He spent three years building a career in Scarlet and Gray that we were all very proud of, listening to a familiar cheer from the Buckeye faithful Saturday after Saturday. He had grand intentions for his senior season, as did we, aiming to post a 4-0 career sweep of Michigan and the Big Ten Conference – and hopes of adding an eighth national championship to the trophy case at The Ohio State University.
But there would be no fourth set of gold pants. No appearance in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, much less a win. Any hopes of a national title were dashed just fourteen days into the 2011 season, and he wasn’t even on the field. But on Saturday, October 15th he would make that two-state flight west for his return trip to the gridiron, and he didn’t disappoint.
You could hear it all day as the visiting fan base sang his praises to mark the beginning of the end of the road for a fan-favorite:
That Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, after not having seen live game action in more than eight months, Daniel “Boom” Herron carried the ball 23 times for 114 yards and one touchdown and, in the process, began to re-earn the hearts of Buckeye Nation.
Ohio State came into their seventh game of the season with a 3-3 record and coming off of back-to-back losses, the most recent just seven nights earlier, in heartbreaking fashion, at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. The season was officially a mess. The program was well on its way to becoming one. But all we could think about that afternoon was the return of Boom and, for three hours anyway, all was right in the world of Ohio State football.
“It was hard staying at home and watching the games,” said Herron after the game. “Now that I’m back out here, I’m doing everything I can to help this team, be a leader and get some more wins.”
Help this team? Be a leader? Get more wins? Right. That didn’t just sum up the 2011 Illinois Week for Boom Herron, it summed up his whole career as a Buckeye.
While at The Ohio State University he went through a lot, came through plenty – and was the cause of a self-inflicted speed bump or two. But he was always celebrated in Columbus, even (or maybe especially) in his return from suspension last year. He was one of the good guys. He was never a Heisman candidate or at the forefront of much national discussion, but he was a beloved Buckeye in Columbus.
The first time we heard the Ohio Stadium crowd scream his name in unison came clear back in September of 2008 when the freshman scored his first touchdown in Scarlet and Gray against Ohio University, the first of 32 career scores, but he officially found his way into our hearts a couple of months later when the Buckeyes hosted Michigan for Boom’s first experience in The Game. All he did was carry the ball eight times for eighty yards, including a 49-yard touchdown run, helping Ohio State to a 42-7 trouncing of the Wolverines.
It was a sign of things to come. We knew it. He knew it. His teammates knew it. Tress knew it. And none of us could wait to watch.
A little less than a year later, as a sophomore leader, Boom went for 97 yards and one big touchdown in Ohio State 27-24 overtime win against the Iowa Hawkeyes, one that would secure yet another conference championship and a one-way ticket to Pasadena, California.
Just one week later he went into the Big House for the first time and once against lit up Michigan with 123 total yards and a touchdown reception, helping the Bucks to a 21-10 win.
In October of 2010, as a junior, Boom finally posted a 100-yard rushing game with 114 against the Golden Gophers and followed it up with his second straight afternoon over the century mark by racking up 190 big yards at Penn State in yet another winning effort. But perhaps his most memorable performance as a Buckeye came that same season, a few weeks later, in his final home game versus That School Up North.
On November 27th, 2010 we seemingly yelled “Boooooooom” for the entire three hours of a 37-7 win over Michigan. Herron, at the time a junior, carried the ball 22 times for a whopping 175 yards and two huge 3rd-quarter touchdowns that would help clinch a Sugar Bowl invitation and Boom’s third straight win against the rival Wolverines. Unfortunately that was the last time we looked at the beloved Buckeye in a positive light for a while.
When the rumors, then announcement, came detailing the indiscretions of five Ohio State Buckeyes football players, including sales of trophies, awards and memorabilia and the receiving of discounted tattoos, Boom’s name was included along with Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas.
From a football standpoint it was crushing. For the throngs of Boom Herron fans within the enormous Ohio State fan base, it was disheartening. There was a mixture of emotions that hit each and every fan with regards to Boom. Some, if not all, were immediately angry. How could he do these things? Why would he do these things? The accusations that eventually because truth were unbecoming of an Ohio State Buckeye. But Boom was a little different from Terrelle Pryor, who received the most scorn. Boom was the quiet work horse that was easy to root for. TP was the brash, arrogant, blue-chip recruit that seemed to be easy to dislike once the scandal broke.
Boom somehow still held a place in our hearts.
When he made his return in Champaign the massive fan base was nothing less than ultra supportive. We needed him to do well and become a shining star in a season that was otherwise without a spark. We wanted him to do well, recover his image and ride off into the sunset as a Buckeye for life. The support was fantastic. His performance and leadership those last seven games were even better, in spite of the team closing out 2011-12 with four straight losses.
As the Buckeyes stood along the sideline in their newly issued Nike Pro Combat uniforms, ready to do battle as a huge underdog to the visiting Wisconsin Badgers, emotions were running high as they always do for night games. But nobody had the amount of emotion that Boom showed at that very moment.
As the camera panned the sideline, cutting from player to player, it eventually landed on a teary-eyed Herron saluting the American flag as the Anthem played through the speakers of Ohio Stadium for the last time in his career. In his final home game wearing Scarlet and Gray he simply couldn’t hold back that raw emotion of all that had occurred: the wins; the celebrations; the highs; the lows; the scandal; and his career coming to an end.
Those tears weren’t just tears of sadness or reflection coming from Boom’s swollen eyes. That was his “thank you” to each of his teammates and coaches. It was his “thank you” to the fan base who relentlessly supported him for four years in Columbus.
I can’t help but to think those tears were also his apology to the exact same people for what he put them through the previous ten months, and for those of us who remember that moment as vividly as I do, it resulted in an apology accepted.
Daniel Herron won’t go down as one of the greats to suit up for Ohio State, as there are many. But he provided us with thirty-two touchdowns in four seasons, hope before every game that we were going to get another win that day, and he gave us one word that 106,000-plus could chant every time he touched the ball – one that I won’t soon forget:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