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MIKE DOWNEY

Buckeye Fans Roll in From . . . Mesa?

December 30, 1996|Mike Downey

I had such a nice time Saturday morning, meeting members of Joe Germaine's family. First his aunt came by to chat a while. Then I found the quarterback's mom, which was easy, because she was the one wearing a blue university sweatshirt, the one with the word: MOM.

Joe's parents drove here from Arizona in their recreational vehicle. Phillis told me how she and Joe Sr., were planning to roll their 31-footer through the arroyo near the Rose Bowl before 9 a.m. Sunday, then park it there for four days. That was the only way to guarantee a good space.

After that, well, just sit back and wait for New Year's Day.

Because back home in Mesa, on the fringe of Phoenix, everybody in the neighborhood is so excited about Arizona State playing in the Rose Bowl, possibly for a national championship. Most of them have known Joe since he was 7. How about this? Isn't this something? Playing quarterback in the Rose Bowl!

Oh, one other thing:

Joe plays for Ohio State.

The neighbors know. They understand. They don't think of Phillis and Joe Germaine's son as a devil, for not being a Sun Devil.

"We've got a great big button on our front door," his mom says. "It says, '100% Buckeye!"'

Joe's older brother, Bruce, goes to Arizona State. His parents' in-laws own Sun Devil season tickets. Joe himself grew up loving ASU football, hurrying over to the stadium in Tempe on his Saturday afternoons, right after his own Pop Warner games. Joe was even recruited by Arizona State.

What in the world is he doing as quarterback of Ohio State?

All he can say is, "I know, I know. It's weird."

He knows these guys from the Sun Devil side, knows Mike Aguirre, Andre Smith, the guys from Mesa, his old high school teammates from Mountain View. He knows guys from Scottsdale, with whom Joe played a year of junior-college ball. He knows the ASU coaches . . . the same coaches who now show film of Joe to their players, plotting ways to stop him.

"All year long, I could see it coming," Joe says. "I could see ASU and us were on a collision course."

Destiny, whatever.

Arizona State, of course, already has a quarterback. His name is, uh, Plummer. First name Jake, nickname Snake. I presume you've heard of him. Nearly won the Heisman.

Ohio State had its own quarterback, going into 1996. And it wasn't Joe Germaine.

The first-stringer was Stanley Jackson, a junior out of New Jersey. Strong arm. Great scrambler. Waited years for his shot. His coach in high school was Lou Mathis, who played defensive back for the Buckeyes in a couple of Rose Bowl games, 1973 and 1974.

Next on the OSU depth chart came Mark Garcia, but in training camp, Garcia got hurt. Germaine moved up to No. 2. Coaches liked his classic drop-back style, his accurate arm.

But start, no. That was Jackson's job.

Germaine adjusted. He said, "I've always been a starter. I've been doing that all my life."

Soon came the routs, though, over Rice (70-7) and Pittsburgh (72-0.) That meant plenty of opportunity for everyone to play. In the opener, Germaine threw touchdown passes of 15, 51 and 60 yards. (And completed half his attempts.) In the Pitt game, Germaine had a couple more scores. (And was eight for eight.)

For 10 weeks, it was a two-man show.

Germaine-Jackson, in concert.

Every time, the coach, John Cooper, superstitiously or otherwise, did the same thing. He started Jackson, then inserted Germaine. I don't blame him. Jackson's record as a starter was 10-0. You could say one got the win, the other got the save.

Germaine can appreciate the baseball reference. He got drafted by the Colorado Rockies, as a pitcher.

But football was his first love.

And besides, he would rather be a shortstop, not a pitcher. Just as he wants to be a quarterback, not a cornerback.

That's why he wouldn't go to Arizona State, or to Brigham Young, or several other schools that got in touch.

Joe says gently of ASU, the program he loved, "Well, it just didn't work out there."

And Phillis Germaine supported her son's choice, as any good football mom should.

"Arizona State wanted to take him as an athlete. BYU wanted to take him as an athlete," she says. "That meant, chances are, play defense. Joe wanted to be a quarterback. He got some advice, to go to Scottsdale Community College for one year, run their offense. They use the BYU offense there."

Mom Germaine knows the game.

The whole family was apprehensive when Ohio State, so far away, offered Joe the opportunity others didn't. But everything worked out beautifully. Joe got a lot of playing time, as a sophomore. He had the Big Ten's highest rating, among quarterbacks. And the more the season rolled on, the fewer possessions Jackson, the starter, seemed to get.

For the big Michigan game, Cooper made the call.

Germaine would start.

Odd how things work out, sometimes. It was all there. A shot at a perfect season. A shot at a national championship. A crowd of 94,676, sixth-largest in Columbus history. A field goal, then another, then another. Ohio State 9, Michigan 0, at halftime.

And then, nothing. No more points. Not one touchdown for Ohio State, in the entire game. Michigan 13, Ohio State 9.

One last gasp: Fourth and 23. A desperation pass by Germaine, to be an Ohio hero for life.

But it was intercepted.

Nobody yet knows which quarterback will play Wednesday for the Buckeyes, or for how long. Cooper is mum. Germaine says what matters is that Ohio State wins, and that he and Jackson "remain good friends."

Inside their Arizona home, the Germaines fly a huge Ohio State flag.

Outside, their neighbors fly Arizona State flags.

And they all remain good friends.

I love college football.

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