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Wildcat Fan Diary

In Columbus, there is no separation of church and Ohio State
By NationalChampionsSomeday

Friday, Sept. 26, 2003

Flying scares the hell out of me, and the guy who had planned to come with me from Chicago didn't make it, so Sam Adams was my traveling companion, augmented by two cans of Heineken on the short from Chicago to Cleveland, near the end of which the young flight attendant presented me with plastic Continental wings in recognition of my achievement in making it through the flight. And indeed it was an achievement for me to get through a flight -- in February I got off a plane to Tampa after a crew member said we'd have choppiness.  Pilots are used to turbulence, I figure, so as far as I'm concerned if the pilot says it'll be choppy, that means we're goin' to Disneyland!!

I had part of another beer before the even shorter shorty from Cleveland to Columbus and was still feeling my buzz -- and/or its aftermath -- when I landed in Columbus and got a cab, checked in to the hotel and had the driver take me on to campus, as I had the afternoon to kill before others in my gang arrived. I had planned on having him drop me at the student union, but when I saw the stadium I told him to let me off there. I was walking around it when I saw a big gate wide open. I walked in. No security, no "May I help you, sir?" I walked on in past the concourse to the field. Gave myself a personal tour practically around the stadium walking in the rows of good seats -- even found my way down the ramp to the field level.

Down there I ran into a marketing guy and some guys he was with from Coke. He didn't make me leave, though, and after a few minutes he even indulged a request. Can I touch the field? I asked. I'd really rather you didn't, he said. I just want to be able to say I touched the field, I said.  So he allowed me to quickly dash over and slap the grass behind the end zone that says OHIO STATE. Also during my self-guided tour: You know how they say that college football is a religion in the South? Well, Columbus isn't the South, but I did not know that I would see at Ohio Stadium ... a stained-glass window! I saw the one with the block O in red -- and a quick Internet search showed that that's one of three; they were installed two years ago. After a time the novelty of being there wore off and I was going to make my way out. I walked around again; I saw the Ohio State coaches' locker room and might even have been able to walk in there, but I saw a cop coming toward me and didn't want to push my luck.

I think I was just about to leave when who starts walking in but ... your 2003 Northwestern Wildcats!!! I got to stand there and cheer on my team as they took their look around. I asked Noah Herron for one of those corner-of-the-end-zone TD catches like the one he had against Air Force. I said something to a defender --Colby Clark, I think it could've been -- about not worrying about hitting someone because I noticed the hospital was nearby. I got to talk to Mark Murphy for a minute. As I walked around to the other side I developed a stock line with the players: I pointed to where I'd be sitting in the south end zone, told them to wave to me after they scored tomorrow but NOT to get flagged for excessive celebration. The team wasn't there that long, and I left, too, having achieved status as a groupie in the 'Shoe.

Saturday, Sept. 27
Game Day

It was raining hard when I woke up at 6, having been up until 1 or so talking to some 54-year-old Buckeye guy in the lobby of our hotel, which was adorned with a big GO BUCKS! banner out front, had a big inflatable Brutus in the lobby and was playing the Ohio State fight song, alma mater and "Hang on Sloopy" nonstop over the speaker system. I was downstairs by 6:30. Alone.  Where were the Buckeye fans? I was dressed quite intentionally in fighting attire, hoping the purple would spur the sparring. Didn't get a ton, but I became fond of telling the Buckeye fans that we didn't need all that rain because the whole city would be crying later. "It's a beautiful day for an upset" was another stock line for the morning.  But nothing felonious got started.

In fact, the excitement of the morning was non-game-related.  Imagine my surprise to see walking down the hall at the modest little Fairfield Inn the owner of the New York Yankees.  No kidding, George Steinbrenner, who, incidentally, is a former NU assistant football coach and attended Ohio State.  He didn't graduate but got an honorary doctorate in business admin. in 2002.   No, I have no idea why he would stay at such a hotel. I heard two things, neither of which I can verify: that that's why he's so rich, and/or he owns the hotel. Again, I can verify neither statement, your honors.  But as he was sitting at the table next to ours in the continental breakfast dining room I did get from him a wonderful gift. A great aunt of mine is having an 80th birthday party Saturday in the Twin Cities. She's is a HUGE fan of the Minnesota Twins, who are facing the Yankees in the playoffs. Mr. Steinbrenner more than honored my request when he wrote on a little Fairfield Inn notepad:

To Aunt Marion
May the best team win -- even if it ruins your Birthday party --
(signed) George Steinbrenner

OK, on to the game!!! Again, very little harassment as we made the march to the stadium. We stopped by the alumni association tailgate, where Randy Walker's wife asked if I was the guy at the stadium yesterday. I guess I made an impression, because she said the coaches were talking about it.  (Maybe they were wondering aloud to themselves if Ohio has an anti-stalking law.) I got to talk to Mark Murphy. But the price of the event was $32 and it didn't include alcohol, so we didn't stick around.

We headed for the tailgating scene, where myself and one of the guys with me were in line to use a portable john when someone came by and taped what I guess was a hastily written "PRIVATE" sign on it. So I guess people RENT THEIR OWN TOILETS for tailgates. Wow. Before we entered the stadium I got in maybe my best line of the day. Some guy selling pillows or cushions or something had a microphone and said as we passed him that it would only take Northwestern guys 10 minutes to learn how to use one. Without missing I beat I yelled "Can I take the exam orally?" I'm pretty sure I earned laughs even from the Buckeye partisans around us.

