The Mahoning Valley was on display last Saturday in Columbus, and for a change we weren't belittled or made the brunt of some comedian's jokes. Instead, 100,000 Ohio State University football fans found out in dramatic fashion that there's more to this region than recent national and state news reports would suggest.
For that, the Valley should thank Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel. The ABC Sports broadcast of the Ohio State-Texas Tech game was a public relations triumph for the Mahoning Valley, given the number of times Youngstown State University and Warren Harding High School were mentioned.
You didn't have to be a Buckeyes fanatic or even a football fan to appreciate what took place at Ohio Stadium. A true freshman just 18 years old made his college football debut under a coach who in a previous football life had amassed four national championships. Each time the commentators mentioned Clarett, the Mahoning Valley got to take a bow. And each time they mentioned Tressel's tenure at YSU, this region was able to hold its head high.
That's why the televised game was important. It wasn't just about football. It was about a region of the state that had been battered and bruised by all the publicity surrounding the criminal conviction, expulsion from Congress and incarceration in a federal penitentiary of James A. Traficant Jr., a college football standout himself.
But it isn't only Traficant who has brought shame to our region. It is the ongoing federal investigation into government corruption and organized crime that continues to keep us in the spotlight. More than 70 public officials, including judges and prosecutors, and Mafia figures have been convicted, and there are strong indications that the list will grow.
But on Saturday, when Clarett and Tressel talked briefly to the ABC sports reporter after the game, which Ohio State won 45-21 on the strength of the freshman tailback's 175 yards rushing for three touchdowns, all the bad stuff about the area was pushed aside. The nation saw two intelligent individuals who displayed none of the arrogance that has become the hallmark of so many college football players and coaches.
No one would have guessed that Tressel owns four championship rings and that he is only in his second year as the Buckeyes' head coach. And no one would have surmised that the young man on the field was named Ohio's Mr. Football last year, the first Mahoning Valley athlete to win the award since it was established in 1987. He was among the nation's top 15 recruiting prospects.
Yes, the season has only just begun and major challenges lie ahead for Tressel and his young player, but for now the Mahoning Valley can bask in their glory. It's a good feeling.