Heisman Trophy Understudy

Towards the end of the 2003 season, I bought a student ticket that had the last two home games, and a seat in the student section in the south stands. Having grown attached to Craig Krenzel, Ben Hartsock, Will Smith and others, I wanted to see the Purdue game, and be there for the last game that they would play in Ohio Stadium. But to get that ticket I also had to buy the Michigan State game, the week before, a game which my wife and I already had alumni tickets for. No problem I figured, I could find someone to take that game.

I couldn’t find anyone during the week, and so for the Michigan State game I was stuck trying to sell the purchased ticket out side the stadium. But I needed it returned or I would be out the Purdue game (last game and Senior day). “How are you going to do that,” my wife asked? “You’ll never get that back” she said, rather judgmentally.

Michigan State was a hot ticket that year and a good seat, which the ticket was, was going for $150 outside the stadium. So I walked around outside St. John Arena, looking for someone who looked like an Honest Joe. Eventually I spotted an elderly, neatly dressed, small gentleman, standing quietly with one finger in the air.

“Need a ticket?” I whispered quietly as I approached, not yet signaling that I had one. He proceeded to excitedly explain that he and his wife had tickets, and they had also brought their granddaughter. She had qualified to run in the Indiana State Track meet being held that day, but had gotten hurt at the last minute and couldn’t run. She wanted to attend Ohio State when she graduated and so Grandpa and Grandma had brought her to the game. The women were in the stadium and Grandpa was going to listen in the car if he couldn’t find a ticket. After a story like that, what could I say? He looked trustworthy, so I pulled out my ticket and offered it for face value, if he would promise to meet me after the game. "I‘ll do better," he said, "I’ll bring it to you at halftime." Dick Ernst was his name, he lived in southern Indiana and I wrote it down “just in case” the ticket didn’t come back. He was happy as a kid with candy.

We headed over towards the stadium together making small talk and as we approached the rotunda, he slowed up, looked around, and seemed confused. I thought he was lost. “Do you know where you’re going?” I asked. “Oh yes”, he said quietly, and after a pause, “I used to play here.” It was then I realized he was in a special place, somewhere back in time.

“You used to play here,” I said excitedly. “When did you play here?” “I played for Woody”, he said.” “You played for Woody” I exclaimed”. “Yea,” he said matter-of-factly.

“What year did you play?” I asked. He replied, “You ever hear of a guy named Vic Janowicz? Well, I was his backup.” “You played behind Janowicz,” I said incredulously, realizing I was talking to history here. “What was it like?” I asked, “I bet you have a lot of stories!” “Well I played behind him and I was supposed to start the next year after he graduated. But instead that year they brought in this freshman kid named ‘Cassidy’! I always told folks I was the Heisman Trophy Understudy”, his voice trailed off….

With that, we parted for our gates, my mind still reeling at this chance meeting with history. At half time, right on schedule, “the understudy” came bounding up my isle, ticket in hand to return it to me. “How do you like it over there?” I asked, knowing he was in the student section and that the kids had not sat down once in the entire first half. “It’s great,” he said, “There’s sure a lot of action!!”

And with that he bounded back down the isle. I followed him across the stadium to his seat, until I lost him in the sea of students. And I wondered, did they have any idea at all that they were sitting next to a backup for Janowicz and Cassady?

I have since looked up Dick Ernst in the Ohio State Football Encyclopedia. He is not listed as a letter winner, so apparently he didn’t see much of the field. But he will forever live in my mind as the nice man who said he toiled in relative obscurity behind two of the greats in the long line of Ohio State Heisman Trophy running backs.

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