When I think about this great rivalry, I envy most of you. You see, I wasn't born into this. My Ohio State lineage is one that is not passed down from generation to generation; I'm a first generation Buckeye fan.
Most of you who read my nonsensical rants here and on other SB Nation platforms know that I'm a native Minnesotan. When I was a kid, I was never really a fan of the Minnesota Gophers, for a couple reasons. For one, they were never on TV and they weren't very good, and two, while I was growing up in the ‘70's the Vikings were in the middle of their Purple People Eaters era and were really, really good. And they were on TV every week.
Oh, I knew about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, of course. It was as part of the Midwest landscape as a farmer's field, or snow in December, and even if you had no rooting interest, you knew of it. Back then, there were four TV channels, and if you're a football crazy kid, you watched what you could when you could, regardless of the teams.
Growing up in Minnesota, it seemed either Ohio State or Michigan was on TV every week, and The Game was on every year. It was the height of the ‘Big Two, Little Eight' era in the Big Ten and I liked OSU. Why? I'd love to tell you it was because of Paul Brown, Howard ‘Hopalong' Cassady, Archie Griffin, Francis Schmidt's gold pants, the Snow Bowl, or something else that makes this rivalry so unique in American sports. I'd love to tell you grand stories of my Dad or my Grandpa sitting me on his lap, and passing down stories of The Game and This Rivalry, like a Buckeye Moses bringing The Word to the great unwashed.
But I can't, because it didn't happen that way. I was a kid. None of that did it for me.
Helmet stickers. It was the helmet stickers.
Now, they weren't small and put on the helmets by the dozens back then. They looked like they were the size of a fifty cent piece, and maybe seven or eight of them would fill up one side way back in the day, but man, they were cool. Some guys only had a couple, some guys had a whole helmet full of them, and I wondered what a guy had to do to get a sticker.
The Buckeye stickers fascinated me, and to this day, they still mesmerize me. Michigan had them on the back of their helmets for a time, but they were yellow footballs, and they made a stupid looking helmet look even dumber.
There's something about the side of the Ohio State helmet slowly filling up with stickers and spilling over to the other side that's just cool. Other schools have helmet stickers, but nothing comes close to how Ohio State does it. When the silver helmet is full of stickers, split by the scarlet and black stripes, it's the coolest one in college football.
So to say I was an OSU fan growing up would be a stretch. I cheered for them against Michigan, but not because of the great tradition or players.
I cheered because I liked their helmet stickers.
It wasn't until I moved to Columbus that I became a full-fledged Buckeye fanatic. For those of you that grew up in Columbus or large swaths of Ohio, the Buckeyes are just part of the landscape, as concrete as one of the skyscrapers in the Columbus skyline. It was normal to have oil paintings of Woody Hayes in your family room or your Dad's TV room, along with other bits of OSU memorabilia. It was normal to talk Ohio State football 365 days a year. It was normal to just talk Buckeye football with a total stranger while waiting in the checkout line at Kroger's.
It was a system shock to me. Growing up, when football season was over, it was hockey season. When hockey season was ending, it was baseball season. By the time September rolled around, it was football season again.
In Columbus, it's Buckeye football. Every day, all year.
Back then, there was no way to follow other teams other than a quick one or two paragraph summary in the newspaper. This was The Dark Time before the Internet, Social Media and football on every channel almost every night of the week. Heck, a good percentage of Ohio State games weren't even broadcast live in Columbus; they'd be on tape delay on public TV Sunday mornings.
On my first day of school at Centennial High, I wore a Vikings shirt. People looked at me like I had a third eye in my head, and one kid even asked me what college the Vikings were. Bad first impression. I had my Dad take me out and get a couple of Ohio State shirts before I got stuffed in a locker.
While my time in Columbus was fairly short, all things considered, Ohio State has stayed with me. Playing high school football for a coach that was a former player there allowed us access to guys that were Buckeye legends. We received talks on leadership from legends like Rex Kern, Greg Lashutka, and one memorable meeting with Woody Hayes.
When people ask me where I'm from, I like to say I grew up in Minnesota, came of age in Columbus, and became a man in the Army. Of the three, my time span in Columbus and at Ohio State was the shortest, but in many ways, it's the one that's left the most lasting impressions.
And like my home state or my military career, being a Buckeye is as much a part of me as anything else, and always will be.
Go Bucks. Beat that Team Up North.