One of the stars in the on-going summer soap opera stood on the sideline waving a towel for his teammates.
The other was left in the Pacific Northwest to coordinate quarterbacks for a high school program.
As the off-season dramas for two top teams finally moved from CNN news crawl to the football field, this soon became clear:
Ohio State may not miss tailback Maurice Clarett as much as Washington may miss coach Rick Neuheisel.
On a night that featured cornets, coronations and crunching tackles, No. 2 Ohio State made a splendid first defense of its national title with a 28-9 win over No. 17 Washington before a crowd of 105,078 at Ohio Stadium.
He might have well been playing clarinet.
While his Buckeye teammates romped over Washington, the sophomore tailback sat out the opener, serving a yet-to-be determined number of games suspension for various NCAA infractions.
Clarett made most of the news during a turbulent off-season, but Ohio State did a good job Saturday of changing the subject.
“It’s great to play football,” Buckeye Coach Jim Tressel said. “That’s what we like to do.”
Ohio State missed Clarett so much Saturday it scored two first-quarter touchdowns and took a 21-0 lead into the half against a Washington team expected to contend for the Pacific 10 Conference championship.
Instead of a helmet and shoulder pads, Clarett donned a gray T-shirt and scarlet sweat pants. He was a terrific cheerleader.
Meanwhile, his two replacements, Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross, each scored a touchdown.
Hall finished with 58 yards in 15 carries while Ross added 43 more in 12 runs.
Spectacular? No, but good enough.
“I thought that both players played hard,” Tressel said.
Neither Hall nor Ross have the breakaway moves Clarett used to wiggle for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, yet both appear capable stand-ins on a team loaded with leadership.
“It is not about Maurice Clarett,” Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel said. “In terms of running the ball, it’s all facets of the game. In order to run the ball better, we need to pass the ball better. We need to hit a couple of those deep balls.
He may have hired more lawyers than Clarett this summer after his June firing for gambling on NCAA basketball games.
Neuheisel fought hard to keep his job before his final appeal was rejected in late July. Neuheisel filed a lawsuit against the school and is biding his time as a volunteer assistant high school coach in Seattle.
But you had to wonder if Neuheisel would have had his Huskies more prepared to play than Keith Gilbertson, tossed into a tough situation after being hired to succeed Neuheisel only a month ago.
Ohio State would have been tough to beat no matter who the coach or what the circumstances.
Ohio State hasn’t lost a home opener since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in 1978.
“They are as advertised,” Gilbertson said. “They are big, powerful, quick and have lots of athletes.”
The Buckeyes returned 17 starters from last year’s team, and 10 of 11 on offense.
On defense, the Buckeye smothered Washington quarterback Cody Pickett with pressure and made the kind of jarring tackles that helped them beat Miami in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
The Buckeye defense held Washington to seven yards rushing, while Pickett needed 49 passes to complete 255 yards, with no touchdowns.
“We were flying around,” Buckeye defensive tackle Tim Anderson said. “I don’t think we missed very many tackles.”
On offense, Krenzel proved why he, not Clarett, is the Buckeyes’ most important player.
Remember, it was Krenzel who earned most valuable player honors against Miami in the national title game. That night, he out-rushed Clarett, 81 to 47.
Krenzel picked up where he left off Saturday, hurting Washington with his feet as much as his arm.
He completed 15 of 27 passes for 203 yards and added 27 net yards rushing, scoring on first-half scrambles of 22 and 11 yards.
On the first, flushed from the pocket, he beat a Washington defender to the left end-zone cone.
On the second, he deftly bought time behind the line before picking his way and leaping for a score over the right cone.
The prospect of repeating will still be tough.
Last year, en route to 14-0, Ohio State won seven games by seven points or less.
The Buckeyes beat Purdue on a fourth-down pass and needed overtime to beat Illinois.
Down the road, North Carolina State looms on Sept. 13. Ohio State also has to play at Wisconsin, at Penn State and at Michigan.
But Ohio State proved Saturday it is ready to overcome a turbulent off-season.
Front page news?
“Stuff like that doesn’t distract us,” Krenzel said.