Last Night At The ‘Shoe

We went to see the Ohio State-Michigan State game last night at Ohio Stadium.  It was a great test for the Buckeyes, who prevailed 34-10.  The Spartans are always a tough team, and their physical defense gave the Men of the Scarlet and Gray all they could handle until Ohio State broke some big plays and established a cushion.  MSU, like true Spartans, kept fighting to the end — they are a better team, I think, than many people realize.

While it’s always nice to go to a game at the ‘Shoe, to revisit some of the old traditions, it’s also interesting to see what new features have been added.  Last night’s game was a “black out,” where the fans were supposed to wear black.  Many did, including most of our party, but the concept didn’t really work in my opinion.  The stands really don’t look that much different, and the device certainly doesn’t pack the same punch as the “white outs” that Penn State seems to schedule every time Ohio State visits Happy Valley.  I’d rather see “Scarlet Fever,” where everyone is encouraged to wear their scarlet jerseys and sweatshirts and jackets.  I think that would have a lot more visual impact.

The game also involved some shooting flames and fireworks added to the traditional entrance of the team onto the field, as well as fireworks launched from time to time from the south end of the field and the area above the press box.  That added a little dash to the contest.  And at one point after darkness had totally fallen, everyone pulled out their cellphones, tapped their flashlight apps, and the stadium became a sea of slowly moving lights, like fireflies on a lazy summer evening.  That was also a pretty cool effect.

I don’t mind the OSU athletic department experimenting with innovation, so long as they keep the old traditions, too.  After all, every current tradition was, at some point, a new innovation.  Who knows?  At some point the cellphone flashlight moment may be as enshrined in Buckeye tradition as the band’s ramp entrance or Script Ohio.

Noon Kickoff Memories

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Maryland Terrapins at noon.  Nowadays, that seems like a weird time for an OSU football game.  It’s so early!  Now, the Buckeyes typically play at 3:30 or at 8:00, under the lights.

But when I first started going to OSU football games in the ’70s, noon was the kickoff time for pretty much every game.  And at our house, where Dad and Mom hosted a gang of clients, colleagues, and family members who were going to the game, the noon kickoff produced a certain rhythm and sameness.

Scarlet-and-gray clad people started arriving at about 8:30.  An Ohio State Marching Band record would be playing on the stereo, and Mom would lay out a buffet of food.  For the hardy souls — and I do mean hardy — Uncle Tony would prepare lethal, translucent Bloody Marys that could end your football Saturday before it really began.  Jim, Aunt Bebe and I would look at Aunt Bebe’s football card, which identified the games you could bet on for the day and their spreads, and Aunt Bebe would consult her season-long Stat-Key information before making her picks. As kickoff time neared, we’d start to hear the motors of the prop planes flying overhead, heading for Ohio Stadium with their advertising banners for pizza or insurance in tow.

We’d nibble at food, listening to the noise level in our split-level house mount as more people arrived and feeling that growing excitement that comes with the knowledge that a game is only hours away and you’re going.  Jim and I were usually responsible for making sure that iced-down coolers of beer and sodas were put in our transportation.  Then the departure time would come, and we’d don our Buckeye Nation gear, pile into a van or RV, and roll from Upper Arlington down to the French Field House parking lot across from the Stadium for some tailgating before game time.

After the game — which usually lasted no more than three hours, because only one or two of Ohio State’s games were televised each season and at the game you didn’t have to wait through a bunch of commercial interruptions — we’d return home, ready to celebrate another Buckeye victory and eat the lavish spread that Mom had set out.  The adults would drink some more, but Jim and I would usually go outside to throw the football around with our neighborhood friends on a crisp autumn afternoon, and there was still plenty of daylight left to do so.  When we came back inside the remaining guests were roaring and red-faced and entertaining in their own right, and usually there would be a late game to watch before the 11:30 start of The Woody Hayes Show rolled around.

College football coaches don’t like noon kickoffs these days.  They want a later kickoff, so visiting recruits can see the campus and spend some time with the current players before the games begin, and I can understand that.  But as a kid, I liked the noon games.  The memories of those games during my teenage years are still very fresh.

Hoping For The Right Rub-Off Effect

On August 7 the Cleveland Browns will hold the Orange and Brown scrimmage at one of the most hallowed sites in football:  Ohio Stadium.

It’s hard to imagine teams with more different trajectories than the Buckeyes and the Browns.  Last year the Buckeyes won the first college football playoff, in dominating fashion, and collected another national championship trophy.  With high-intensity coach Urban Meyer at the helm, the Buckeyes have rampaged through the Big Ten, thrown the SEC monkey off their backs, and recruited a roster of incredibly gifted athletes.  And with much of last year’s great team returning and more talented players being added, the future looks bright, too.

