Battered, but not broken: Justin Fields walks off with grass-stained uniform, warrior's heart, lasting OSU legacy
It should’ve been better. Don’t you think?
For Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, the end should’ve gone just a little bit better than this. Sure, great players have careers that end with losses. It’s a part of sports. And many talented players have gone out the same way.
But 52-24 to the Crimson Tide?
The fact is, this past week was all just too much. First, there were the hip/rib/hand injuries.
Then, there was the loss of defensive stalwarts Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith, who were held out due to COVID-19 precautions.
Follow that with the loss of Trey Sermon on his first run of the National Championship Game, and counter it with the loss of Wyatt Davis just before the half.
Add it up and it was too much. It was all just too much. And not even Fields — who some have called the most talented quarterback to ever suit up for the Buckeyes — could lead his team out of that hole.
And if you’ve followed Fields’ career, you know that he deserved better than to go out like this — undermanned, outgunned and hurt. Fields walked off the field Monday night with a grass-stained jersey and a warrior’s heart. He had some highlights and some struggles in the contest. He ran when he was in obvious pain. He did not walk off with the trophy like he’d hoped.
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It should be remembered by all that one of the reasons we even had a college football season in the first place is because Fields spoke up when others would not. He and Trevor Lawrence and others led the charge, and because of them, we were able to enjoy this crazy season, a season in which Ohio State had scores of skeptics claiming the Buckeyes were unworthy when they only played a handful of games, then had countless believers when they annihilated Clemson in their College Football Playoff semifinal.
But it’s not the way Fields should have gone out. Losing happens. And it could have been that Fields would have lost Monday night no matter what. Alabama proved to be an unstoppable juggernaut, especially on offense, and it’s very possible that Ohio State may have never been able to keep up.
But the Ohio State quarterback deserved the chance. He deserved to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Tide with all of his weapons — especially Trey Sermon, who reportedly broke his collarbone on that first run. Because the Buckeyes team we’d seen against Clemson looked every bit as formidable on offense as this Crimson Tide crew.
Maybe the Buckeyes wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Heisman winner DeVonta Smith. Then again, Clemson and Northwestern hadn’t been able to keep up with Sermon, either.
It would have been nice to see the shootout. And Fields deserved to be able to try.
Still, even without some of the team’s most talented players, Fields had his team down just two scores in the third quarter. They were close to making it a game again. But they just didn’t have enough bullets.
College football — especially this season — has no room for excuses. Every team, including Alabama, has had to overcome a lot this year just to take the field. Both head coaches in the national title tilt had to overcome COVID-19 during the season.
And this national championship may have been destined to be won by players such as Smith and Mac Jones, who had incredible seasons, along with their departing offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who deserved much of the credit for putting his guys in places to succeed.
Yet fans should not forget what Fields has accomplished, either. This is the kid who left Georgia for just this kind of opportunity. And not only did he lead his Ohio State teams to two College Football Playoff appearances, two B1G championships and a 20-2 career record, Fields also … beat … down … Clemson.
That’s a win that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, just as Fields should always be remembered as one of — if not the best — quarterbacks in the history of Buckeyes football.
He did not give up Monday night, as he continued to fight and claw. Just as he never gave up against the B1G, Alabama, injuries and more. He tried to bring his team back. In the end, it was all just too much.
“Justin’s been unbelievable,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game. “He’s as competitively tough of a player as I’ve been around. He’s an unbelievable player. I’m going to miss him.”
Fields said he wished he could’ve done more.
“At the end of the day, I was able to play, and I didn’t get the job done,” Fields said. “Definitely wanted a different outcome. I’m going to miss everybody.”
As the game wound down, he told the young players on the Buckeyes roster to remember the feeling of losing a title.
“Never let it happen to us again,” he said.
It’s a shame. Justin Fields deserved a much better ending to his remarkable career.