The Victims Of Purdue Harbor: Johnny Utah

A former Ohio State all-Big Ten quarterback saw his life spiral downward with a Purdue Harbor. Is there hope for Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor?

The year was 1984. It would be the last time that Purdue would go to a bowl game before Joe Tiller came riding into town from Wyoming. That Boilermaker team finished 7-5 with its first ever bowl loss coming in the Peach Bowl 27-24 to Virginia.

That is not the point of this article, however. The point comes from what happened on October 6th of that season. It was a Purdue Harbor before there was Purdue Harbor, as the Boilermakers knocked off eventual Big Ten champion Ohio State 28-23 in Ross-Ade Stadium. The Buckeyes entered at 4-0 before that shocking loss, and it was a stunning defeat for senior quarterback Johnny Utah. it began a lengthy spiral downward for the all-Big Ten quarterback that would not see redemption for 15 years.

Utah was a similar quarterback to Terrelle Pryor and current OSU signal-caller Braxton Miller. A former safety in high school before committing solely to quarterback in college, he had closing speed on any surface be it grass, turf, sand, or even water. He was a respectable passer in the run-based offense led by Keith Byars' 1,764 yards rushing (Byars' son is currently on Purdue's roster). The lack of a reliable kicker meant that he often had to go for to, thus giving rise to the phrase, "Utah, gimme two!"

Utah had 1,952 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with one TD on the ground. this came after solid seasons in 1983 and 1982 where he led Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl and holiday Bowl. All-told, Utah passed for over 5,500 yards in his Ohio State career, which was second to only Art Schlichter when he graduated. Utah never wanted to have Schlichter's criminal legacy, however. That is why he became a dedicated pre-law student, which would have a large impact on his later career choice.

Utah's story began to turn with that October visit to Purdue. Ranked No. 2 in the country when they came to West Lafayette, the Buckeyes were stunned 28-23 by Jim Everett and Purdue. Worse yet, Utah strained his knee and was forced to play injured for most of the rest of the season. He might have been the first victim of the Purdue ACL curse, but torn ACLs were harder to diagnose in 1984. The knee injury was aggravated in the 20-17 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl. The advancements in surgical procedures that would have had Utah back in the game within a year cost him his shot at the pros. It took him two full seasons to rehab his knee into any sort of playing shape after his knee was bent 90 degrees the wrong way in the Rose Bowl.

His football playing days over (or so he thought) Utah headed off to Quantico, Virginia, where he used his eventual law degree to become an FBI agent. He was later assigned to the Southern California field office, where his career plans once again were torn apart much like his playing career.

His first and only case as an FBI agent was to track down the infamous ex-Presidents in the summer of 1991. This was a gang of bank robbers famous for wearing the masks of ex-Presidents when they robbed banks. They operated with SEC-like speed, hitting only the cash drawers and getting in and out in under 90 seconds.

It made little sense to send a slow, plodding former Big Ten quarterback after the fastest crew in the west, but Utah was a maverick. His youthful appearance and a tip from fellow agent Alex Pappas (who was tragically killed in the line of duty) allowed him to go under cover and become close friends with their leader, a mysterious zen-center surfer known only as Bodhi.

It was a trying time for Utah. He was quickly sucked into the world of surfing, parties, and even felt his football career rejuvenated with a late-night beach football game. He fell in love with Bodhi's former girlfriend Tyler, but after a botched raid against suspected drug dealers he discovered that Bodhi and his gang were the real Ex-Presidents.

Unfortunately, Bodhi and his crew soon discovered that Utah was an FBI agent. They kidnapped Tyler and forced Utah to participate in a final raid. Things went bad ont heir raid, as they got greedy and went after the vault. An off-duty police officer opened fire, killing a member of the gang. As the gang tried to flee to Mexico two more members were killed in a firefight with agent Pappas. Utah went against the wishes of his superior officer and went after Bodhi, but was unable to catch him as he parachuted into Mexico with the money.

Utah spent several months tracking him all over the world, using his connection at the FBI despite severe reprimand from his bosses. The final straw came when he caught Bodhi in Bell's Beach, Australia, only to let him go because of Bodhi's impassioned plea to ride the world's biggest surf despite certain death. It was that day that Utah walked away from his old life forever.

He eventually returned to the United States and settled down as a boat cleaner at a marina near Washington, DC under the assumed name of Shane Falco. The work was not glamorous, but he was at peace with his decision until he discovered his old Big Ten MVP trophy at the bottom of the bay while scuba diving. It was then that he realized that his knee no longer bother him, so he began working out underwater with new water-resistance training meant to strengthen his knee.

The NFL strike of 2000 saw his redemption. Former Washington head coach Jimmy McGinty knew Falco's real identity after he performed work on his boat the previous winter. When the league allowed for replacement players his first call was to Falco/Utah.

Confornted with the chance to redeem himself on the football field and complete his dreams, Utah/Falco stepped onto a football field for the first time in 15 years as the replacement quarterback for Washington. Needing three wins in four games to reach the playoffs, Utah/Falco loses the first game on a late tackle near the goal line as he attempts to score, but wins hid final three. His last game came against Dallas, whose entire team crosses the picket line for the game against the replacement players.

Utah finds his redemption after 15 years by leading the game-winning drive when he finds Brian Murphy for a game-winning touchdown.

Utah may have been the first Ohio State quarterback to suffer a Purdue Harbor, but he did find  redemption in the end. He now owns a popular bar in Washington DC, still under the name Shane Falco, and he married an NFL cheerleader. That allows hope for Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller, who have been recent victims. When Miller becomes a two-time victim this weekend perhaps he should give Johnny Utah a call.

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