The Browns are, well, the Browns.  They’ve stunk up the joint for years and become a punch line in the pro football world.  They’ve never made it to the Super Bowl, which is incredibly embarrassing.  Their long-suffering fans expect terrible things to happen — and, unfortunately, all too often they do.

Why are the Buckeyes successful when the Browns are terrible?  Both teams have a great history and tradition, but tradition doesn’t win football games.  You need smart, capable, motivated people at the top who can find the talent, develop the right game plans, and then provide solid leadership and good decision-making at crunch time.  The Buckeyes have all of this, and the Browns don’t.

Maybe by holding a scrimmage at Ohio Stadium the Browns front office and coaching staff can spend some time with Coach Meyer and his staff and learn something.  Those of us who are fans of both the Browns and the Buckeyes can only hope that some of Ohio State’s formula for success might rub off on the snake-bitten team from Cleveland.

Of course, the Browns being the Browns, we probably need to worry that some of the Browns’ record of failure and disaster might rub off on the Buckeyes.

Snow ‘Shoe

IMG_5469I’ve been going to Ohio State home games for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen it snow as much as it did during yesterday’s game against Indiana.

It made the game a memorable one.  At times the old Horseshoe experienced blizzard-like conditions, and there was sufficient accumulation on the field that two attendants had to go out with push brooms to sweep off the yard lines and the hash marks.  Fortunately I was sitting in B Deck, so I was shielded somewhat from the cutting wind and only had to deal with the distinctly arctic air.  It was cold, and sitting in C Deck must have been brutal.

By the end of the third quarter, as the Buckeyes surged to a 35-0 lead, C Deck had emptied out and so had most of the stands, as even the diehard fans decided that the game was in hand and it was time to start worrying about potentially losing digits to frostbite.IMG_5479

Learning About The House That Chic (And Howard) Built

Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe, is one of the most famous football stadiums in the land.  But who built that cavernous concrete edifice on the banks of the Olentangy River — literally and figuratively?

IMG_1827If you are a Buckeyes fan, you probably know the name of the figurative architect.  It’s Charles William “Chic” Harley, the great player who put Ohio State on the national gridiron map and started the quasi-religion that is Ohio State football.  Harley could run, pass, punt, and kick field goals and extra points, and he led Ohio State to its first undefeated season in 1916.  With Harley leading the way, Ohio State football became so popular that the Buckeyes outgrew their existing field and needed to look at a new — and much larger — home.

Which brings us to the literal architect, whose name was Howard Dwight Smith.  He not only designed Ohio Stadium, and won a gold medal for public building design from the American Institute of Architects in the process, he also oversaw the construction of St. John Arena and French Field House, which are other, well-known campus landmarks.

Want to learn more about these two legends of the Ohio State campus?  You can get ready for the Ohio State football season by signing up for a timely On the Road with Ohioana presentation on August 17.  The program will feature a tour of these and other campus landmarks, including the newly restored William Oxley Thompson Library, as well as remarks from OSU professor emeritus Raimond Goerler and Columbus Dispatch sportswriter Bob Hunter, the author of Chic and other books about Ohio State.  I’m pumped about the chance to learn a little bit more about my alma mater and my team and to support the Ohioana Library Association in the process.  If you’re interested in joining me, you can sign up here.  At only $35 for a four-hour tour and program, it’s a real Buckeye Bargain!

Dotting The i At “The Game”

If you are a Sousaphone player in Ohio, you have one overriding dream:  to one day dot the i in Script Ohio.

Script Ohio is one of the most revered traditions of the Ohio State University Marching Band — commonly known, without exaggeration, as The Best Damn Band In The Land.  In fact, Script Ohio may be the most famous band maneuver in the world.  Starting from the form of a square, the band plays “Le Regiment” and follows the drum major in order to spell out “Ohio” in cursive letters, as if the word were being written by a giant hand.  The climax comes when the drum major leads one of the senior Sousaphone player out to dot the i.  The Sousaphone player high steps out, removes his or her hat, and does a deep bow to make the dot as Ohio Stadium roars its approval.

As great as it is to dot the i, the real cherry is to dot the i in Script Ohio during The Game — Ohio State’s annual grudge match against the Michigan Wolverines. I’ve actually met the Sousaphonist who will have that tremendous honor, and the nationally televised thrill of a lifetime, during Saturday’s Big Game.  Her name is Jocelyn Smallwood, and her parents are Carl and Connie Smallwood.  TBDBITL is a strict meritocracy, and Jocelyn has worked hard to earn the acclamation that will come with dotting the i at the Michigan game.  Among the more than 100,000 screaming fans will be many members of the extended Smallwood clan, cheering Jocelyn on as she prances out to Sousaphone immortality.

Congratulations, Jocelyn!  (And Beat Michigan!)