The 2003 National Championship Game (IV)

Russell, right before kickoff

Game Day!

We woke up early, and the adrenalin began to surge immediately.  The boys went outside and started to throw around a football, and it seemed pointless to hang around The Boulders.  So, we decided to head down to the stadium area some eight hours before the 6 p.m. game time, to check out the atmosphere.

WIV, Russell, and me at the pre-game tailgate

We arrived in Tempe and already the area was abuzz.  Huge areas for pregame parties were marked off by Tostitos signs — it was the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, after all — and those weird air-powered dancing figures dotted the landscape.  There was lots of scarlet and gray visible as we walked along, and it was clear to all that the Buckeye Nation had shown up in force.  We had a lunch at some packed eatery near the stadium, then walked some more until we found a tailgate with many of our friends.  We drank some beers, talked some serious football, and counted down the seconds until kickoff.

Everyone’s energy level was through the roof, and we wanted to get to the game.  I was particularly interested in doing so, because I had just learned that one of my friends had been bilked out of thousands of dollars by a shyster ticket broker.  I knew I wouldn’t rest easy that my ticket, which I had purchased through eBay, was genuine until it had been scanned and we passed through the turnstiles.  To my relief, the ticket was legit, and we entered the stadium.

We walked around and found exactly one men’s room in our area of the stadium.  At that moment, I resolved to fully empty my bladder and to drink nothing more until the game was over, because I did not want to miss one second.  After taking care of that business, we found our seats in one corner of the end zone.  Although we were sitting in the Miami student section, most of the people in the immediate vicinity were Buckeye fans.  The Miami kids who were there did some trash-talking, but it was mild, good-natured stuff.  The stadium was a beautiful setting, framed by mountains and a clear blue sky and the setting sun.  The pregame activities were interminable, and Russell and I hooted when Jerod (or however it is spelled) of Subway fame made his appearance.

After what seemed like forever, the game stated, and my immediate concern was that the Buckeyes not get blown out.  It didn’t take long to see that the Buckeyes did indeed belong on the same field with the mighty Hurricanes.  The OSU defense made the first statement by sacking Miami’s quarterback, and for the rest of the game they seemed to hit him every time he went back to throw.  The offense eventually got untracked, and for a time it seemed like the Buckeyes might actually pull away as the Stadium rocked with deafening O-H-I-O cheers during commercial timeouts.

But Miami came back, the game went into overtime, the controversial flag was (correctly) thrown, and finally we saw Miami line up, on fourth and goal, having to score to extend the game.  The final play happened right in front of us, and it was a beautiful thing to see Cie Grant come in clear to grab the Miami quarterback and to watch as his pass fluttered harmlessly to the ground.

The happy foursome celebrate a championship

Suddenly, the place was pandemonium.  The Miami fans had mysteriously vanished, and the Ohio State fans cheered, watched the presentation of the National Championship trophy, listened to the band, and cheered still more.  When we finally left the stadium it was pitch black, and we wandered aimlessly, hoarse but happy, talking about the game and drinking in every last instant of the atmosphere.  We finally rolled back to The Boulders at around 3 a.m. to drink yet another beer and watch more TV — and even then it was impossible to sleep.

It was a day that I will never forget.

The 2003 National Championship Game (I)

The 2003 National Championship Game (II)

The 2003 National Championship Game (III)

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