I’ve lived in many places: New York City, Germany, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Michigan (gasp). Most recently, just over a year ago, I moved to Ohio. Despite already being an Ohio State fan, I wasn’t prepared for what the state had to offer.
Nowhere, not even in Michigan, have I seen a sports team represent its state so perfectly.
This observation may be a partial product of the fact that I’m a law student at Ohio State. The year has been a crash course in fandom. However, pride about the state’s flagship university permeates every level of the state and, in particular, its capital city. That fact is apparent to anyone who comes here.
Not in an apparel-in-the-airport way. What happens here is deeper than that. Not in a creepy way. We’re not State College. Not in an only-game-in-town way. We’re not Arkansas.
In a way that may, frankly, be unique to Ohio.
The passion that (most) Ohioans feel for their state is evident from the moment you set foot here, but that fervor is most palpable on Saturdays in the fall. It’s no exaggeration that the entire state unifies behind the Buckeyes, even if they don’t care about football one bit. Plans for “the game” are the only plans worth having. This much is true across the state. However, it seems that the closer you get to Ohio Stadium, the more strong the feeling gets, a fact that is no doubt reinforced by Columbus’ position at the state’s center.
When driving away from campus on High Street, the road has two lanes, but the two lanes are only used on roughly eight days per year. Most of the time, parking is allowed in the right hand lane. If you look closely, though, there are signs lining the street informing you that those parked in the right hand lane will be towed if, and only if, it’s a “football Saturday.”
This anecdote reflects as much on the fact that game attendees want to be in bed before 3 a.m. as it does on the pervasiveness of the Buckeyes in the city’s culture, but it’s a necessity that you won’t find in many other American cities.
Around campus on game day, the atmosphere is electrifying (multiply that sentiment five times for a night game and ten times to understand Michigan week). If you’re not outside Eddie George’s when it opens, don’t bother looking for seating. The street is noticeably busier than it is on a regular school day. The Union is packed with alumni, students, children, and school employees. The law school, among other colleges, have tailgates for alumni on their lawns – not just on homecoming weekend. Bars are so full that patios are being used, even if it’s November. The same is true after the games, but the atmosphere after wins differs substantially from the atmosphere after losses.
For example, last season, I left Eddie George’s after watching the Buckeyes’ humiliating loss to the Miami Hurricanes. As I left the bar, I passed a former Buckeye player in tears, being comforted by what looked like his girlfriend (the player will remain nameless for the purposes of this column). As depressing as that night was, the aftermath of the Wisconsin win made up for it. The line at Cane’s was so long that it wrapped around the block and my friends and I had to walk a half a mile before we found a bar we could fit into. Fans were finishing the chant that had started on field after the game. All was well.
One thing I’ve asked myself repeatedly in recent months is why Ohio is so intense about the Buckeyes. It’s likely that there’s no good answer to that question. Ohioans feel an intense devotion to their state, and the University is almost an ambassador. It’s also, well, old. And most of the state’s residents have been, or are close to someone who was, educated or employed by Ohio State at one time or another. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, the Buckeyes have been wildly successful.
Regardless of the reason for the city’s passion, its existence is an excuse for Buckeye fans to make a regular pilgrimage to Columbus. If you’ve never been before, it’s time. The Columbus experience has irrevocably changed my perspective as a fan.
I’ve got my tickets. Do you?