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There’s Nothing Like “The Game” in Columbus

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By Jim Weber

The Ohio State-Michigan game is still four days away and I’m already getting goose bumps.

A Columbus native that attended the University of Michigan, I’ve missed “The Game” in Columbus just three times since 1992 and will be there again on Saturday. As a spectator, I look forward to like it like an athlete looks forward to the Olympics because it is by far the greatest sporting event I’ve ever attended.

Nothing else comes close to the combination of grand spectacle and dystopian anarchy that the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus always is (the atmosphere in Ann Arbor is so tame it’s not even worth comparing). For those who have never witnessed it, I’ll do my best to summarize what I’ve experienced over the last 20 years at the greatest sporting event in America.

There’s more excitement before the Ohio State-Michigan game even starts in Columbus than there is at most sporting events overall.

The tailgates are in full swing by dawn, where Buck Nuts drink themselves into oblivion and heckle Michigan fans with the usual array of “Michigan sucks!”, “F** Michigan!” and “Ann Arbor’s a whore!” Granted, a lot of the heckling I hear is from my dad, a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye fanatic who has had made my life hell each November since I switched sides in the rivalry and took my talents to Ann Arbor in 2000.

While I’ve never experienced anything worse than heckling while tailgating at OSU, there are always the urban legends about cars carrying Michigan license plates getting bashed with baseball bats and people in Michigan apparel getting beat up on campus. Whether they are true or not, I can’t say.

Right when many Ohio State fans become belligerently drunk, 100,000 strong file into The Horseshoe right before high noon with tension pulsing through the frigid November air. Every fan in attendance knows that each team’s season is about to be defined forever in the next three hours.

Once inside the stadium, the atmosphere becomes absolutely electric. There’s the giant scoreboard montage of great Ohio State moments, Buckeye players storming the field, Senior Day introductions and Michigan walking down the tunnel to a chorus of boos full of hate

As someone who used to hate everything about the University of Michigan, I remember the rage I felt every time I saw those winged helmets and heard that damn fight song that reeked of arrogance. To use a phrase from ESPN’s Wright Thompson, the way Ohio State fans feel about Michigan is a “Gothic hate.”

The highlight of the pregame festivities is when “The Best Damn Band in the Land” enters the field in perfectly choreographed precision. When those drums start playing as the rest of the band files in, the hair on the back of your neck stands up no matter how many times you’ve seen and heard it before. I swear Ohio State fans listen to this while smashing their heads through brick walls in the days leading up to “The Game.”

And all this excitement is before the game has even started.

Once the ball is actually kicked off, the stadium is absolutely deafening for three full hours. When things go well for the Buckeyes, the stadium feels like it’s shaking on its very foundation. When things go bad, the obscenities start flying (sample: “Get off the field you p****!” to an injured Wolverine in 2000) and the Michigan band is mercilessly booed and flipped off every time they play “The Victors.” Needless to say, it’s quite the roller-coaster ride of emotions inside “The Horseshoe.”

As for what’s actually taking place on the field, there always seems to be at least one moment that will stick in every fan’s mind forever. Whether that is Tai Streets streaking past a fallen Shawn Springs in 1996, Drew Henson’s fourth-down naked bootleg in 2000, Will Allen’s game-saving interception in 2002 or Antonio Pittman’s mad dash in 2006, this rivalry has a special flair for the dramatic in both Columbus and Ann Arbor (I didn’t even mention the Desmond Howard [1991] and Charles Woodson [‘97] punt returns).

If the Buckeyes lead when the clock finally hits zero, all hell breaks loose.

Half the stadium usually pours onto the field and sets off a city-wide party that features debauchery and riots. The 2002 victory morphed Ohio State’s campus into a scene from a post-Apocalyptic horror movie and a video posted on YouTube detailing the chaos that Saturday now has over 74,000 views on YouTube and led to massive crackdowns by the Columbus Police in subsequent years such as enforcing open-container laws.

And while the last two victories over Michigan in Columbus were anti-climatic because of how bad the Wolverines were, the intensity should be back to a fever pitch on Saturday as it was in ‘02 and ‘06 when Ohio State was playing for a national title.

This game marks “Urban Meyer vs. Brady Hoke I” in what everyone hopes will become the next “Woody vs. Bo.” Both teams are ranked in the Top 20 teams, Ohio State’s perfect 12-0 season is on the line and the Buckeyes haven’t lost in Columbus to Michigan since John Cooper was the coach in 2000.

Needless to say, the atmosphere in Columbus will be the apoplectic and Apocalyptic one I’ve come to know and love over the past 20 years.

Get your popcorn - and your gas mask - ready.

 
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