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Buckeyes ready to leave for Rose Bowl workouts

COLUMBUS — When the Ohio State Buckeyes meet on Christmas night in Los Angeles to resume preparations for the Rose Bowl, not everyone will be stressed out by the holiday travel.

Asked if it was a pain to fly on Christmas, safety Anderson Russell, who will be with his family in Georgia, was filled with holiday cheer.

“Nah, it’s cheaper,” he said. “Spend the day with the family and then go to the airport about 6 or 7. Probably won’t be too many people in the airport in Atlanta, either, so that will be good to breeze through there.”

For some, a bowl game is a vacation, a chance to get away, see the sights and then play a game. Others treat it like another week of hard work. It takes all kinds on a football team, a collection of more than 100 players, coaches and support personnel.

For the seniors, it’s the very last time they’ll pull on an Ohio State jersey for a game — and another chance to impress NFL scouts. Freshmen and sophomores will be eager to see if Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean are everything they’ve heard. How they play in the game may help several juniors decide if they’ll come back for their senior season or jump to the pros.

Former players counsel the current ones on one point: winning is the top priority.

“It was emotional taking off that jersey, knowing that you weren’t a winner,” said ex-Buckeye and NFL lineman Jim Lachey, who played in Ohio State’s 20-17 loss to USC in the 1985 Rose Bowl. “If you want to be happy after the game, take care of business and get that win.”

Except for the university’s traveling party, most of the players will fly separately from their family homes on Christmas night — some will be coming from Florida, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan, among other locales — with their flights and expenses covered by an NCAA-permitted stipend. Players are responsible for making their own arrangements, and can keep any money over and above the average cost of a flight from Columbus.

The team will gather at its hotel later that evening.

When they’re not at daily practices or going to meetings, news conferences and film sessions, there will be room for some fun. The team will visit Disneyland on Dec. 26, will take part in a beef-eating competition with Oregon (10-2) at a steakhouse another night. They also will be given free time to be tourists when they don’t have anything planned.

The upperclassmen have been to Arizona three times and New Orleans once for bowl games, but recognize that the Rose Bowl still carries a certain cachet for people from Big Ten country. It’s been 13 years since Ohio State (10-2) has been to Pasadena.

One former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner emphasized what he missed by never making it to a Rose Bowl.

“Talking with Eddie (George) and a couple of the guys, the game did mean a lot,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “It still means a lot and it is crazy that we haven’t been in that game in forever. It is going to be something for us to all remember.”

In the days before the Bowl Championship Series turned the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and Rose Bowls into an appetizer leading up to the main course — the national championship game — the Rose Bowl was one of the most revered college games on the planet.

Jon Thoma, Ohio State’s punter, wasn’t even an Ohio State fan growing up. He is from Alliance, Ohio, home of perennial Division III national champion Mount Union, and he was a fervent fan of the Purple Raiders. But he still remembers watching the Buckeyes beat Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl.

“I always remember Keith Jackson saying, ’The Granddaddy of them all!’ when coverage started,” he said. “Just being in that situation now kinda gives me chills.”

Still, many players consider the bowl game little more than a business trip.

“You have to bring that attitude of going to work,” offensive lineman Jim Cordle said. “We had that in November and now we have to bring that to the bowl.”

The bottom line is to have a good time, but not too much of a good time. After losing their last three bowl games, the Buckeyes know that what made the 1997 Rose Bowl so memorable and the 1985 game so forgettable was the outcome.

“You want to go out there and have fun and enjoy the scenery and enjoy your bowl game but at the end of the day you have got to let people know that this is not a party,” defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. “You need to be in your bed on time and know we came out here to win a game — and not just to have fun and look at the palm trees.”