Since this immediately follows the most scarlet and gray week in Ohio history I thought I’d reflect for a moment on how an unsuspecting Michigan-born girl could grow up to become a Buckeye, kind of. *
Yes…it’s provincial, but the annual University of Michigan vs. Ohio State University football game is an impressively big deal here in Columbus, Ohio. In some circles, the Saturday before Thanksgiving is more of a holiday than Thanksgiving itself. People who forget about the importance of this date have been known to turn their weddings into football parties in order to ensure attendance. Really. I’ve attended such a wedding.
Anyhoo…when I was growing up in lovely little East Lansing, Michigan (home of my alma mater, Michigan State University), the laws of the universe held that Duffy Daugherty was the best football coach ever and that OSU coach Woody Hayes was, well, not a good person (to put it diplomatically). Our biggest rival was that other large university in Michigan, followed in approximately equal measure by Notre Dame and Ohio State.
So, my move to Columbus for graduate school was part coming home and part culture shock. The coming home part came from the shared contempt (well, that’s a bit more than what I feel, but we’ll go with the extremes) for all things Maize and Blue. The culture shock part came from a couple of things: 1) having to sign a notarized statement of loyalty to the State of Ohio when I accepted my teaching associate position at OSU (wasn’t I, a Michigan-born person, an enemy of the state by definition?), and 2) the generalized reverence for Woody Hayes and all things Scarlet and Gray that I found upon my arrival in Columbus. I thought I knew a little bit about school spirit from growing up in a college town. Wrongo, buddy. I’m confident that Buckeye fans set the benchmark for college ultra-fandom.
The culture shock moment I remember most vividly is from my first visit to a local arts festival on day 3 or so of my residence here. There were the expected paintings, ceramics (you should stop by for inspiration FCM – they have very nice ceramics), photographs, etc. Much of it was quite nice. And then there was the booth with the Woody Hayes statues. Seriously. Little statues of Coach Hayes, dressed in his typical game-day attire. They didn’t call him iconic for nothing. Made me wonder about this place I’d just moved to.
I still wonder about this place sometimes. My jaw about dropped when I read the letter to the sports editor Sunday morning where someone suggested that the former UM football players who live in Columbus should move back to Michigan. I pray that the writer was being ironic, but it sure didn’t sound that way. The letter included the sentence: “Their presence here after playing for the enemy – Ohio fought a real war against Michigan in the 1800s – is not appreciated.” (The paper wrote an article about standout UM players from Columbus who have moved back home again.) OK, mister, it’s been more than 150 years and the “war” was more like an extended trash talk session. No one died. One guy got stabbed in the leg. I’m pretty sure it’s OK to be over it. There are jerky fans all over, but I’m pretty confident that OSU has a larger number than UM, mostly because the rivalry is much more meaningful to OSU than it is to “that state up north” (a favored term among the truly fanatical; I’m pretty sure it was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s “he who must not be named.”). UM has several major rivalries; OSU focuses on the one.
Most of this weekend was actually a pleasant surprise, though:
[ul]The game was very very good. (At least to a person who watches football maybe twice a year.) Turns out there’s a good reason why the teams are #1 & 2 in the country (or at least why they have just about the same number of points…don’t ask me about that BCS stuff, I just kinda know the rankings…well the top 2 teams, anyway…).
[li]The weather was nice; fall-like but not too cold and not rainy.[/li][li]Everyone was respectful when there was a moment of silence for Bo Schembechler (UM’s coaching legend who died on Friday) at the beginning of the game. (I’d feared there would be a few tacky people who would boo. If there were, you couldn’t hear them on the telecast.)[/li][li]The numbers from the game’s score came up in the lottery Friday night. If you played them in the pick 4 game, you won $5,000.[/li][li]The OSU coach and players remembered to praise the other team first in all of their post-game comments. [/li][li]The vandalism near campus (another aspect of OSU fandom that I’ll never understand) appears to have been much more limited than usual. [/li][li]And the prime example of classy moves from unlikely places: a local punk band that always got together to razz Michigan,The Dead Schembechlers played under that name for the last time on Friday night. Their leader sounded all respectful and non-punklike in announcing the end of their run under that name and extending their condolences to the Schembechler family. I put in two links because the Dispatch switches its articles to subscription pretty quickly. Their website has had too many hits this month to get to it, but when I Googled them, there was even a YouTube video listed.[/ul][/li]
Oh yeah, I was going to tell you how I became a Buckeye. Not actually sure how it happened. Maybe it’s something in the water. There’s a small contingent of people who fight it, but it’s more fun to go with the flow and be amused by the level of enthusiasm. Used to be I’d always root for the Spartans when they played the Buckeyes. Now I just root for whoever happens to have the ball. And I occasionally wear scarlet and gray to work on Fridays. Or my dual-loyalty, red Michigan State sweatshirt.
How is it Monday already…?
*For those of you who are baffled by this talk of scarlet, gray and Buckeyes, a couple of links: ESPN’s North-America-centric sports rivalries list: http://espn.go.com/endofcentury/s/other/bestrivalries.html
Wikipedia’s sports rivalry list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Rivalries . If you click on college athletics, you can see the bazillions of these that exist, primarily in the U.S. (Look under Big 10 for the University of Michigan/Ohio State University listing.)
An account that gives you a good idea of the emotions behind THE GAME (not sure how long it will be accessible): http://www.dispatch.com/football/football.php?story=dispatch/2006/11/19/20061119-A3-02.html
Also, there’s our very own Pit thread .