When I moved to Columbus 22 years ago, I learned something key: In the land of Ohio State football, one either bleeds scarlet and gray or goes home. I found out about this thing called “tailgating,” where people set up compact parking lot parties and eat toothpicked meatballs out of contraptions called “crock pots.” I began wearing necklaces fashioned out of poisonous nuts, and obediently matched every bellowed “O-H!” with an equally boisterous “I-O!” But after attending the season opening Buckeye game against Miami University (Ohio) on Saturday, I learned that some of OSU football’s most memorable moments happen between plays.
1. Urban Meyer is a big deal. Like, bigger than Santa Claus, President Obama, and Lady Gaga combined. I had a hunch this was the case, but when our new coach jogged onto the field for the first time, I thought all 105,039 of us at Ohio Stadium had enough emotional voltage to power Cedar Point for a year.
2. The raising and lowering of the American flag, heroically performed by Ohio military personnel, is an unbelievably profound and respectful ceremonial ritual. This was the first time I got to see it up close, and I’ll never forget it.
3. Touchdown push-ups, also executed by local members of the U.S. Military, are crazy impressive. I can’t even do one push-up, so the 252 they did after we beat the Red Hawks 56-10 blew my freaking mind.
4. The Ohio State Marching Band, a.k.a. The Best Damn Band In The Land, plays opponents’ fight songs in their honor. At the end of the game, after the crowd left and a few stragglers were hanging on, TBDBITL marched in formation at the middle of the field and played Miami’s fight song in front of the visiting band. I may have fought back a tear.
5. After home games, spectators can stand by the southeast gates of the stadium to catch a glimpse of star players exiting the building. When I got wind of this, I made the hubs wait with me for an hour so I could see Braxton Miller in person for 8.4 seconds. We also saw more armed servicemen and women, who were chatting with and posing for photographs alongside top players. OSU Athletics has a program that helps military personnel meet members of the team. We talked to one of them who is being deployed this week and was thrilled to have that experience.
Although Ohio State fans are sometimes nuts, what happens just off the field can underlie the purest meaning of sportsmanship.