Tales from Ohio State Gameday 2018: Homecoming

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I walk uptown to the historic Worthington Inn where I can get on the 2L Columbus city bus going south on High Street. In Columbus, High Street is the old Highway 23 that travels south and north in Ohio. I wait with a bunch of other people who are all wearing variations of red clothing with either giant O’s or differing versions of Ohio State. When the bus arrives, I look up, get out my $2 dollars for the ride, and greet the bus driver, who is also wearing a red sweatshirt with Ohio State University figured across the chest. She greets me, as she greets everyone, with a welcome. As soon as we get on the bus, someone in the back yells out "O-H" and the rest of the bus responds with an "I-O". We are all ready to take the city bus south on High Street to the game.

Once the bus is running again everyone gets settled down. After a few more stops on High Street, picking up more red-suited fans, the atmosphere becomes a little more immediate, fans are talking louder, making imaginary football plays in the air with their neighbor. Can the OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins really throw up to 80 yards on a dime? You can feel the anticipation on the bus as we move closer to the University District. We are a little community of fans, 30 or more, just us, going to see a game. We know each other by now, 20 minutes on the bus.

We get off the bus at 18th Avenue. There is a city police officer there. I always greet him. He is watching out to make sure the fans will be ok. Walking from High Street to the Ohio Stadium is an adventure in itself. Even on a normal game day, whatever that might be, there is commotion, but today the atmosphere is especially electric. It is Homecoming. Homecoming will not change, has not changed since the early days of the Horseshoe. Homecoming is a day to welcome back old friends, see graduates from days before. It is the nature of Homecoming. As we walk toward the stadium, the crowds get thicker. I look up into the parking garage close to the stadium and see parties on each floor, people hanging out over the walls of the garage, with drinks in their hands and smiles on their faces. Surprisingly, in this modern age, these tailgate crowds are traditional. Tents and large screen televisions abound—generators, keeping those TVs running, making lots of noise. The spirit of festivity fills the air. Weather perfect. Fans are doing serious cooking on all sorts of contraptions. Sharing food with anyone who shares a story about the game. Homecoming is a day to share. Before entering the Buckeyes’ cathedral of football, the TV shows an upset finalized in another cathedral: Texas knocking off Oklahoma, their arch rival, in the historic Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fair.

Entering the stadium is another thing. The lines are long at every gate. Will we make it to our seats in time to see the band come in through the closed end of the stadium? Indeed, we do. The crowd claps in time as The Best Damn Band in the Land marches down the ramp two abreast. All of a sudden the Drum Major comes flying in through the middle of the band to take the special spot on about the 35-yard line where he makes the famous Drum Major backbend, so low that the plume of his hat touches the turf. He leads the band downfield as they strike up "Buckeye Battlecry."

In our section, the stadium volunteer who helps us find our seats has dyed the ends of his grey walrus moustache red for the day. He has worked the revered Ohio State colors of "Scarlet and Grey" into his facial hair. Everyone knows him. I stop to talk. He tells me that he wanted to do a Mohawk hair dye, with a strip of red down the middle but there was a chance of rain. "I didn’t want to have the red going down on my shirt during the game, so I gave up on that idea," he said. Fans stop and ask him if they can take a picture of his face, indeed, several fans want to do "selfies" with him, holding their arms out far enough to make a decent picture, with the football field in the background. "Ah, yes, we were there for Homecoming, wouldn’t miss it for the world. Been going for thirty-three years," said the man with the red Ohio State sweatshirt.

Inside the stadium the stands are a sea of red. This Homecoming game is with Indiana, so it is impossible to tell the difference between the red-clad Indiana fans and the Buckeyes from afar. The game is a classic Homecoming match. Indiana opened up with a field goal and led 3-0. Indiana led another time at 17-14. The fans were on edge. The man in front of me bellowed to the refs, "Why don’t you call a block in the back?" The man had a cane, and kept shaking it wildly. I don’t think he was heard down on the field.

At the half, OSU led 28-20 and many of the fans who thought of leaving decided they were going to be treated to a game in doubt. To open the half, the visiting Indiana University "Marching Hundred" ran onto the field in their traditional desultory manner, like a "flash-mob", running about, finding their positions. They were good. But, The Ohio State Marching Band established order to the field with their military band style. Everyone was in a straight line. In a moving program in honor of the Civil Rights Movement, the band celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. with pictures on the big screen from the 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom". Complemented with singing from the "Dream Choir" and a very large banner showing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. At the end, the band unfurled an even larger portrait of Martin Luther King.

In the second half, OSU established control of the game with their passing attack, leading 35-20. Throughout the game, both teams demonstrated an anemic running game but both squads mounted dynamic and productive passing games. By the end of the game, the OSU quarterback had a record 6 touchdown passes. Indiana mounted a comeback, scoring to bring them into contention at 35-26, but then, inextricably, they went for two points and failed, taking them out of a one-possession contest. The two-point try was intercepted and nearly run back for a touchdown.

As the game came to an end, the student contingent at the north end of the field began to chant in unison, "R-S-V-P O-H". They were yelling to the south end of the stadium student section, who yelled back, in unison, "I-O". Buoyed by the response of the south end students, the north end called out to Brutus Buckeye, "Hey Brutus, O-H". Brutus, responded with a bow and an "I-O".

Clearly, it was a Homecoming to match all the Homecomings of their fathers and mothers, grandparents too!

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