In 2005, I was a high school sophomore, still unsure of where my loyalties lay as a fan. I had no idea where I was going to college, let alone where I was going in life. Football, while exciting, was only a sport that I had tried and didn't yet have a fully formed passion for it. My interests were primarily in music, girls, and trying not to be completely awkward in public. I had attached myself to the Bengals, but hadn't developed a full-fledged love of college football just yet. Ohio State was a distraction, but still in the periphery. I had stayed up late to watch the 2002 championship game against the wishes of my parents, but fandom had not taken hold as of yet.
I had begun, in earnest, to follow the Buckeyes after the excruciating loss to Texas (why, Hamby? Why?) and had become attached to the storylines that followed the quarterback battle, as well as the defense. That was the year A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Donte Whitner all became first-round picks along with Santonio Holmes and Nick Mangold. The '05 squad had transcendent talent and every game that year had been on television. It was also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first football season where my family found themselves able to afford cable television. But I digress. This team had started out 3-2 with losses to future national champ Texas and eventual co-Big Ten champions Penn State, but ripped off five straight wins against some solid teams (Minnesota, as hard as it is to believe, was ranked 22nd at the time) and was heading into the Michigan game very confident. Michigan was a 7-5 team that year but had knocked off Penn State on a last-second pass to Mario Manningham, and had not lost any game by more than a touchdown.
This would mark the first real battle between Chad Henne and Troy Smith. Henne had gotten the best of the vaunted Buckeye defense and it took a series of near-miraculous plays by Troy just to bring Ohio State back into contention after a disastrous third quarter. Troy Smith found Santonio Holmes for a touchdown to get the Buckeyes back within 21-19 but then got called for a pretty ticky-tack celebration penalty. OSU would eventually get a stop and got the ball back. And then, this happened:
To me, that moment is right up there with Chris Gamble waving for a pass interference penalty, Troy Smith holding the ball behind his back before the bomb to Ted Ginn, the Beanie Hop, and "Holy Buckeye". That play was the first ever Buckeye play that I cared about enough to jump off my couch and start screaming with uncontrollable joy. In that moment, not only did I know that the Buckeyes were going to win, but I also knew I couldn't be anything other than a Buckeye fan and there was no way I was going anywhere for college but Ohio State. Somewhat in spite of myself, I found a passion for college football, and in doing so disocvered a little piece of who I am now.
I did, in earnest, consider other colleges after that – I very nearly attended Auburn University – and I was still very awkward and strange as any high school sophomore. But I had found a new passion in football that I could discuss with others and break the ice. As my knowledge of the game grew, so did my enjoyment. I had always liked watching football, but had never really understood the game until after that moment. It made me realize why I enjoyed watching football and it also helped me make a decision to further my knowledge of the game and also better understand why people lived and died with their teams' performances on Saturdays and Sundays. The 2005 game was my first true moment as a Buckeye, and Anthony Gonzalez's twisting grab sealed my fate. I was then and will forever be a Buckeye, through and through. I have still never set foot in the state of Michigan and will do my darndest not to unless it is to attend The Game in the very same stadium where Gonzalez made that storied grab.
Go Bucks. Beat That Team Up North.