Pregame 'toast' inspired Buckeyes
Meyer raised water glass at Michigan State; gesture forged stronger team
Inside was a team that hadn't lost a game, but by its own admission wasn't yet playing up to the high standard of a program like Ohio State.
The Buckeyes had survived a couple of close calls over the previous two weeks as they wrapped up their nonconference schedule, and while they were starting to emerge as a candidate to become the best team in the Big Ten, most of that potential was still untapped as they sat down and waited for some final words from Urban Meyer before the first significant test of the year on the road against Michigan State.
The Ohio State coach gave plenty of speeches throughout the season, and some would resonate more than the one he delivered that day. But it wasn't the words that struck a chord with the Buckeyes on Sept. 29 at 11:22 a.m., nor was it even really the way they were delivered that sparked a change.
When Meyer was done and proposed a toast, challenging anybody who took a sip along with him to give everything they had for all the others with a glass in the air, a talented collection of individuals apparently became something more than that. After spending all offseason raving about the metaphorical "juice" that got the Buckeyes through workouts and brutal practices, it was simple water that helped forge a true team and fueled perfection.
"It was just like the switch was turned on," linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "That was really the day we all bought into the program.
"Basically, if you drink this cup of water, you're vowing that you're going to be all in and you're going to give everything you've got. I think guys really took that to heart, and I think it showed after that throughout the season."
It basically means you're going to rip your chest open for the brother next to you. If you aren't going to do that, don't take that toast.” -- Buckeys CB Travis Howard
Fully hydrated and apparently more completely committed, the Buckeyes put their newly adjusted approach on display a few hours later for everybody to see against Michigan State. And while the 17-16 victory itself wasn't a thing of beauty, the post-game atmosphere in a corner of Spartan Stadium certainly reflected a closeness that had perhaps been missing four weeks into the season.
The band led a boisterous dance party. The hugs and handshakes were coming in a steady stream. And when the Buckeyes finally made their way back up a tunnel to strip off their pads and get ready to head back home, the benefits of "The Toast" and what they accomplished after it were still fresh in their minds.
A new tradition was born, and the results were the same every time.
"Everyone really took that to heart, and from that moment on, it was the routine, something that we did just because we proved to everybody that we could come together and go undefeated," cornerback Travis Howard said. "I mean, Urban sat up there and talked to us, basically told us the platform and what we needed to do, how we needed to do it to win the game. But then he told us, if you're with us, take this glass.
"It basically means you're going to rip your chest open for the brother next to you. If you aren't going to do that, don't take that toast. It was a real defining moment in our season, and the emotions built up. Just that moment, once you see him pouring the water and he tells everybody to put your glasses up, everybody knew it was time to go to war."
The Buckeyes have lost a large handful of veterans who went through all those battles on the way to perfection a year ago, and the investment the seniors made and the leadership they provided could prove to be more difficult to replace than the on-field contributions.
But there were plenty of juniors in that room in East Lansing now poised to take the torch. The entire coaching staff is returning in one piece, and Ohio State had a number of true freshmen on hand last fall who have seen up close what it takes to do something special as a unit.
All of them have raised their glasses for a toast and tasted the pregame water. And while there will always be new motivational tactics and fiery speeches for as long as football games are played, the Buckeyes clearly found one that worked for them.
"What [Meyer] said was definitely powerful, but to be honest, it wasn't the most powerful speech he had," fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said. "I would just say it was collective action, everybody coming together. In the locker room before the game and afterward in the locker room, it just changed. From there on out, it was more fun -- guys dancing, being loose. I think it gave us our swag. I think [initially] it was so hard with the coaches and especially the players, we had nothing to play for.
"But I know and everyone else knows that we could have played with any team in the country just because we had that confidence, had that swagger. That toast gave it to us."