A special week for former Youngstown State football coach Jim Tressel, who was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame last Saturday, continued Thursday as he had the opportunity to meet with and speak to fans of a rivalry with which he’s quite familiar.
Tressel and former University of Michigan running back Ricky Powers were the featured guest speakers at the 16th annual “The Game” event hosted by the Warren Sports Hall of Fame at DiVieste Banquet Hall.
The former Ohio State coach was wearing one of his patented sweater vests he made famous during his 10 seasons with the Buckeyes, and he also couldn’t be more happy to give back to a place he considers home.
“Any time you get to come back and eat the food in the Valley, it’s nice,” Tressel said. “And, of course, see the people. Life is about people and so it’s been a great few days where I’ve had a chance to see a lot of great folks.”
The event drew more than 500 guests, a number organizers were pleasently surprised with. The crowd was heavy Ohio State with roughly 90 percent wearing scarlet and gray. Included in that was Howland native and former Buckeyes offensive lineman Doug Datish, who was seated to the left of his former coach.
“Yeah, and he ways about 75 pounds less,” Tressel joked, “but it was fun watching him grow up.”
Long-time Michigan assistant coach under Bo Schembechler, Jerry Hanlon, was scheduled to be the other guest speaker of the night, but couldn’t make it because his wife had recently been admited to the hospital. Powers happily filled in for his former coach in Ann Arbor.
“I’m honored to even be asked to do this, especially for Jerry Hanlon,” Powers said. “He’s a great man and I would do anything in the world for him. Then being able to talk alongside Jim Tressel, that’s an honor.”
Powers, a graduate of Akron Buchtel High School, wore the maize and blue from 1990-94 and won the Big Ten championship three times as a Wolverine. However that doesn’t mean he didn’t have respect for the team on the other side of the field in what he called, “the greatest rivarly ever.”
“Some of those guys are your best friends,” Powers said of Buckeyes players. “There’s a lot of guys from Ohio that went to Michigan and vica versa. We’ll beat the crap out of each other in the game, but as soon as it’s over we’re exhausted.
“Both teams are glad it’s over and you just hope that you won.”
For Tressel, that was the case all but once from 2001-10. His appearance brought some of the biggest Ohio State fans in the area. It also brought the biggest crowd, with people lined around the room waiting for an autograph or picture with the coach.
“I hope they know how much I appreciate them,” he said of his fans. “They made our stay here awfully special and we had wonderful years together. In this area we had 15 years together and then when we went to Columbus it just extended it, so it’s like we’ve had 25 years together.”
Between the YSU Hall of Fame induction and the chance to spend an evening with 500 fans — or at least 450 — events like these bring a smile to Tressel’s face.
“They love their families, they love their sports, they love their teams and they love being together,” he said of the community. “The simple things give them a lot of joy.
“It’s a pretty special place.”