The Horseshoe Road trip

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It’s called the greatest rivalry in all of sport: Michigan-Ohio St. When other rivalry games took place this Saturday, they had clever nicknames like Holy War, Civil War, Apple Cup, Iron Bowl or Texas State Championship. This one is simply called “the Game,” and it is so big HBO produced an excellent documentary on its history that includes state militias nearly coming to violence in the Toledo Strip in the 19th century. Because if there is a Holy Land worth squabbling over- it’s Toledo, Ohio. Now I didn’t attend this prestigious rivalry game when I visited Ohio Stadium in 1999, but it had direct consequence on the game that I was in the press box for. My first road assignment for the Daily Illini saw an unranked Illinois team throttle #25 46-20, largely because OSU was looking ahead to their big game with Michigan.

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Accompanying me on this Illini Media Company road trip was a current television reporter for the Fox affiliate in Indianapolis. I ran into him on assignment last winter after the Indiana-Kelvin Sampson debacle, where and he told me that to this day he’s never had an actual date in his life. I’m not making this up, I swear. A grad student photographer from Taiwan who barely spoke any English was also with us, so basically when I went to the on-campus house parties the Friday night before, I had in wingmen what Northwestern has in March Madness success: nothing.

Back then I had a silver Mustang GT, so I of course got pulled over twice (yet let off with little more than a warning both times) despite being passed by plenty of cars on the interstate into Columbus.

The plethora of Waffle Houses in Ohio made me realize that I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line somewhere. In the Yankee territory where I come from, we have IHOPs instead.  Cincinnati really sucks when compared to the capital city of Columbus (pop. 891,000). They have an ‘arena district’ and boast the most beautiful football stadium in the country, OSU’s Ohio Stadium commonly referred to as ‘the horseshoe.’ I guess I just felt at home here, because…in the words of Ohio St. frat rock band O.A.R.

There’s a road outside of Columbus, Ohio.
Feels like I drove along for year.
This Midwest way of ease it surrounds us.
I cannot deny the rhythm here.

–Road Outside Columbus, O.A.R.

Circus Columbus

What strikes you first about Ohio Stadium is the south entrance with a grand cupola and roof that is a dead ringer for the pantheon in Rome. The walls of this secular shrine are decorated with stained glass brandishing a grey and scarlet letter “O” (as opposed to a scarlet letter “A”). The second architectural trait you’ll notice about the horseshoe is the Roman style collonade on the exterior of the East and West main stands. You can truly refer to this place as “neoclassical” without sounding like a condescending Oxford scholar on a History Channel documentary. The amazing architecture combines with the storied history of the program and a riverside setting to make it one of the best places in the nation to see a college football game.

Upon pulling into the horeshoe parking lot, my partner in crime, “Hawleycats” was his nickname, decided to blast the Illini war chant out the car windows. A post middle-aged, but not quite yet elderly man approached us when we parked and threw a bunch of objects into my car. The objects were actual buckeyes (locally grown nuts). I wish he threw Reese’s style peanut butter and chocolate Buckeye candies at us instead because those are my preferred local delicacy. Coincidentally, Hawleycats actually found me on Facebook the night before I typed this; and when I brought this incident up, he wrote that he still has the buckeye on my Facebook wall. The jolly buckeye man was still out there tailgating when we returned after the game and said check out the note I left on your windshield. It read “win your bowl game.” This game took place during the days of Michael Wiley, Jonathan Wells (they seem to be good at recruiting star tailbacks with the last name Wells), Andy Katzenmoyer and wide-outs with super awesome names like Reggie Germany and Kenyon Rambo. And people actually wear their replica jerseys out all over campus the night before games; unlike at Illinois.


I’m a troublemaker, never been a faker.

The old press box was arranged in such a way that my seat put me across the glass from a man with Steve Perry from Journey style mullet although this was not “80s day” at the stadium, and I doubt he was trying to be retro. When Illinois blocked a punt, he extended both middle fingers and pounded backward on the glass in front of me. Hawleycats turned to me and said, “How did he know you were representing the Illini?” Seriously, did this guy know press box seating assignments? And that my spot is reserved for opposing teams’ student media? Or did he just have some sort of asshole reverse radar? He did it again when Ohio St. scored a touchdown. Hey buddy, is flicking me off to taunt good plays by Ohio St? Or to vent frustration over a great play by Illinois? What would have happened on a pedestrian three-yard run? Luckily, he disappeared after the second quarter. Good because he ruined my view of a tradition that defines OSU football and an example of college football pageantry at its finest: the scripting of Ohio. The other tradition synonymous with Buckeye ball is the playing of the McCoys “Hang on Sloopy” throughout the game. There’s a bar called Sloopy’s on campus, and I gave props to it in my Daily Illini postgame write-up “because of their sloppy play on Saturday (5 turnovers) the Buckeyes are barely hanging on to postseason possibilities.” Dope rhymes, I know.