We got into the stadium and wow. I have to be honest: On my walk-around the day before I wasn't all that impressed -- it didn't strike me as any more intimidating, and maybe less, than Camp Randall in Madison. But game day was different. And our end-zone seats weren't nearly as bad as I feared they'd be. We were in row 11 behind the "S" in Buckeyes in the south end zone. There really weren't many 'Cats fans there.  But I did have one enthusiastic guy behind me.

Unsurprisingly, I suppose, there was a body-paint-and-red-wigs contingent not far from me with GO BUCKS! painted letter-by-letter on their chests. I made it a point of getting into it with them early and just about as often as I could. And if I do say so myself I maintained the back-and-forth even as the game started to look like it was getting out of reach. Beginning at halftime or so I kept giving them the four-fingers-up sign for "It's a four-quarter game." We were right next where the visiting team comes out; I gave the 'Cats the same "Four" signal as they headed back to the field for the second half.  Obviously the half didn't turn out how I wanted it to, but that place still was a blast. It was incredibly classy to see Jim Tressel lead his team in the alma mater after the game while they faced their band. Really, really neat. And those guys in body paint? I slapped/shook hands with them before we left.  I even had one of my guys take a picture of me with them.

NationalChampionsSomeday poses with
his new Buckeye buddies.  Photo courtesy of NCS.

We went around to wait for the 'Cats to come out of the locker room, and that's when I made I think my biggest enemy of the weekend. As the team left the field I asked/yelled at Coach Dunbar about throwing downfield (and maybe directing it at Walker, too -- I think he was right there by Dunbar as they left the field.) To be honest it wasn't even a question that occurred to me -- one of the guys in our group raised it. But I asked Coach Dunbar again as he passed me after leaving the locker room. He didn't answer, or it's possible I didn't hear him, and I figured he blew me off as a loudmouth fan. But a few minutes later he came back out and passed me again and asked me if I had watched the game, and that they had tried it on numerous occasions -- I didn't write it down, but I believe "tried it on numerous occasions" is a direct quote. He even said he'd show me the film.  I  think he was irked. I walked with him to the bus and he talked to me more about it.  I don't recall Baz actually making any long throws downfield, and I can't say that Coach Dunbar was saying he did, but he did tell me thay had such plays called during the game.  He also went into football talk, stuff I'm sure no expert about. I won't go into that here. But suffice it to say that our offensive coordinator challenged the notion that he didn't look to throw downfield. I walked away rattled, thinking that as a non-Waterboy layman fan I had made an ass of myself by showing Dunbar how little football sophistication I brought to the party. But apparently others among the Wildcat backers wondered the same thing, so maybe I wasn't off-base.

After that we made our way to High Street, which isn't nearly as impressive or as big a deal as I had thought it would be. Our stay there was short, in fact, just enough time to have lunch at a wings place, and where a cool Buckeye fan came up to us and talked for a few minutes and invoked the name: EvanstonCat. So I guess they know who you are down there, E-Cat. We left the wings place and headed down Lane Avenue, where we encountered the only real hostility of the day. We were labeled "dweebs" once or twice, and of course someone yelled out a label for our group that was based on the assumption that our sexuality differed from that of the majority. I think that was just after we walked past the campus Catholic church.

After a while we came upon a party that goes by the name "Rally at Riverwatch," Riverwatch being some kind of condo tower for students. The party apparently goes on before, during and after the home games. Two of the four of us decided at that point to head to the hotel for a break, but two of us stayed. I was one of them. I was hesitant -- we had just been scorned as we walked the Lane Avenue gauntlet of Buckeye fans, and I feared that maybe the dynamic of a thrash-type band playing could lead to some kind of purple-induced mob behavior. Oh, how wrong I was. We were virtually embraced upon entry. What a good time. Loud music, fans drinking and dancing and football being shown on a screen almost as big as a drive-in movie theater. That party is where I took a picture of a T-shirt, which said on the back "ANN ARBOR IS STILL A WHORE" and on the front showed a devilish Calvin from the comic strip sending an arc of pee onto Ann Arbor as marked on a red state of Michigan.

It's also where some Buckeye fan bought my friend and me each a 24-ounce Coors Light. We stayed there until the party closed down -- a female cop actually put her hand on me to guide me out, not that it was necessary. My friend and I were making our way back to our hotel, aka George Steinbrenner's Columbus hangout, when we came upon a small pocket of fans in a parking lot. We ended up hanging with them for a while, during which time my friend got in a discussion with a woman about school vouchers. Seriously.  In Columbus after the game. We spent quite a while with those folks, one of whom was quite tipsy and said her husband, who was home with the kids, would be pissed because she was supposed to be home two hours ago.

We reassembled back at the hotel and I motivated our group to head to the Varsity Club, for which we had gotten a couple recommendations. That was another good time. As soon as we got out of our cab we noticed the side street adjacent to the bar -- beer cans piled up almost like leaves after a day of raking. One of us estimated the number at 10,000 cans. Some may call that debaucherous; I call it something for Wildcat Alley to aspire to. We had more fun inside the Varsity Club, where the purple sweatshirt again was a bit of an icebreaker.  

I had a fantastic time in Columbus. Just about everyone was fun and cool.  Before I left AstralCat titled a message "I would advise caution." Me, I would advise anyone to make the trip when the 'Cats return in November 2005.


NationalChampionsSomeday, though admitting not to being an X's and O's football expert, is a huge 'Cat fan.  NCS lives with his charming wife and kids in Chicagoland, where he is busy matting and framing all the new restraining orders he's received this fall.

UPDATE! -- Check out NationalChampionsSomeday's account of the 2004 Michigan and Ohio State games!