Simply the best. - Getty Images
The Ohio State game day experience is in many ways what you're accustomed to when visualizing many of the other super powers in the sport's respective undertakings. Chomping at the bit super fans and passioned but more casual devotees alike gathering under the same Midwest sun partaking in the region's cuisine, enjoying spirits, playing games, taking in the rest of the day's best action, all the while convincing one another that there's no question the home team will prove triumphant when the clock hits zeroes across the board.
Alas, it's also many of those same things that make it uniquely Ohio State. Tailgating and pre-gaming may be merely tailgating and pre-gaming to the uninitiated, but when some three hundred thousand gather in and around the Horseshoe on Saturdays in the fall, it doesn't take long for everyone involved to be caught up in the moment and baptized by fire. Buckeyes speak a communal language not unlike those heard at other cathedrals to the game across this great country of ours, but it's the specifics that make the experience second to none.
Your college football Saturday in Columbus, Ohio (particularly as a member of the Ohio State student body) is not entirely unlikely to start as such: an alarm goes off, you're mildly disoriented, and your head hurts. A flight of Alka Seltzer, coffee, and ginger ale brings you back to the ranks of the living. When I lived in Stradley Hall on South Campus my freshman year, at 8:15 AM, come hell or high water, a game day rabble-rouser from down the hall would move his speakers into the opening between his room and the rest of the hall and serenade the 9th floor and those above and below it with the sounds of Carmen, Ohio, The Buckeye Battle Cry, or this timeless classic:
And while sure that might strike some, many, most as unbearable and obnoxious, even given the late nights and extracurriculars of the evenings before, it somehow still felt perfectly appropriate, nay necessary. Even when I was less diligent about the specifics of the earliness, I'd ensure that all my pre-game affairs had their mandatory speakers cranked to eleven and The Best Damn Band In The Land letting the hype music metamorphosize into adrenaline.
Then comes the food. If you're a student, you may be limited to the confines of your family, family friends, friend's families, or your kitchen (if you're fortuitous enough to be an upperclassmen in an off-campus housing situation). If you're a full grown seasoned pro, you probably already had your camper parked outside the Longaberger Alumni Association at 4:30 AM and you're simply waiting for the sun to bear down just right before you fire up the grill.
Either way, buffalo wings, bratwursts, and home made breakfast sandwiches are the currency du jour when the mornings get crisp and you need protein to ensure your survival for the day. The great thing about brats is that on a fork, a bun, or a tortilla, you know pretty much exactly what you're getting. And if still that hasn't piqued your appetite, you can always just ensure someone kills and roasts an entire pig. You'll quickly become a hero to the neighboring RVs and pickups.
Still, boring burgers and hot dogs still sometimes find their way to the scene, but typically its someone's already overlooked ribs, sausages, and all the other better cow and pig byproducts you could've been doing up. This ain't baseball. Make sure you (and they) do better.
Of course what's a meal for a king or queen without a beverage fit for royalty? When I was senior living off Indiana Avenue, we were trying to be nostalgic about something that'd barely been gone several months (the late awful but awfully easy to drink in underaged "Four Kegs" on South High) when we decided we needed to recreate their famed Liquid Dope concoction. Liquid Dope is called rails, jungle juice, or even a derivative of Long Island Iced Teas at some campuses, but at Ohio State, it was a generation's welcome to three plus years of hard work and fast living. This recipe mostly matches the spirit of what we were able to put our ears to the ground and learn through the grapevine:
In a pitcher full of ice,you add 1 1/4oz of gin, vodka, and rum followed by a
1 1/4 oz pour of sour mix. Then add 1 1/4oz of cherry brandy, blackberry
brandy and peach cherry followed by another 1 1/4 oz pour of sour mix. Fill
the rest of the pitcher with orange juice and a splash of grenadine.
For maximum effect, buy a bottle of each. Then, if you're like some people I knew, recreate the concoction in a stomach by doing a shot of each. Yes, even sour mix and grenadine.