Party like its 1999 (oh, wait it actually was).

Another way in which OSU’s campus was superior to my home was the fact that all house parties were free. They never asked you who you know or for the standard issue $3 (more exclusive parties in Champaign-Urbana charged $5). You could just walk right in. Sometimes I could get into parties during my undergrad days by talking about Kurt Kittner or Brian Cook instead, being a sports campus on a  My other ace-in-the-hole was the fact that I usually went out with two close female friends, one of which had humongous breasts. Having a close female friend with huge breasts is like wearing an all-access media credential or possessing the ultimate backstage pass: you can pretty much go wherever you want.

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The most popular bars are on High Street, and one of them featured a “Booty Shaking Contest” set to Juvenile’s “Back Dat Azz Up,” one of the most popular songs at the time and also the walk-up music of my favorite White Sox player Ray Durham. A couple students at this bar brought their video cameras out for this. Classic stuff. Shake your booty like current Buffalo Bill and former Buckeye CB Ashton Youboty. Other campus favorite spots include that place with fried pickles and Eddie George’s sports bar and restaurant.


Across the Field

The game I attended was the final one prior to the renovation. The Illini tore up the buckeyes on the field, and then the fans ran onto the field to tear it up literally. In this “Sid game” the fullback screen pass combination of Kurt Kittner to Jameel Cook was lethal. How many times do you see a FB for 120 receiving yards? I joined the fans in ripping up end-zone and midfield grass as keepsakes. Other fans ran on to the turf to make “grass angels.”

OSU’s hated rival Michigan was first in average home attendance in 2007 at 110,264; the buckeyes were third at 105,110, Penn State was second with 108,917. That’s right, the Big Ten, NOT the SEC, has the top three. Take that CBS Sports.com columnist and author of Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference.” Clay Travis.

When I first heard about the Ohio Stadium cake and its gargantuan size, I was like “wow Jabba the Hut could have that for desert. Actually it’s bigger than that; maybe Rush Limbaugh would have it as dessert. Perhaps that leaf in the Buckeyes logo really is a pot leaf after all, because the creators of the Ohio Stadium cake probably had the munchies from being stoned. Truth be told, it’s for a good cause. The first Ohio Stadium Cake was constructed in 1991; and since then, the 200-plus pound cake has been constructed for display at one Ohio State home football game each year. In its third year, the cake’s creators began using the cake to raise funds for Ohio State’s general need-based academic scholarships. In 1999, the creators established the Stadium Cake Scholarship Fund, and it was permanently endowed by Ohio State’s Board of Trustees on November 5, 2004.


Hatred is the path to the Dark Side

Michigan may be the winningest program in college football history, but their series lead against OSU is just 57-41-6. The Buckeyes have one of the most storied programs in history producing 7 national championships, 32 Big Ten conference championships, 345 All-Big Ten selections, 181 All-Americans and 7 Heisman trophy winners. Perhaps the most moving portion of that HBO documentary on the OSU-Michigan rivalry that I alluded to earlier was the final segment highlighting how beneath all the dramatic acrimony between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, was a deep, powerful mutual respect and friendship. They were intense bitter rivals that likely had a bromance underneath it all. Who better to understand your complexities as a person than…yourself, someone who shares your intensity and focus? It’s like when you get to the end of the old Nintendo game Zelda II: the Adventure of Link and the last creature you must fight is your shadow: and it knows exactly where you’re going to place your sword and shield. And I just made the dorkiest analogy ever on TSB.

Being an Illinois undergrad who did his first semester of graduate school at Michigan State, I only speak of Michigan vitriol. And since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I kind of like the Scarlet and Grey. And yes, OSU is a power in their own right that doesn’t need definition by opposition to the Wolverines. However, they do Wolverine bashing the best because like the song says they “don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan.  The whole state of Michigan.”

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Comments

  1. I thought the Shoe was overrated when I covered their game against the Badgers last year… crowd seemed to take things for granted too much… though they did serve McFlurries in the press box… true story

  2. The Statue of Harold Baines says:

    McFlurries in the press box…nice. most football stadiums are the same architecturally, not like the uniqueness of baseball stadiums, so when football shrines do have nuance, its pretty cool

  3. paulmbanks says:

    Dave, you have to admit that the Shoe is a lot more impressive than Camp Randall or Michigan Stadium?

  4. that O-H-I-O Jesus pic is priceless

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