Road Trip: Warning! Columbus, Ohio

You've heard the rumors. Profanity-laced tirades, showers of beer, bottle throwing.Notre Dame 1995. Michigan 2002 (and every year?). Texas 2005. You call your colleague to verify it's better now, but . . . USC 2009: beer showers and profanity. The home crowd at Ohio Stadium has earned an ugly reputation.

And yet? We could only just have had a nicer reception than we received. Ok, so it wasn't quite "Welcome to Ohio State, good luck," a la my first visit to Notre Dame wearing the opponent's colors, but it wasn't far off.

Maybe it was because we all wear the same color? Maybe OSU doesn't fear us (most of their fans seem to respect our program)? maybe we were well-behaved and gracious so they returned the favor? Whatever the reason, other than a mild comment at the gas station in Dayton and some mild (and deserved) post-game ribbing more associated with my own stone hands, the home crowd was gracious and welcoming.

From the walk across the Olentangy river to the woman on the jet way also returning home through DFW, our interaction with fans of the Ohio State University was universally positive.

We got the rain out of the way on Friday, which provided a muni golf course in Dayton to us all to ourselves. Saturday began with a beautiful, crisp fall day in the Midwest. Partly cloudy, sunny, and alternately warm and slightly chilly depeneding on whether the sun was behind a cloud.

We began the day with the drive into Columbus on I-70. We listened to Jim Tressel graciously dealing with callers looking for retribution against Jay Valai ("we can't spare any energy to waste on that; we need to go play a solid, fundamentally sound football game.") and questioning the team's fashion ("if brining gray sleeves back is really all we'll need to win those BCS games, I'll take a look into it!"). We arrived at our hotel at Capitol Square in time to watch the Badger players stroll through the lobby on their way to the game.

Then we caught a cab down to campus. Not wanting to get stuck in traffic, the cabbie dropped us off on the north side of the Schott. That gave us a chance to walk through some tailgating. We crossed the Lane Avenue and walked over to Woody Hayes Drive to cross the Olentangy over to the hulking north side of Ohio Stadium with its dome edifice.

The Tailgate:
Within a few minutes we reached our gracious hostess on the phone who guided us past the old basketball stadium to her Ford Expedition parked at the base of the Lane Avenue Bridge still on the stadium side of the river. While we helped her set up some tables and food (lots of food!), her father returned with appropriate technical support and the missing coax cable to get the satellite dish and TV up and running.

Under a Buckeye tent, beers in hand, and grill heating up, we settled into the Georgia @ Tennessee game. A party of four, fresh in from New York and decked out in Buckeye paraphenalia, arrived, introduced themselves, and added a bunch of beer and food to the already overstocked tables.

Over the next few hours (and beers) several more internet friends from the CFN Big Ten message board joined in the fun bringing along their guests. While everyone brought a nice contribution of beer, soda, and/or food, I cannot say enough about our hostess's hospitality. She and her dad provided brats, burgers, chips, potato salad, all the fixings, sweets, beer, an HD TV on a satellite feed, a shady tent, a lovely smile, and a welcoming attitude all to a bunch of strangers she "knows" from the internet.

You always wonder how such a meeting will go. Having never laid eyes on these internet personalities, you wonder what they will be like in person. Will you have anything to talk about? Will your non-CFN friends who don't know "the Board" and its personalities feel like outcasts? Will it all be very awkward?

As with CFN-inspired meetings past, this event once again fulfilled my high opinion of our little online community. In addition to our lovely hostess, every guest added something. We chatted, ate, watched football, drank (a little), laughed, and all got along very well. Not just well, but "next year in Madison" well.

After two-and-a-half quick hours, we were having too much fun to make it to the nearby "skull sessions," though I'm sure they would have been great. Despite the time we were having, my non-CFN friend and I decided to take a stroll around the campus to get a little feel for the place. What we saw reminded us of college in the Midwest. Nice old brick buildings with some gothic flair mixed with more modern [as usual, science] buildings and a scattering of drab 60s builds that probably everyone Midwest wide would love to see replaced.

Throughout our walk there was nary a nasty comment from the Ohio State fans. To the contrary, we received several well-wishes and welcomes. Returning to the tailgate after our stroll, we had time for a final bite and last pre-game beer before filing into the stadium for the main event.

The Show at the Shoe:
We walked up the stairs to the visiting section in the north-east corner of the Shoe (up diagonally from the "E" in the "Ohio State" end zone). Just walking around the Shoe is impressive. It is a giant and imposing tribute to one of college football's elites. Inside is no different. Emerging from the tunnel, the height and steep angles of the stadium are imposing. We climbed the steepest stadium steps I've ever walked to get to our towering seats.

As we walked through the tunnel out to Section 8C, TBDBITL emerged from their own tunnel, well below us and to our right. They whipped the crowd up with the Buckeye Battle Cry before the obligatory playing of the opponent's fight song, frankly, the oddest sounding rendition of On Wisconsin that I can recall (while forming a well-done Motion W on the field). Then Carmen Ohio before performing script Ohio, which just looks cool. I'm sure the sousaphone player who dotted the "i" loved doing it, and it was cool to see, but I was a little surprised at how understated it was, and how quickly it passed.

The school's Army, Navy, and Air Force cadets ran up a giant American flag for the national anthem, and as they say in baseball, "play ball!"

The Game:
I wrote more here, but I should add a couple of things. First, I held my head high at the end. There are blowouts where one team completely outclasses the other. Then there are blowouts where one team was better, but the final score resulted from a handful of unfortunate plays rather than a game-long domination in all phases of the game. This was the latter kind.

The Badgers can't make the mistakes Ohio State forced them to make and still survive against such a good team. Nonetheless, this young team can build from the experience and especially the defense can point to things they did very well.

Buckeye fans need to remember that in the first half, with the game still in doubt, Pryor led them 88 yards in just over a minute to take the lead and retake the momentum that Wisconsin had steadily built. The next time he touched the ball, the game was decided and it would have been irresponsible for Tressel to allow Pryor to air it out when nothing good could come of it, and plenty bad could. He's a work in progress. He's shaky (as I said before the game), but he didn't take a meaningful snap in the second half, so don't worry too much.

The crowd was solid throughout, though never really got deafeningly loud. Had the tight game that defined the first half carried through the second half, surely the crowd would have turned the volume up to 11, but as it was 9.5 was fine.

After the beat down, we trudged back to the tailgate to help break down. We had a few more, and watched the first quarter of the Michigan/Iowa tilt. With the parking lot clearing out, we had time for a random toss-around of the old pigskin, where I flashed my stone hands, and took a little mild ribbing from some less-than-sober tailgaters nearby. It certainly wasn't nasty, and it was appropriate to compare my lack of skill to the Badgers given the outcome of the game.

We got everything more or less wrapped up and jumped in a cab to hit our post-game spot. On the way to German Village we had quite the colloquy with our east-African cab driver about whether we were headed to Blanks or Planks (imagine "who's on first"), which resulted in him hitting a traffic cone before he got his eyes back on the road (lesson: always wear your seatbelt in a cab!). It didn't do any damage, and my friend's sharp eyes caught Planks on South High before we rocketed too far past.

It was a solid end to the evening as we consumed plenty more, watched Florida beat LSU back, and Iowa hold off Michigan. Things slowly petered out and after last call our hostess gave us a lift back to our hotel to end the evening.

In the elevator on the way up to our room my friend turned to me and said, "that was a perfect day." And it was. Well, except for the Badgers losing. A few more beers (God only knows why), and we called it a night.

On Wisconsin!

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