Finally, I could breathe.
The fan horde rushed by me, stampeding down the rows and scaling the gates, and I felt my muscles relax. A sea of scarlet had consumed the field, enveloping the players and covering every bit of green until it was one big, teeming mass - and all I did was watch. And breathe. And relax, knowing what I THOUGHT I knew all along.
See, even for fans, a college football season can be grueling. In a sport with ever-increasing parity and turnover at the top, no lead is ever safe. And in a system where a cluster of computers rules all (like some kind of nerdy dictatorship), every game is of paramount importance. Therefore, watching Ohio State culminate their historic rebound from NCAA purgatory with a victory over its most hated of rivals was as much a relief as it was a joy.
And, it confirmed a few things in my mind.
First, OSU football is back, and no amount of NCAA BS can hold it down for long. Second, Urban Meyer is clearly an angel sent from Heaven to restore OSU to greatness (and he’ll eventually subject every SEC team to many Januarys of Chinese water torture.) And third, That School Up North will win a few games here and there (seemingly in order to preserve what little parity is left in the greatest rivalry in sports), but Ohio State is now primed to continue it’s decade-long dominance of its Northerly neighbors.
These are the things I realized after watching Saturday’s glorious battle at the Horseshoe. They’re the honest, plain truths that will keep me safe and happy and warm throughout the winter, even as the icy winds of a Buckeye-less bowl season pound against my windows. I’ll hold onto them tight, as meaningful as any bowl game or postseason accolade could ever be.
But as important as the 2012 Ohio State/Michigan game was for the program (and historically), it also carved out a permanent place in the soul of this fan. Whereas every other year I’ve enjoyed The Game on a screen, this year I was lucky enough to witness it in its true form.
OSU beating UM is glorious from any angle, to be sure. But to witness the glory up close, to be a part of it, well that was Football Heaven.
I’m now ready to move forward with my winter, content to lord over those dirty heathens up North for another year and to bask in the warm glow of Urban Renewal. However, for those of you who just aren’t quite ready to end the celebration, I figured I’d share some of the more unforgettable aspects of my voyage into the Buckeye Promised Land. Things I never would have known, had I not made the trip.
Before we all close up our football shops for the winter, let’s relive this special win one more time, together.
1) It was really, REALLY cold. My wife and I spent about six hours outside Saturday, and the whole time it felt like we were in the eye of a Norwegian blizzard. At the mid-morning tailgate, Jen spent most of her time by one of those outdoor fireplaces, clearly the creation of a nearby Mensa genius. I, in turn, hovered over my case of Natural Lights, trying to decide which would make me freeze at a slower rate: pounding beers, or not taking off my gloves to open the beers I wanted to pound. Inside the stadium was better, but not by much. The wind was swirling in the South Stands, so I was forced to alternate between jumping up and down to maintain my blood pressure and checking on my lady-friend who stood next to me. She was bundled up to her eyes in a dense combination of eskimo coats and alpaca scarves, so it seemed necessary to periodically put my hand under her nose to see if she was still breathing. Luckily, as it turned out, we both survived and emerged with our appendages intact. Jen’s eyes eventually stopped glazing over and, upon closer investigation, my dingus had not in fact turned purple (contrary to what I was sure I was feeling during the third quarter). But I’ll never forget the feeling of standing on those bleachers, shivering and stomping our feet so they wouldn’t go numb. With the snow falling and the Horseshoe rocking, it felt like the Big Ten in its truest form.
2) The city was alive. I’m an Ohio State fan, so I know Ohio State fans are crazy. But as we made the 20-minute trek through the city to the stadium, things were on a different level. Music blared from High Street storefronts at 9am. College students in t-shirts stumbled past us, hammered from their kegs n’ eggs adventures and relying on muscle memory to get them wherever they were headed. And as we closed in on the stadium, the celebrations and the buzz seemed to get more dense, more electric. Carrying a case of beer on my shoulder, I repeatedly received high-fives and fuck-yeahs from the throngs of fans that were spilling out of front yards onto the sidewalks and into the streets. We passed the Varsity Club on Lane avenue, and it could have been 1am. The speakers were pumping out a Lil’ John remix that could have been heard in Indiana, and hundreds of drunk, middle-aged superfans danced in the street. Things only intensified as we turned a corner and Ohio Stadium came into view. Every grassy area was covered in tents. Smoke from a thousand barbecues hung in the air. It was my first big game, and my first OSU tailgate, but damn if it didn’t feel like home.