In all seriousness, having the volume on hand allows you to satisfy a variety of tastes. While the cocktail is very easy on even the pickiest/least experienced Saturday heroes' stomaches, having the options to make your friends and guests something more catered to their specific tastes becomes far easier with the make shift bar necessary to perfect the old standard.
So what about how you kill time if it happens to be a 3:30 or 8 PM EST kick? There's the typical fall past times like cornhole. But bear in mind, after successfully setting things up with the proper dimensions and what not, having a few cold ones on a palatably chilly autumn day while showing that expert marksmanship with a bean big is never a bad decision. You can always keep it traditional and have a catch with a football or baseball to boot. Plenty of other folks probably too old to wear replica jerseys but doing it anyways won't turn you down. Contrary to popular myth, it *is* totally possible to enjoy a beverage or two while you do this as well.
But that probably won't eat all the spare time, especially if it's a night game. You can see the sites, sure. You've got the Schottenstein Center, your friends' tailgates/house parties, and even the once and always Hineygate events. But if you're anything like most of those that frequent these parts, in addition to the social development dance, you're going to require a deeper satisfaction. And that can be sated by taking in the best of the rest of the action nationally on college football for that day.
If you're having a tailgate, you'll probably be best served by procuring a generator, a DirecTV satellite and applicable receiver, and at least a 30+ inch HDTV to be sure you can notice all the specific details of a Big Ten rival's shameful upset. If you're more of the network (see: mooching) variety, Hineygate and like events will have large TV screens usually. Something more of the ilk of any of the bars or restaurants in the general Lane & High vicinity can also probably get the job done, though many (while adequate for pre-game's sake), will feel more homogenized and less C-bus specific. Watching games in a variety of destinations and creating your own impromptu bar crawl can really never be discouraged either.
Should you only be able to make it to one game in a given year, you need to be sure you take in a Skull Session. Skull Sessions (with team involvement) were first introduced by Jim Tressel and take place in Ohio State's former basketball arena, St John Arena, just north of the Shoe. In it, the football team is played in to a tightly conducted "Fanfare for a new Era" by TBDBITL and as a packed arena of 10,000+ cheers them on. Usually a senior and/or captain addresses the crowd and then the football team is cheered out as they head to the stadium to dress and warm up. It may seem underwhelming in words, but there's something special about the atmosphere that makes it uniquely what it is. There's been some concerns that Urban Meyer won't continue the tradition, but it doesn't seem totally off the table, at least not yet. Senior captain Zach Boren seems to think it could stick around:
"I think he is trying to implement some of his own traditions, but at the same time, he's not going to do anything too drastic compared to what we've done before," senior Zach Boren said. "There are some things that we love, like the skull session before games and stuff like that. We for sure wanted that to stay, but it hasn't really come up yet.
It remains to be seen if Meyer will introduce a "Buckeye Walk", but should he, there'll be another new staple to add to the game day itinerary.
Regardless, you really don't have much choice but to cap the true Ohio State pre-game experience by heading to the stadium early and taking in The Best Damn Band In The Land. While the football players have an extremely demanding regimented schedules in their own rights, to get ready for noon games, the band is required to report as early as 3:30 AM. The result can't really be captured by the likes of a YouTube video, but there's a small taste of the level of precision and execution you're struck by watching them do their thing:
That's without paying proper tribute to arguably the band's most seminal calling card, the dotting of the "I", either. Let's just say it's not optional, even for the most partisan of Ohio State haters.
And that's saying nothing of the game atmosphere itself. I suspect Heisman favorite Matt Barkley would join in signing off on its legitimacy.
As previously alluded to, many of the things that make the Ohio State game day experience what it is could be marginalized or degraded simply for cynicism's sake or because you happened to be well traveled with respect to the elites of the sport. But if you're not a dismissive buzzkill or frankly spoiled, while to teach their own, it only takes one legitimate Ohio Stadium afternoon to convert many. For the rest? Supplementing it with a few follow up visits might make the proposition almost unfair.