College Sports

Fans delight in stories of USC's Brewer's big game against Ohio State

Former South Carolina running back Ryan Brewer is carried off the field by teammates after leading the Gamecocks to a 24-7 victory over Ohio State in the Outback Bowl in 2001. Brewer was named the MVP for the game.
Former South Carolina running back Ryan Brewer is carried off the field by teammates after leading the Gamecocks to a 24-7 victory over Ohio State in the Outback Bowl in 2001. Brewer was named the MVP for the game.

COLUMBIA -- When people see the name on the side of his truck or on his business card, they always want to talk football with Ryan Brewer.

The former South Carolina receiver/running back racked up nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards in 44 games for the Gamecocks from 1999-2002. But fans usually want Brewer to relive one game -- the 2001 Outback Bowl, when the undersized kid from Ohio did a number on his home-state team.

"Even now with customers and business (associates), they all remember," said Brewer, who owns a fence company in Columbia. "It's an easy conversation piece. They'll ask a question about the game, and it never gets old talking about that game."

As USC prepares to face Iowa in next week's Outback Bowl, Brewer is sure to get more questions about the Gamecocks' first trip to Tampa, Fla.

Though eight years have passed, Brewer has no trouble recalling the details of the Gamecocks' 24-7 victory against Ohio State, the team that snubbed him after he was named Mr. Football in Ohio his senior year of high school.

During his MVP performance at sun-splashed Raymond James Stadium, Brewer was responsible for 214 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns and, according to legend, the firing of a coach.

A day after Ohio State lost to the unranked Gamecocks, John Cooper was fired with three years remaining on his contract.

Though Brewer was not mentioned at the news conference announcing Cooper's firing, it could not have helped that Cooper's staff did not recruit Brewer even as the diminutive back was running for a state-record 2,864 yards as a senior at Troy High, located 80 miles west of Ohio State's Columbus campus.

Not that Brewer necessarily would have been smitten with the Buckeyes. Brewer grew up rooting for Notre Dame, which won the 1988 national championship under Lou Holtz. So when Holtz began recruiting Brewer for the Gamecocks, Mr. Ohio was headed for South Carolina.

Arriving in Columbia as a 5-10, 205-pound freshman, Brewer suffered through the 0-11 1999 season with the rest of Gamecock Nation. But he was a big part of the Gamecocks' resurgence in 2000, when USC won seven of its first eight games and earned a New Year's Day bowl berth.

USC players had a good time in Tampa, enjoying the city's night life. But Holtz made sure the team's focus did not stray.

During one of the first bowl practices, Holtz yelled at Brewer, who was starting in place of suspended tailback Derek Watson, for missing a block.

"That's why you didn't get recruited by Ohio State," Holtz shouted at Brewer.

Brewer returned to the huddle with a message for his offensive linemen.

"Ryan looked around and said, 'I'll show him,'" said USC interim offensive line coach Cedric Williams, a starting guard for the Gamecocks at the time. "And the rest is history. He did show him."

Brewer rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns and had 92 receiving yards and another score. After the game, Cooper congratulated Brewer and told him he had been a walk-on, too. Brewer thought the comment was strange because Brewer always had been on scholarship at USC.

But Brewer admits he was sort of in a postgame fog, even as he conducted an interview with ESPN.

"They said I was the worst interview after the game," Brewer said. "It was so surreal; I'm looking around like, what just happened out here?"

As his teammates and friends and family from Ohio began the celebration, a beat-up Brewer sneaked back to the team hotel for a nap before joining the party later.

"Everyone was questioning where I was. I was in bed," he said. "I finally rallied around and got my energy back. We had a good time that night."

The Gamecocks returned to Tampa the following year and again beat the Buckeyes and first-year coach Jim Tressel. Ohio State went on to win the 2002 national championship, while the Holtz era ended three years later without another bowl appearance.

After graduating, Brewer played three preseason games with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 before being cut. He won a World Bowl ring with NFL Europe's Berlin franchise in 2004, then returned to Columbia to start a Southern branch of his family's fencing business.

Brewer, 28, is married to the former Liz Price, who played volleyball at USC. The couple has a 19-month-old daughter, Elle, and another child on the way.

In Brewer's office in southeast Columbia, he has a couple of framed photographs from the game that sealed his place in the Gamecocks' history books. There are videos to preserve the moment, as well.

"I wish it wasn't on tape," Brewer said. "It could be like a fish story: It'd get bigger and bigger every year."