I am a Buckeye.
I did not attend THE Ohio State University, nor did any member of my family, but WE are Buckeyes. And Monday January 12, 2015 is a day we have eagerly awaited for a very long time. 12 years to be exact.
It’s a difficult affiliation to explain to someone who didn’t grow up in a college town in the US. Why would I be a fan of an amateur team of a university I did not attend?
Perhaps LEGO Emmet Brickowoski summed it up best “Always root for the local sports team.”
But being a Buckeye is a birthright. No other credentials required. The University hospital dons each newborn in a Buckeye themed blanket upon arrival in Columbus on big game weekends. This is serious business.
I was born & raised in a suburb called Bexley, Ohio, precisely 9 miles from Ohio Stadium. Affectionately called 'The Shoe' for its horseshoe design, Ohio Stadium is one of the most glorious venues in all of sport. Its capacity of 105,000 makes it the 4th largest stadium of any sport in the US, 7th largest in the entire world. It’s 1.75 times larger than England’s largest football venue, Emirates Stadium. For a Midwestern city with a population just over 800,000, on a home football Saturday nearly 1 out of every 8 residents is packed into the horseshoe, and the other 7/8 are probably in the parking lot tailgating. Now that’s a community.
From an early age we’re taught to respond I-O when prompted with a cheer of O-H. And that Brutus Buckeye is pretty much the coolest mascot that ever existed…which is pretty tough to pull off considering he’s an inanimate object. We’re taught to NEVER mention that state 'Up North' and when we do find a need to mention them in writing we do so with an * It’s M*chigan, nothing more.
Unlike most of the country, football is on Saturdays in Columbus. The city blanketed with scarlet and gray as time seemingly stands still, all eyes on the Buckeyes. Pity the fool who plans an event during a Buckeye game in Columbus...let's just say fall weddings are few and far between for a reason. Despite having two NFL teams in Ohio, hues of Bengals & Browns orange are a rare site in the state capital. Columbus is Buckeye Country. They are our team.
When I was lucky enough to attend a game as a child, we were up in the nosebleeds 'C Deck' but I didn’t care. To be there, to hear the roar of the crowd, the swirling of O-H-I-O echoing around the stadium, the ringing of the bells on defense come 3rd down, and watching TBDBITL (that’s The Best Damn Band in the Land for those unfamiliar) effortlessly march into Script Ohio was simply magical.
But never was my Buckeye fandom so questioned, ridiculed & tested as it was during my time at ESPN. The Buckeyes are a polarizing team. You either love them or hate them, there’s no in-between. And marching into the Worldwide Leader, proudly supporting my Buckeyes put quite a big bullseye on my back. But lucky for me, I had a pretty strong guy on my side, NFL Hall of Famer, Cris Carter.
Cris was an NFL analyst on the SportsCenter show I segment produced. Trying to play it cool, I never mentioned how awestruck I was to be working alongside a Buckeye LEGEND. But my cover was blown when he spotted me at my desk one day, a bright #2 red Ohio State jersey hanging in my cubicle. It looked quite familiar to the man who most famously wore that number in The Shoe. Minutes later he was offering me his player tickets to any game my family & I wanted to attend back in Columbus, the kindest they come. Perhaps my most favorite memory with Cris was interviewing him on the sideline of the OSU v USC game in 2009. His son, Duron, was making his first big appearance in a home night game and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cris so proud as he was of his son that night.
Another surreal Buckeye encounter occurred that same year when then Buckeye head coach, Jim Tressel, appeared as a guest on our show. I produced his segment from the control room, thanked him for appearing on the show and restrained myself from professing my Buckeye love to him. That was until our talent booker, Carol Mayer, tipped me off to the fact that Coach Tressel was having lunch in the cafeteria immediately following the show. The cafeteria which I just so happened to pass by on the way from the set to my desk.
I spotted Coach at an outdoor table & mustered up the guts to say hello. “Coach, I just wanted to thank you again for being on the show and to wish you luck this season. I was born and raised in Columbus and I’m…I’m a huge fan.” I somehow managed to spit all of that out with my heartbeat rising up into my throat I was so nervous.
As I was about to walk away, Coach said “Have you eaten? Would you like to join me for lunch?” OH.MY.GOD. Was this actually happening? So I did. We talked about anything and everything. We got to talking about my days as a college lacrosse player & how I had made it to ESPN. I got to pick Coach’s brain on his new book, which he gave me a signed copy to keep. To this day, that lunch at ESPN is one of my most favorite memories in this industry. And to top it all off, Coach gave me his number and said, anytime I’m in town and wanted to attend a game, to give him a shout. Which I did, as often as I could.
I can’t quite explain what it’s like being able to take your family to a Buckeye game and walk them down to the field for the first time. A far cry from those nosebleed seats we had whenever we were fortunate enough to attend a game growing up. This was mega. The best of all, attending the M*chigan game over Thanksgiving weekend 2010. Terrelle Pryor running to the sidelines after rushing for the 1st down, and me being ballsy enough to give him a little “well done” tap on the tush before he went back in, my sister and brother-in-law live on ESPN behind the QB, cheering on the play.
We’ve had a lot of ups & downs, us Buckeye fans. Perhaps the most difficult for me personally was Coach Tressel resigning amidst a NCAA scandal in 2011. But with it brought a new era of Buckeye football, and in Urban Meyer we trust. The coach has gone 37-3 in 3 seasons with the Buckeyes. Holy sh*t that’s good.
12 years ago, I laid on my parent’s couch in Bexley, recovering from wisdom tooth surgery, trying in a very woozy state to stay awake to watch the Buckeyes take on the Miami Hurricanes. A game with a controversial ending that crowned the Bucks as the 2002 National Champions, the only such title I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
So Monday January 12, 2015 has been a long time coming. An improbable season which has seen us lose not one, but TWO Heisman quality quarterbacks. Many skeptics thought we were all but done for. But we are Buckeyes. We fight on. And with a 3rd string quarterback, we take our rightful place in the National Championship game. Buckeye pride doesn’t even begin to explain it.
GO BUCKS & O-H!