Not Just a Game, THE Game

As a high school senior, my guidance counselor’s pleas for me to get my college applications in on time would often fall on deaf ears.  Sure I wanted to attend The Ohio State University but I tended to put decisions like that off until the very last moment.  I loved sports and certainly knew how essential Buckeye football was to the fabric of Ohio living, but I had never attended a game at the Horseshoe growing up and had only knew the program from a distance.  It wasn’t until a last-minute trip to Columbus my senior year of high school helped focus my aspirations and give me the kick in the backside necessary to make sure I would spend my formative college years in Columbus (the underage drinking certainly didn’t hurt the cause).

A few years later, I was covering Buckeyes football for TV, Radio and Newspaper.  Attending games in the Horseshoe as a fan and as a young media member certainly helped crystallize my devotion for all things Ohio State.  The one thing I was unable to grasp though during that time, why the obsession about Michigan? Around every turn in Columbus, there seemed to be an obsession with “That school up north.”  Phrases like “Go Blow” and “Ann Arbor’s a whore” were spouted and recycled as if they were part of the Buckeyes Alma mater.  Anyone wearing anything remotely resembling the shades of maize and blue were alerted of their  traitorous ways.  Fans would sneer at the very mention of Desmond Howard or Tim Biakabutuka.  And every year fans would salivate over the opportunity for Ohio State to take Michigan down a peg, even in the face of how one-sided the rivalry had become with John Cooper at the helm.

That all changed the day Jim Tressel was introduced  as the successor to Cooper at a basketball game against Michigan.

See, the complaint for years under John Cooper was that he wasn’t an Ohio guy and therefore, didn’t understand the significance of the Michigan game. It wasn’t just a game, it was THE Game.  A game so big that it deserved the capitalization that a proper name would get.  But with Cooper in charge, the “g” was lowercase, and Ohio State’s record was a dismal 2-10-1.

Tressel came through on his pledge to Buckeye fans, helping engineer an improbable victory in the Big House, a place Ohio State hadn’t won in 14 years.  Tressel wasn’t exactly a high-profile hire despite his success at Youngstown State, but instantly made believers in Buckeye fans for that performance against a Michigan team that was supposed to head to a BCS Bowl game.  The tables had finally turned in matchup, helping to restore the rivalry.  A year later, Ohio State was in position to earn the opportunity to play for its first National Championship in 32 years, but it would have to go through their arch rivals to do it.

In 2002 I was a political reporter for The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper.  I also covered some of the university news, and was assigned to talk to then-athletic director Andy Geiger.  I was doing a story on how the university was bracing for a potential national title bid, including possible crowd control procedures if things were to say, get out of hand.  This piece did not win me the Pulitzer, but it proved to be prophetic as the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines and went on to win the National Championship.  I definitely rushed the field, I definitely came into contact with mace (you always remember your first!), and I definitely partied until all the alcohol was had been consumed in Columbus.

That was my Buckeye baptism and now I understood was The Game was all about.

14 years later, The Game is once again the center of the college football universe.  No. 2 vs. No. 3.  Big Ten superiority at stake (sorry Penn State).  A possible bid to the College Football Playoff.  The Game is once again the biggest football game in the country.  A win means superiority over your rival and celebration.  A loss is sheer devastation.  Just the way Woody and Bo would have wanted it.

When I’m watching this Saturday, I’ll think about those first steps I took on Ohio State’s campus.  I’ll think about indoctrination I received during my years in and around the Oval.  I’ll think about the plunge I took into Mirror Lake.  I’ll think about that first interview I did with Jim Tressel on student radio the week after the 2002 National Championship.  I’ll think about the 16-keg party at 34 East 18th St and then smell of mace in the air just off-campus.  I’ll treasure those memories and embrace what being a Buckeye means to me.

And I’ll always think about that time I rushed in my application to Ohio State.

Better late than never.  GO BUCKS!

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