They didn’t get back to Haynes’ parents’ hotel until 3 in the morning.
By then, Haynes had missed the horde of Buckeyes fans celebrating in his parents’ hotel. He saw pictures of it later. Even so, Haynes and his family couldn’t sleep. The euphoria-infused adrenaline didn’t wear off until his mother and he took his girlfriend to the airport to catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Atlanta. They spent the early-morning hours, along with Haynes’ father, older sister and younger twin brothers, in the lobby of the hotel. The bar was closed, so players and their families just talked and talked until the adrenaline wore off.
Maybe they talked about how even it came to this. Ohio State was proclaimed done before the season started after Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Braxton Miller suffered an injury, extinguished after the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech, 35-21, on Sept. 6, too late despite 11 straight wins to end the regular season. Three of the four spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff were certain to go to Alabama, Oregon and Florida State. The last figured to go to Baylor or TCU. Ohio State wasn’t supposed to be here, many thought.
But they defeated Alabama, the presumed favorite, in the first round. Then they took a 21-10 lead over Oregon at halftime.
The Buckeyes’ magic seemed to wear off in the third quarter when the Ducks got a 70-yard touchdown pass and 23-yeard field goal to pull within 21-20.
“I looked at my dad in the stands,” Haynes said, “and to see his face – he just looked like a ghost.”
No matter. Ohio State had running back Ezekiel Elliot. They fed the sophomore, who scored three of his four touchdowns in the second half as the Buckeyes pulled away for a comfortable win. He finished with 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries and ignited his Heisman Trophy candidacy for 2015.
“He just couldn’t be stopped,” Haynes said. “Every once in a while they’d stop him for a 1- or 2-yard gain, but we’d give it right back to him and he’d just bust off a huge run or get 8, 9 yards on a carry. It made the game a lot less stressful for me, because you knew we were going to get a first down.”
Haynes and Ohio State were accosted by rowdy fans at each step of their return to Columbus.
They were there at the airport (“It was just like people in a huge crowd just cheering us as we got our bags and got on the plane,” Haynes said.)
They were there at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center (“There were just people celebrating everywhere,” Haynes said.)
They’ll be there in droves on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Haynes said he’ll get to visit the White House in late February or early March.
But a day and a half later, less than 36 hours after he was in the center of the sports world, Haynes was back to the books.
The redshirt junior and pre-med major had a human physiology class at 8 a.m., on Wednesday.
“It’s not an easy one,” he said.