It was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” and I didn’t have a way into Ohio Stadium.
Instead of searching for ridiculously priced tickets, I decided to test the hospitality of Ohio State’s student body and the city of Columbus.
In the week leading up to the game, I had to come to terms with my inability to get into the biggest venue during my time at Michigan. Once I accepted my fate, the journalist in me thought it best to write a story about being a Michigan fan in Buckeye land.
It all started when Dean of Students Sue Eklund sent out an e-mail to the University’s student body warning it of the dangers of the streets of Columbus.
I also heard horror stories from some of my friends about the ferocity of Buckeye fans.
With that in mind, I checked out area hospitals to make sure they had wireless Internet so I could still file a story while recovering from the beating I expected to receive from Buckeye fans.
But even though my friends forewarned me, it was Eklund’s e-mail that instilled the most fear. The checklist read like a caution label on hydrochloric acid. Needless to say, I felt a little nervous about my original idea to wear a Chad Henne jersey and wander around Columbus before the game.
Still, Eklund’s advice to steer clear of High Street – the most heavily trafficked street in Columbus – made me want to walk down it even more.
So, after I left my friend at Gate 36 of Ohio Stadium, my adventure began.
Dressed in a Henne away jersey on top of a blue long-sleeved T-shirt and a Michigan throw towel, I set out for the infamous High Street.
To that point, I hadn’t seen or heard much trash-talking, mostly because I went to the Wolverine tailgate in the Fawcett Center. On my way out of the building, a Buckeye fan warned me not to carry a beer can outside because the police were handing out MIPs to underage Michigan fans carrying open containers. I thanked him for his advice, but told him the can in my hand was just Diet Coke.
Then, just outside the Fawcett Center, I witnessed the official Ohio State effort to promote sportsmanship between fans. A girl handed me a pin to encourage friendliness between the rival fans.
Armed with my pin, I ventured out to High Street, only to find that some sporting scarlet and gray had not gotten the message. I passed by a parking structure, and the verbal abuse that would come to define the next few hours of my life began. From their perch in the third story of the parking garage, Ohio State fans let loose with a string of “Chad Henne is gay” and “Chad Henne is a douche bag.” Encouraged by the friendly banter, I waved my arms up and down beckoning for more, only to find they lacked the mental capacity to muster a different taunt.
As I finally took my first steps onto High Street, I was filled with a sense of pride. I had defied Eklund’s advice. And for all the hype surrounding the Buckeye fans, they were quite tame compared to what I expected.
No one spit on me, though one guy stopped walking behind me because he didn’t want anyone to hit him with friendly fire saliva. No one threw a punch at me. And no one bothered to follow me for more than a block, except for two drunk middle-aged men who sang “I don’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan” repeatedly as they walked behind me.
For the most part, I took the insults in stride. Buckeye fans had the right to make me as uncomfortable as possible in their territory. But one moment sticks out most clearly in my mind as the lowest and most disrespectful.
It happened as I reached the intersection of High Street and Lane Avenue. Forced to weave my way through a scarlet sea, one Ohio State fan noticed my jersey and voiced his opinion of me.
First, he let loose a “Fuck you.” But that wasn’t the maddening part. He then glanced at my Bo Schembechler ribbon, shouted “And fuck Bo” and ripped the ribbon right off my jersey. Shocked by the utter disrespect for the legendary coach who died just more than 24 hours earlier, I walked away before the situation escalated.
I continued to walk around the campus, and as game time drew closer, I realized I had survived the afternoon without a significant incident. The Ohio State fans did more to welcome me to Columbus then to degrade me – other than the occasional “only gay guys walk alone.”
Some were even classy and cordial in their dialogue with me. An elderly couple made it a point to explain that not all Buckeye fans were like the one who had just called me an asshole from across the street. The two wished me a pleasant stay in the city.
At halftime, I walked over to McDonalds on High Street where I met a belligerent father who had come to visit his freshman son. After telling me I sucked, he then stood and hugged me while proclaiming his love for me. Following the embrace, he had his wife take a picture of the two of us.
During the game, I stood outside Ohio Stadium and watched the contest on the JumboTron. There, I saw the police force out in full. Watching 30 officers bike past and ranks of cops walking into the stadium, you knew they were preparing for a riot. But I didn’t feel like I would need them to protect me. A Buckeye fan standing near me expressed his condolences on the loss of Bo and his hatred for me in the same breath. Another Ohio State supporter explained that while we may be enemies on the football field, we’re still human beings outside the rivalry.
Fun memories of the day were swept away when Ohio State’s Antonio Pittman rushed for a first down on third-and-one to effectively seal the Buckeye win.
At that point, all the insults, boos and jeering rushed back into my head.
And what’s worse – they all rang true.
I had no more comebacks. I just had to deal with the smiling Buckeye fans filing out of the stadium with pieces of turf over their shoulders, telling me to have fun in the Rose Bowl.
– Wright has plenty more stories from his pre-game walk around Columbus that aren’t appropriate for print. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.