Staff Picks: College Football Meccas-The Ohio State UniversityPosted: Updated:
By Paul Farnsworth
There are a handful of bucket list destinations for every college football fan and near the top of any list must be Columbus, Ohio. While it is a great city to visit any time of year, Columbus really comes alive during those crisp fall Saturdays. In my previous article about college football, I laid out many of the reasons that the college football is vastly superior to the NFL. One of those reasons is tradition, and nowhere is tradition more on display than in Columbus.
Columbus not a typical “college town” in that it has the 14th-largest population in the U.S. and is home to several Fortune 500 companies such as Nationwide, American Electric Power, and L Brands (think Victoria’s Secret). Columbus is also home to perhaps the best zoo on the planet, world class golf, and the NHL’s Blue Jackets. But it is a “college town” like in that it’s The Ohio State University that drives this community…and it’s the football team that has the hearts of the entire Buckeye state.
The Buckeyes have been playing football along the banks of the Olentangy River since 1890 and have won eight national championships. Since 1922, the team has played in Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe (from its original design). Nearly 105,000 people jam into the historic building making it the third largest football stadium in the country.
Anyone born in Ohio is automatically a “Buckeye.” A Buckeye is actually is a nut from the Aesculus glabra tree species and looks like a horse chestnut. Fans will wear lucky necklaces made from the nuts and the team’s mascot, Brutus Buckeye, wears a costume dominated by a big nut for a head. So, while the real buckeye nut is poisonous, the candy version is made from a peanut butter fudge partially dipped in chocolate to leave a circle of peanut butter visible.
The buckeye leaf can also be found in another great college tradition. Ohio State started the custom of putting decals on helmets as a reward to players for making great plays and team accomplishments. By the end of a season, player’s helmets with be covered in coveted buckeye leaf stickers.
So now that you know what a buckeye is, you need to know is how to speak “Buckeye.” Order a “pop” instead of a soda. When greeting another person, it is customary to give a hearty “O-H” to which and even louder “I-O” is expected. Hand and arms signals spelling out O-H-I-O are optional. A welcome or goodbye of “Go Bucks” is also always appreciated. Importantly, when saying the name of the University, you must also call it THE (pronounced thee) Ohio State University. In fact, the word THE is so popular, the university’s requested to trademark the word in conjunction with the university’s name on items such as T-shirts, baseball caps and hats.
Understanding Ohio State football also means understanding the rivalry with university directly north of Ohio’s border. Never, ever utter the name of the state that rhymes with Fishagain. They are only to be referred to as “That state up north” or tSUN. In fact, the use of the letter M is discouraged during the week of “The Game.” Across campus, tape is used to put an "X" over every letter M.
Since 1934, a victory over the team up north earns players and coaches a miniature gold charm depicting a pair of football pants. The tradition began as the result after head coach Francis Schmidt declared that the Wolverines “Put their pants on one leg at a time, the same as we do!" The feeling Buckeyes have for their rival can be summed up in the lyrics of a crowd favorite “We don’t give a damn for the whole state of *ichigan.” Accordingly, it is never wise, at any time of year, to dress in the maize and blue colors of the rival. Always dress in a combination scarlet and gray. Virtually every store in Columbus that sells clothes will have some sort of proper game day gear for Buckeyes fans.
Getting to Columbus is easy from the New York City area. It’s about a 9-10 hour drive or a short 1 hour and 45-minute flight. Plan on arriving on a Friday, get settled into one of the many downtown hotels (book way in advance for a home football weekend), and get set to enjoy the Columbus nightlife. I am all about cheap, good eats and places with plenty of local atmosphere so Thurman's Café is one of my favorites. It’s home to the “Thurmanator” a monstrosity of a burger that has been featured on numerous TV shows and on the Food Network.
Also, the historic German Village is home to some fantastic restaurants, headlined by Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant. With a live oompah band, you will think you are in the heart of Octoberfest. Save room for one of Schmidt’s HUGE cream puffs. For pizza lovers, Tommy’s on the OSU campus is a Columbus tradition. The Short North strip and the Arena District both have dozens of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that keep the party rocking well into the night.
Some schools may be able to match the intensity of the Ohio State fans, but very few, if any, can exceed it. People start tailgating days in advance of a home game. Parking lots surrounding the stadium will be jammed with RVs and SUVs with elaborate set-ups including grills, cornhole and beer-pong tables, satellite TVs, and Buckeye flags flying high. Restaurants and bars will be packed across the state with people wearing their scarlet and gray gear. Near the stadium, the Varsity Club and the Little Bar are just two bars where thousands of people will be rocking to live bands before and after the game. There will also be thousands of people at house parties in the neighborhoods near campus. While there may only be 105,000 people in the stadium, there is probably a couple hundred thousand people outside the stadium viewing the game on huge big screen TVs at tailgates and watch parties.
My recommended plan for gameday is to arrive on campus at least four hours before kickoff. I like to check out stores like Conrad’s and College Traditions for the latest in Buckeye gear. I also like to have a couple cold adult beverages and enjoy the music and food at the massive tailgate parties along Lane Avenue. Other cool on-campus spots include the Jack Nicklaus Museum (sorry Tiger Woods, this Buckeye is still the greatest golfer of all-time) and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, which houses trophies and memorabilia from the Buckeyes eight national championships, 37 Big Ten Crowns, seven Heisman trophy winners, and hundreds of players in the NFL. Approximately two hours before kickoff, head over to St. John Arena next to Ohio Stadium and watch the Skull Session pep rally.
The Skull Session is one of the many great traditions of The Ohio State Marching band, often referred to as "The Best Damn Band In The Land" or by the acronym TBDBITL. The TBDBITL will fire up the crowd with rousing renditions of fight songs such as ‘Across the Field’ and ‘Buckeye Battle Cry.’ ‘Hang on Sloopy’ is another fan favorite and is now the official state rock song…a fan must know when to make the right time to shout out and make the O-H-I-O arm signals during the song.
Other highlights of the Skull Session is that the football team will stop by on their walk to the stadium, and a coach or player will give an inspirational speech. After the Skull Session, you have time to go visit the Buckeye Grove where a buckeye tree is planted for every player who named a First Team All-America. You want to be in your seat by the time the TBDBITL take the field with its impressive ramp entrance. Since 1936, the pregame show is a must see as the band performs Script Ohio, in which the musicians march to ‘Le Regiment’ and spell out the word Ohio, culminating with a sousaphone player “dotting” the I. The band’s halftime shows have become the stuff of legend and hardly anyone will leave their seats until the other school’s band starts to play.
Another tradition maybe the band’s best one. The fan experience at Ohio Stadium is not complete until the team gathers in the endzone after the game and sings along as TBDBITL plays the school alma mater “Carmen Ohio.” It is a moment where you will see tears in the eyes of many Buckeye fans.
The most impressive thing about the gameday experience in Columbus is that virtually everyone in the city, and state for that matter, has an interest in the game. Check-out clerks at supermarkets will be wearing Buckeye gear, your hotel will be teeming with fans traveling in for the game, houses on virtually every street will be proudly flying their Buckeye flags. The state has many other professional and collegiate teams but The Oho State Buckeyes are the one thing that unites the entire state.
All photos courtesy of Paul Farnsworth.
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