3) The stadium is a sight to see. This may be the single biggest difference between watching a game from home and actually being there. Your TV gives you all sorts of angles in crystal clear HD and all kinds of intelligent commentary from Rhodes scholars like Matt Millen and Mark May. However, it really only shows you one thing: the game. Sure, you’ll get shots of coaches or the band or an especially raucous section of fans, but nothing compares to being able to look around and take it all in for yourself. Flags from each Big Ten team flapping in the wind at the stadium’s highest points. The “Block O” leading the stadium in cheers. The dozens and dozens of recruits, huddled on the sidelines in their letterman jackets. There was so much to look at that I often had to remind myself that, out on the field, we were once again hammering the rat-weasels from up North.
4) The student section is not for kids. There was a time when I could party like a fiend. I’m talking duct-tape-champagne-bottles to-my-hands-for-breakfast kind of stuff. However, that golden age is currently a speck in my rearview mirror. These days I’m lucky to not be yawning by 8:45, and I usually require a 5-Hour Energy in order to take out the trash. That’s why it was kind of a culture shock to watch the game smack-dab in the middle of Ohio State’s student section. At any given time, there would be a girl falling off the bench in front of me, a guy drooling nacho-juice onto my sweatshirt behind me, and three shirtless dudes in a “who can make ‘FUCK YOU MICHIGANNNN’ sound the most creative” competition to my left. And even though I had had four beers (something I was kind of proud of, being that it wasn’t New Year’s Eve), I quickly realized that four beers is what most of these kids pee onto the quad before their Monday class. In short, when I wasn’t dodging projectile vodka-water bottles and ear-muffing my wife, the student section made for an amazing game-watching experience.
5) Jim Tressel will always be loved. Saturday was one big flurry of emotions. Sheer joy when Adolphus Washington forced a fumble. Crippling nausea when Retard Robinson scored a TD and did his “look at all the yogurt I can eat ” routine. Premature ejaculation when they showed Urban Meyer smiling on the jumbotron. The most poignant of moments, however, came when most of the country was in the bathroom taking a wiz. Between the first and second quarters the 2002 National Championship team was honored, and the scene on the field quickly turned into a Jim Tressel lovefest. The former players hoisted the Vest onto their shoulders, the crowd chanted “Jim! Jim! Jim!”, and everyone in the stands who wasn’t black-out drunk seemed to get caught up in the moment. Sure, Tressel made a mistake. Sure we could be playing for the National Championship if his adopted son (Terrelle Pryor) hadn’t felt the need to stencil his initials all over his arms. But if anything was proven Saturday afternoon, it’s that JT will always be a hero in Columbus, if for no other reason than that he made us proud in November every year against the piss and blue. And honestly, that’s all that matters.
6) The Michigan band is really bad. You know when you’re at a minor league baseball game and it’s the seventh-inning stretch and you’re talking to your friends and then eventually you realize that there’s been a middle school handbell choir performing for the last ten minutes? That’s kind of how it felt in Ohio Stadium when the Michigan “band” put on their halftime “performance.” Not only could we barely decipher any sort of melody for eight straight minutes, but there also seemed to be no rhyme or reason associated with where the musicians were deciding to walk. It was like the UM band director had recruited 75 blindfolded three-year-olds. The only redeeming quality of the whole debacle came when the drum major held up a giant sign that said “I LIKE TO HAVE SEX WITH TREES", which may or may not have been imagined during one of my several bored daydreams. (Seriously though, these guys were putrid. I’ve authored better performances in my office bathroom).
7) The Ohio State band is really good. As horrifyingly bad as the scUM band was, that’s how fantastic the OSU group was. They were loud, they were in-sync, and (gasp!) we could actually tell what songs they were playing. So glaring was the dichotomy between the two outfits that, at one point, one of the 8,000 village idiots in my section stood up and screamed “LOOK HOW CRISP THOSE LINES ARE! SUCK IT MICHIGANNNNNNNNNN!” He then proceeded to puke on his own shoes, but by that time his point had been made.
