There’s something indescribably uncomfortable about summers in Ohio, specifically in Columbus. Because there’s no Lake Erie to gift the city with a cool draft, the air can often become sticky, thick, and deeply unpleasant to be in. There’s no dry heat in Columbus, at least not during the peak days of summer, when the heat is sweltering, and seemingly unending. It follows you, no matter what you do. Every solution is only temporary, and the only true relief comes when leaves start falling from the thousands of trees spread throughout the city.
It’s been a particularly hot, all-encompassing, and admittedly, miserable summer in Columbus. For the past month-plus, Columbus, and the state’s flagship school located in Columbus, has experienced more heat than it did in any of the past six summers combined. Every day has been an undying blitz of tough questions, non-answers, investigations, and decisions that satisfy no one. The clouds of scandal have given way to the smothering spotlight being put on Ohio State for the first time since 2011. The weather has been pretty bad too.
Like the heat of a Columbus summer, this all comes with the territory. Ohio State knows that all eyes are on it, constantly. Everyone from the football program to the athletic department, to the university president knows that. The fans know it. The players know it. There’s no escaping the heat at Ohio State, and one slip up can change everything.
As fall brings a reprieve for the people of Columbus from the literal scorching heat, it does the same for a football program that desperately wants to do what it was built to do: play football. This Saturday, for three hours at least, Columbus, and more specifically Ohio State, will get some relief, during what will likely be a cathartic drubbing of a lesser opponent.
The return of fall brings to mind thousands of memories, and in the case of Ohio State football, no matter how hard it is to reconcile, mostly positive ones. Blurry visions of Carlos Hyde doing his best Superman impression against Iowa, Braxton Miller launching a Hail Mary to topple Wisconsin, and Ezekiel Elliott tearing through three top-five teams to win a title flash through the collective psyche of Buckeye fans everywhere.
The chase to see the next memory never ends. It keeps all of us coming back year after year. It carries us through the eight month break, and delivers us from the cruel summers. The despair of the offseason fades as soon as first game of the season kicks off, and returns as strong as ever immediately after the end of the national title.
More important than the conclusion to eight long months of waiting, the start of a new season serves as a cleansing force for a sport that desperately needs to wash away months of awful, upsetting transgressions. In what was considered a quiet offseason, we finished with a coach being fired for a sexual harassment scandal, a player leaving one school before being kicked out of another for using racial slurs, nearly all of Virginia Tech’s defense being kicked out of school, a domestic abuse scandal at one of the two biggest programs in the sport, and a player literally dying on the field at Maryland. A “quiet offseason.”
The return of college football does not, in anyway, erase those problems, nor does it absolve the perpetrators of them. Ohio State winning against Oregon State will not suddenly end questions about why Zach Smith was kept on staff for so long. College football is, after all, built on years, and decades really, of scandals just like the ones I named. Just like on the field memories, off the field transgressions fade, but never truly go away. The heat is always there.
As difficult as it is to admit, the existence of actual, real football games does take center stage, deservedly so or not depending on how you feel about the sport from a moral perspective. Every year it feels more difficult to reckon with the implications of enjoying a sport built on so many injustices, Every year, those feelings fade when new memories are created on the field. It seems impossible to stop loving a sport that means so much to so many, myself included.
Once the season starts this Saturday, I think there’ll be some important perspective that needs to be kept, and some things to keep in mind for the entirety of the season. Those fantastic highlight plays, those beloved memories of touchdowns, game winners, incredible comebacks, and everything else that makes us love this sport, they can only happen for four months before we have to do this all over again. Before we know it, the season will have flown by, and we’ll once again be discussing the latest scandal come next January.
So enjoy it while it lasts. Ohio State has 12 regular season games, which means that we as Buckeye fans are guaranteed exactly 12 reprieves from the heat, 12 chances to witness greatness, and to form new collective memories. Could there be postseason games? Sure, but they aren’t guaranteed. We can’t know for sure that there will be more than 12 games until that 13th game rolls around. That makes those 12 regular season games an extremely finite, nonrenewable resource. We get 12 kickoffs, 12 final scores. 720 minutes of game clock ticking off. That could be it. Every single game— blowout, close, or otherwise— is absolutely crucial, and should be treated as such, because the 2018 Ohio State Buckeyes have a very short shelf life. The 2018 season has a very short time limit. Let’s make it count.
Summer vacation is over. School is in session. The Buckeyes are going to run on to the field at Ohio Stadium seven times this season, and on to other fields at least five times, and they’ve got a minimum of 12 games to establish their place in history. The stage is theirs. Fade the spotlights, fade the heat, and watch the show. Football is back in Columbus.