An Open Letter to Braxton Miller
This week we Buckeye fans got the news we’ve been bracing for ever since Jim Tressel stepped down: that your teammate, the phenomenally gifted Terrelle Pryor, would be following his coach out the door amid a tornado of alleged NCAA violations. Autographs-for-cash. Memorabilia-for-tats. Shady exchanges with used car salesmen and freelance photographers. If these allegations turn out to be true, Pryor is sure to unseat Reggie Bush as the reigning MVP of Improper Benefits and the NCAA Crackdown Posterboy. The guy could sniff out a revenue stream like a divining rod, but as a quarterback and a businessman, Terrelle was a shortsighted fool.
His loss is your gain, my man. As a true freshman and OSU’s most-heralded recruit since Pryor, you’re about to be handed the keys. Oh sure, I know 25 year-old senior Joe Bauserman is technically listed ahead of you on the depth chart, but all of us here in Buckeye Nation know that an interim coach is not going to trust his career to an aging, immobile tomato can. He’s going to bet his future on the QB of the future. And that’s you, son. Braxton Miller. Starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. After John Glenn, that’s about as high on the Ohio totem pole as you can get. You’re from Dayton; you know this. But you’re also a kid. Your exposure to Buckeye football probably doesn’t go back much past The Age of the Vest. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t fully grasp what you were signing up for when you filled out that letter of intent to play quarterback for Ohio State. So I’m going to tell you.
Why should you take advice from me? You probably shouldn’t. I’ve never been in your shoes. I’m no stud athlete; I’m a slow 41 year-old who can barely heave a football twenty yards. Besides, listening too closely to civilians is what got Pryor into trouble in the first place. Your best bet is to buy a pair of noise canceling headphones and only take them off once safely inside the Woody Hayes facility. And yet, in the wake of the Pryor scandal, I think you can benefit from my football experience. I’ve earned two degrees from OSU and lived in Columbus for almost all of my life. I’m such a Buckeye diehard that 1) Sports Illustrated once asked me to write an essay about what it means to be an OSU fan and 2) I formed a punk rock band whose entire catalog consists of songs about how bad Michigan sucks. So yeah, I’m a big Buckeye. But that’s not why you should listen to me. You should listen because as an outside observer, on the frontline of fandom, I can tell you things about what you’re in for as starting QB (some heartening, some sad but true) that your coaches and teammates can’t.
Here’s thing one. Lots of Ohio State fans are still uncomfortable with the idea of a black quarterback. Not most, of course, but more than you’d guess in 2011, despite the success of Doug Williams, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, Vince Young, our own Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor, and so on and so on. Look, we all know the starting quarterback at OSU is going to take ridiculous heat whatever his skin color, but the brand of heat you take will be sneakily coded. You won’t hear overtly racist comments, but misread a few defenses and you can expect stuff like, “Miller’s a great athlete, but he’s not a great quarterback” and “He just doesn’t have the head for the position.” If you’re playing well and the team is winning, obviously there will be less of this nonsense, but it might never disappear completely unless you go undefeated, beat every team by 50, and win two or three national championships. Case in point: Even with a Heisman in his trophy case, Troy Smith doesn’t get the love he deserves. Maybe this is because he showed up slow and fat to the BCS Championship game against Florida. Maybe this is because he had his own Booster troubles. Even so, Smith is clearly the best quarterback to ever play for Ohio State, but most Buckeye fans would rank Kern and Schlichter (and maybe even Hoying and Germaine) above him. The second best Buckeye quarterback? That would be Terrelle Pryor. But almost sinking the program is going to leave him ranked somewhere between Bellasari and Zwick.
Yep, we love us a Great White Hope, but black or white, we want our quarterback to conduct himself on and off the field not the way we would if we were lucky and skilled enough to play for OSU, but the way we imagine we would: as the idyllic warrior-sportsman-scholar. No bar fights. No bong hits. No cheating on the Chemistry midterm. No sideline tantrums. No DUIs (especially not with a BAC of .22, especially not the week before the Michigan game). Just a steady diet of film study, seven-on-seven drills, and differential calculus—washed down with egg whites and whey powder. You can’t act like the kid you are; you have to act like the kid we want you to be. I hate to say it, but because you don’t look like Hoying or Germaine, you’ll need to be impossibly perfect. And because you’re following Pryor, you’d better be Jesus in shoulder pads.
Unfair? Of course it is. Total fucking bullshit. But so is the whole hypocritical big time college football system. You’ll trade sweat equity for a world-class education, and you’ll be showered with fame and adoration, but you won’t taste any of the fortune you and your teammates bring in at the gate, on the TV, and in licensing fees, not even the millions the school will make selling your jersey. Because of this unfair income distribution, you may be tempted, like Pryor, to go for the quick score, to palm a hundred bucks here or there. This would be a costly mistake, in both football and business terms. My advice to you is to play the long game with the big payoff. Go to class. Stay out of trouble. Say all the right things about team and tradition, even if you don’t really mean ’em. Throw in some stuff about God and country; we eat that shit up. Pound your chest with Ohio pride. Visit the hospitals. High five the kids.
You do that and win? You’re set for life. You’ll never want for a job, an investment, an investor. We’ll throw money at you. The income will be legal, and it will be piled high as the goalposts in Ohio Stadium. You do that and lose? You’re still set. You’ll have more name recognition and social capital than almost anyone in the state (see totem pole above). Worse case scenario, you’ll make a princely living selling real estate, cars, or insurance. Buckeyes take care of our own, and unlike in other sports markets, you won’t be competing with the pros for our attention.
That’s because the Bucks are all we’ve got, Braxton. And you’re running the show now. We need you to be a better version of you, a better version of us.
That’s what you signed up for. Now go win some ballgames. And be a good Buckeye doing it.