8) There’s a kid that runs out and picks up the tee. I‘m sure this is not an Ohio State tradition. Nor is it that important in the grand scheme of The Game, or even that memorable at all. In fact, there’s a good chance I’ll forget about it tomorrow after I’ve eaten my afternoon pudding. However, one hilarious part about being in the stands and not at the mercy of the television producers was watching the toddler who somehow got the honor of running out and picking up the tee after kickoff. Despite the fact that this kid had to have been like two-years-old, and despite the fact that he was bundled up tighter than Randy from A Christmas Story, he managed to sprint the width of the field after every kickoff and retrieve the kicking tee, always to a wild cheer from my jackal neighbors. This got me thinking: how did this ankle-biter procure such a prestigious job? What if he tripped? What if the return man was really fast and trampled him like Mufasa? Or, what if he did what pretty much every small child always does, which is completely mess things up and/or make everyone miserable??? Shouldn’t they give these jobs to mature, flexible, well-proportioned adults who aren’t required by their moms to wear seven layers of woolen army gear? I mean, I’m not saying IIIIIIIII want the job, but if Urban Meyer were to call me and say “Hey we need to do a better job on this tee retrieval thing, so suit the fuck up and bring the juice” I would at least have to check my eligibility.
9) The hate was palpable. As a child growing up in Ohio, you know you have to hate Michigan. You have no other choice. You don’t go there for vacation, you refuse to travel there for work, and by God if anyone with a Michigan license plate so much as goes 66 in a 65, you yell "RAPE!!!" as loud as you can. So, leading up to Saturday, I was ready to get my hate on. I was prepared to boo at every possible juncture, to tell Retard his dreadlocks make him look Denarded, and I even packed a few poison ham sandwiches in hopes that I’d end up in the general vicinity of Brady Hoke. But DAMN if I wasn’t outdone. Apparently, at The Game, any excuse to boo and curse ANYTHING with the color blue is perfectly acceptable. I’m pretty sure the Michigan trainers got hotdogs tossed at them. The cheerleaders got verbally abused. And of course the band got hammered, but that turned out to be perfectly reasonable due to the fact that they sounded like an eight-minute underwater fart. Like I said, I’ve always hated Michigan (and always will), but Saturday took that hate to a new level. From now on, as a tribute to all the lifelong friends I met in section 327, every time I watch a Buckeye kickoff at home I’ll end the “O-H-I-O” chant with a resounding “RIP HIS F%CKING HEAD OFF!”, and then look around for something to throw.
10) The celebration. As someone who’s lived away from his hometown for the last 11 years, trust me when I say there is NOTHING like celebrating with your own kind. So often, Jen and I are forced to watch our teams in relative silence, to exchange lonely high-fives as the rest of our world couldn’t care less. But when the final whistle sounded Saturday, when tens of thousands of fans rushed the field at a dead sprint, all of that was forgotten. Seeing guys like Zach Boren making the rounds amongst the fans (handing out fist-bumps and head-nods) and Devin Smith attempting to bang out cadences with the drumline, it just felt natural. Like everything had slowed down and was now exactly where it needed to be. Again, it felt like home.
Chances are it will be awhile before I get back to The Game. The tickets, like any other tickets to something that millions of people want to see, are often ridiculously-priced (this year’s came in the form of an amazing wedding gift). In fact, I may never see another. Its a privilege that not everyone gets. One that took nearly 30 years to find its way to me, and could take another 30 or 40 or more to find its way back. However, like so many Sports Tattoos, Saturday will always stick with me. Years from now my ticket stubs will be yellowed in their frame, the numbers on my jersey will be cracked and worn, and the barf on my hoodie (I can only hope) will be long since washed away. Saturday will remain though, and it will feel like yesterday.
It was the day I truly understood the rivalry.
It was the day I came home.
It was the day I went to Football Heaven.
JOURNEYMEN Team Captain and Buckeye for Life