This week, the thirteenth letter of the alphabet is not to be seen in Ohio’s capital city. All around town, it has been crossed out on street signs, billboards, and business signs–even scooters, as shown by the scooter above that we saw near Goodale Park earlier this week. We excise old #13 wherever it is found because we don’t want to see anything that represents That State Up North this week.
The striking of the thirteenth letter is one of the newer traditions in the old rivalry. I don’t recall it happening when I was a student at Ohio State in the ’70s. Back then, people settled for things like “Screw the Blue” car stickers and got a chuckle out of TTUN toilet paper. But then a person decided that the 13th letter was just too offensive to be endured during this particular week, and the habit caught on like wildfire. Now it’s just another part of the tradition of the greatest rivalry in sports.
After today, the 13th letter will be invited back into the alphabet and we’ll be able to use it again. That’s a good thing, too–it was challenging to write today’s blog post without using it!
Today begins the seven-day period that is known in these parts as “The Week.” It’s the period of time right before the Ohio State Buckeyes strap on their gear and take on That Team Up North in what is known as “The Game.”
This year, as in so many years in the past, The Game is poised to be a classic. Both Ohio State and TTUN won nail-biters yesterday, with the Maize and Blue pulling out a last-minute win at home over a tough Illinois team and Ohio State surviving a road battle against a Maryland squad that pulled out all the stops. It was one of those days that make college football so great, as many of the top-ranked teams were pushed to the limit and the playoff hopes of one–the Tennessee Volunteers–were left crushed on the field in South Carolina.
But both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines survived and kept their unbeaten records intact. Both are 11-0, and both have played games were they have looked unbeatable and games where they looked good, but not great. Both teams have lots of talent, and both teams have been dealing with injuries. But we know one thing for sure: one team’s spotless record and great season is going to be marred next Saturday, while the other team will survive and celebrate and advance to the Big Ten Championship Game and, perhaps, the College Football Playoff beyond. But the Big Ten Championship Game and the playoffs aren’t the focus right now–instead, the focus is exclusively on beating the arch-rival and hated (but respected) foe. Nothing is more important, and there is no looking beyond.
This is a familiar scenario for Buckeye fans, and those of us who have followed the team for decades and have Buckeye football in our family DNA. That’s why it is fitting that The Game always happens around Thanksgiving. For many families, including mine, Buckeye football and The Game is as much of family tradition as the turkey and stuffing and the cranberry relish that still maintains the shape of a can. And when another version of The Game rolls around, and both Ohio State and That Team Up North are top-ranked and having terrific seasons, we think about the Buckeye fans in our families, the great games, joyous victories, and crushing heartbreaks we experienced with them in the past, and the tailgates and the scarlet and gray outfits and the thoughtful and earnest pre-game analysis and the killer Bloody Marys and the riotous post-game revelry when Ohio State notches a win against those arrogant bastards from our neighboring state.
So The Week is here, and we can feel, again, that familiar nerve-tingling anticipation that always arrives at this time of year–only heightened now, with so much on the line. And we know that somewhere, those Buckeye fans in our families will be watching, with Woody and Bo and the rest of Buckeye Nation and the TTUN fans, as these two great programs prepare to square off for another chapter in the Greatest Rivalry In Sports.