Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with Ohio State Football Fans

February 12, 2010

Several years ago I started a small business with a fellow that I had worked with for many years at another company. We are both huge sportsaholics. I’m a southerner and grew up in and around  Atlanta and had parents and other family members that graduated from the University of Alabama. This made me a fan of the Atlanta pro sports teams and all Alabama sports teams, especially the football team. My business partner grew up in the Columbus, Ohio area and had many family members that graduated from Ohio State. Neither of us graduated from our respective rooting interests, opting instead to get our degrees elsewhere (another story for another day, perhaps).

My business partner, unlike myself,  has a relatively low-key personality. He’s passionate about his team, but typically not all that outspoken, unless prodded. I, on the other hand, have never had any compunction about expressing my love for all things Crimson Tide-related.

For most of the past decade, Ohio State’s football program has enjoyed a good deal of success. Their head coach, Jim Tressel, was hired after the 2001 season. Ohio State fans had enjoyed some success since Woody Hayes left the program in 1978, but neither Hayes’ successor, Earle Bruce, nor Bruce’s successor, John Cooper, ever lived up to the legend of Hayes himself. Tressel wasted little time in bringing Buckeye fans back to the promised land, winning a National Championship in his first full season as head coach in 2002. Little wonder, then, that he has been deified and put on the highest possible pedestal since then.

Conversely, Alabama’s program went through almost every imaginable form of hell: probation, recruiting scandal, coaching changes, and so on. But moreover, there were the losses. Lots and lots of losses.

While the Crimson Tide has won each of the three times these two teams have met on the gridiron, those memories were distant during the 2000s, as Ohio State stayed around the rarefied air of the top of the rankings, while Alabama was doing its best just to appear in bowl games on an annual basis. The two programs were miles apart in terms of the paths they were on.

Growing up in the 1970s, I knew nothing of such fallow periods. Alabama routinely won the SEC championship in that decade and was three times crowned the national champion. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy watching other programs enjoy significant success while my precious boys in crimson mostly struggled during the decade that just passed. Yes, of course the decade ended in glorious fashion, with the huge win over Texas that brought yet another championship to Tuscaloosa, but it was a long and arduous journey.

As for Ohio State fans, something happened to the whole lot of them during the decade of the 2000s. Sports fans are always passionate. As most of us know, the name fan is short for “fanatic”, so it’s easy to explain why so many of these people can act a bit crazy from time to time as they express their love for their respective teams. But somehow, Ohio State fans are different.

I have spent an enormous amount of time with fans of Notre Dame football. Notre Dame probably enjoys more widespread support from coast to coast in the U.S. than any other college program. Many Catholics are fans even if neither they nor any of their family members ever even attended the school.  And with the history of that school, with the “Gipper”, the four Horsemen, the Heisman winners, the scores of national championships, and so on, one would think that if any school’s fan base would be considered arrogant, it would be the fans of the Fighting Irish.

Let me tell you something. Notre Dame fans pale in arrogance to the fans of Ohio State.

I have spent an enormous amount of time thinking it over, but I do not understand it. yes, the Buckeyes brought home the championship in 2002, and have won more than a handful of Big Ten championships since then, but they have also been subjected to horrifically bad back-to-back losses in the championship games after the 2006 and 2007 seasons. They have lost marquis games in back-to-back seasons to USC. Outside of their recent Rose Bowl win, there have been precious few big wins to cheer about in Columbus.

But I confess to being about as perplexed as the Grinch on Christmas morning when he heard all of the Whos singing. This string of embarrassment has not tempered their arrogance one iota. If anything, Buckeye fans have found they have been able to strengthen their resolve to be arrogant even more. If you visit an Ohio State fan website at virtually any time of year, you wouldn’t have to muddle through many comments or articles to find the latest prognostication for another national championship in the upcoming season. Yet their ballyhooed quarterback, an incredibly cocky kid named Terrelle Pryor, hasn’t begun to live up to the hype that has followed him since he graduated from high school two years ago. The team has suffered losses to lowly teams such as Purdue. No matter. Talk to an Ohio State fan and they will tell you they cannot imagine there is any chance their team could lose a game during the 2010 season. This, they will tell you, is the year. Of course, every year is the year when you’re a Buckeye fan.

This goes way beyond normal fandom. It goes way beyond the support that any team’s supporters can usually muster up. It is, in fact, the sort of delusional can-do-no-wrong sort of blind faith that is often seen with sycophantic political supporters.

And I just don’t get it. At least the Grinch had his heart grow three sizes, he saw the meaning of Christmas, and so on. I, on the other hand, continue to puzzle this. My puzzler can’t seem to find the answer.

There’s one thing that can make this whole thing better. One thing that may not solve the riddle of the Buckeye arrogance. But a thing that will make me forget about it, if only for a while. Ohio State fans believe their team is going to make it back to the championship game after this coming season. The most likely opponent? Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Oh please. If there is a God…