Out of the Frying Pan: On the Road to Indy

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

They say providence works in mysterious ways. Early in the summer, as fall football practice was about to begin, some surmised that the Ohio State Buckeyes would be quite good and could be in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. Then, disaster struck, Coach Urban Meyer was suspended for three games, and the season proceeded under a cloud of suspicion and doubt. Now, in the late fall, Buckeye Nation readies itself for the final push toward another championship. The only question left is which championship.

Driving west, "Goin’ out to the territories" as Mark Twain put it, to Indianapolis for the big game this Saturday is not a chore. From almost anywhere in Ohio, as a starting point, we will find Interstate 70 and, thence, head west along the road, onward, past the Indiana state line.

I-70 to Indy is a straight shot from Columbus. In the customary style of the Eisenhower interstate development of the 1950s, the road is "straight as a string". About the only interruption is the stretch at Dayton, otherwise the road is unencumbered. The best place for a "leg stretch" and a bathroom stop is the Rest Area just 15 miles shy of Indianapolis.

There, in the middle of the state, lies Indianapolis, also known as "Circle City". The nickname, "Circle City", derives from a fabulous monument in the middle of the city. On your way to the site of the game at Lukas Oil Stadium, you might take a look at "The Soldiers & Sailors Monument" located in the center of the city, on a circle. The monument was built in 1902 at a cost of nearly $600,000. According to visitor information, it is estimated that a "similar structure" built today would cost "more than five hundred million dollars". The monument is Indiana’s official memorial to soldiers and sailors who fought in the United State’s wars from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. The War Memorial statue is beautiful and well with worth taking in.

Visitors may also hear the familiar nickname of "Naptown" (or, Nap Town) for Indianapolis. For years, some people believed that Indy has held the appellation "Naptown", a play on the name that implies an utter lack of activity. Others believed that "Naptown" was an abbreviation of Indianapolis inasmuch as "nap" is located in the middle of the name—indiaNAPolis. As a matter of historical note, the name Indianapolis derived, in 1821, from adding the Greek word "polis" to the word "Indian" to arrive at the name of Indianapolis.

This etymological calculation notwithstanding, the name "Naptown" probably comes from Leroy Carr’s blues song, "Naptown". Leroy Carr was a blues musician, born in Nashville but grew up and died in Indianapolis. Throughout much of the 20th century, Indianapolis is regarded as one of the centers of African American music. Carr recorded "Naptown" in the 1920s and includes the line: "I would rather be in Naptown than any place I know." The famous blues musician Wes Montgomery, also from Indianapolis, recorded an album in 1966 entitled "Naptown Blues". The coining of Indianapolis to "Naptown" is probably an African American linguistic vernacular deriving from both the original blues song and the "nap" in the middle of the name of the city.

On Saturday night, Ohio State will face Northwestern for the Big Ten Championship. Northwestern arrives at the game without much fanfare, emerging out of the Big Ten West, following a year of somewhat "spartan" play among the western teams of the Big Ten.

Those facts notwithstanding, Northwestern comes with its own distinct provenance. When the Big Ten Conference was created in 1896, out of the original Western Intercollegiate Conference, Northwestern was one of the founding members of the new conference. The Ohio State University, founded in 1870, joined the nascent Big Ten Conference years later, in 1912. By that time, Northwestern had already won its first Big Ten title in 1903. Since the beginning of Big Ten play, Northwestern has won a total of eight Big Ten championships, sharing six and winning two outright.

Of course, none of that history will have an effect on the outcome of Saturday night’s game in Indianapolis. After winning the 115th game between Ohio State and the team from the "Big House", the Buckeyes are poised to achieve a goal that many football analysists believed was within their grasp when the season began in August.

Buckeye Nation is waiting anxiously. My friend Steve, who is a volunteer at the Martha Morehouse hospital facility, said on Monday, "We might win another one." What he meant, of course, was the national Championship, not just a big Ten Championship. He noted that he will watch the game at home. "I got a 55-inch TV, it is just like being there, and I will have all my snacks right there in front of the TV. We will have more fun," Steve emphasized.

Fans across Ohio will tune in Saturday night and be treated to another milestone in the history of Ohio State football. The Buckeye team emerged "Out of the Frying Pan" to accomplish a feat that many people felt, in the middle of the season, was unobtainable. Northwestern enters the game with renewed confidence, a more than sound defense, and a good quarterback in Clayton Thorson. The Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, himself a former outstanding linebacker, knows how get his players ready for the big game. Urban Meyer often says that the outcome of the game depends entirely on preparation. Now it is Game time and the Big Ten Title game with Northwestern might be a chore. At Big Ten title time, all teams want to sing "I would rather be in Naptown that any place I know."

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