Three years ago I openly questioned the impact that the move of The Game back to Thanksgiving weekend would have on one of college football's most unique (but perhaps not as well known nationally) traditions, the annual jump into Mirror Lake. Essentially every Ohio State partisan reading this knows precisely what this entails but for those uninitiated, each year, the
Thursday Tuesday leading up to the Michigan game, the student body (and a select few alumni unable to let go) take the plunge into a small, man-made lake in the midst of 30-40 degree weather. There's much imbibing involved, plenty of colds (and flu cases) after the fact, but any lingering regret tends to have little to do with the jump itself.
But this isn't a column to emotionally manipulate you; this isn't an attempt to grandstand, or otherwise make a case to make you feel anything, really. This is merely to audit the health of the tradition. And for those (present company included) who can't possibly forget that shrill cold sensation or the ruckus boozy pep rally that the occasion embodies, this is just to opine as to the state of the tradition. And the state of the tradition is good.
2010 marked a seminal year in the transition of The Game from the week before Thanksgiving to the weekend after. From 1941 to 2009, Ohio State and Michigan played the Saturday before the holiday 53 times. Only 15 times was The Game held Thanksgiving weekend, 2001 being the last prior to the more permanent transition. And therein provided a dilemma. The annual jump into Mirror Lake was held on a Thursday and for it be Thursday from 2010 on would mean that a vast majority of the student body would be away from campus observing Thanksgiving with family and friends.
The instant logical compromise was to shuffle the tradition to Tuesday. In 2001, the students, purportedly without a ton of before the fact coordination, arbitrarily elected to jump the Tuesday folks typically made the pilgrimage home to the rest of the state and beyond. Nothing like taking a cold home to be nursed back to health by mom and dad. But flash forward to 2010 and the not fully unexpected anti-change averse fringe of the students wanted to fight this permanent traditional realignment. As early as the summer before that fall, Facebook groups sprung up prompting some to stand their ground and insist folks continue to jump on Thursday, as was all they'd ever known.
The numbers weren't great enough to provide much worry; word of mouth centered around Tuesday being the logical place to move the celebration, but that a large enough number of people were willing to attempt to buck the momentum and further polarize a fan base and student body in transition prompted some understandable concerns over just how divided the two events would be. The underlying fear being, if too few students went one day (or the other), the chances of future jumps to be approached as enthusiastically would lessen significantly.
Alas, the day came and went without any unordinary events. For those few in the vocal fringe fighting to keep the tradition on a specific day a week, there was last second legal threats to quell any such division. And while yes, the jump is considered trespassing on a year in-year out basis, the only arrests you'll ever hear of will be the result of such outlandish public drunkenness that incarceration was for that individual's own good. The first arrest for doing the jump en masse, as hundreds of students will tonight, will be the first. 2010 went as exactly as those in 2009, 2008, and 2007 did before it, and remains likely to be how it goes for many years to come.
And then something interesting happened May 2nd, 2011. At 11:35 PM EST, President Barack Obama addressed the nation and announced that Navy SEALs had killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. While Will McAvoy was on the air under the influence of Vicodin and pot-cookies, spontaneously, hundreds of students took the lake and immediately jumped in as though it was Michigan week. Whether this was the appropriate response to celebrate the murder of a murderer, we'll leave to a political philosophy class. But the symbolism of the act, if anything, signifies the core place the Mirror Lake Jump has in the consciousness of a student body; something celebratory, be it an event or a week, occurs, you head to where your heart tells you – Mirror Lake.
This to say nothing of the thousands of dollars in damage that occurs to the bottom and periphery of the lake annually (and which the university foots). Or the physical toll it can take on those inspired enough to deem it necessary (as an aside, I can recall two roommates in 2004 getting deathly ill for a week and a half plus following a particularly harrowing plunge). But regardless of everything that goes into it, the jump can and will linger on.
Tonight's forecast: 41 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. Godspeed, Buckeyes.