I was born in Columbus. I lived most of my life until the age of 23 in and around Columbus. My parents met as students at Ohio State. I was the 20th member of my extended family to attend Ohio State. The traditions of Ohio State were taught to me from a very early age, and I was reared to respect the history of the university and its athletics teams. Names like Hayes and Griffin and Taylor and Havlicek and Nicklaus and Owens and Spielman and Schlichter and Hopson were as familiar to me as any that I learned in social studies class. The history of Ohio State is, was, and always will be coursing through my veins.
But, I have a confession to make. One that might anger my diehard Buckeye brethren. I hate Penn State more than I hate Michigan. I know, I know, that’s Buckeye sacrilege, but it’s true.
(Now, before I go any further, I want to be clear. I’m talking about “sports hate” here, which is a much different thing than “life hate.” We’re ultimately talking about games played by teenagers and young men barely in their twenties. While, yes, college sports bring me an inordinate amount of joy, and the occasional debilitating bout of despair, all in all, it’s just another form of entertainment— albeit one that I am almost pathologically invested in. So, moving forward, when I say I “hate” Penn State, keep in mind that it’s “sports hate,” not “hate hate.”
I’m also not going to get into any of the salacious, disgusting things that transpired in the Penn State football program, because as vile as they are, Ohio State has its own issues that it needs to be held to account for, and when it comes to a frivolous little article about “sports hate,” those things are far too serious to include in a silly glass houses, stone-throwing match.)
Anyway, back to my story. I am of a certain age where I can remember Penn State joining the Big Ten. They were a prize for the conference. The vaunted, independent Nittany Lions were joining the lowly Big Ten and coming to lend credibility to the league. Joe Paterno— and his starched white, short-sleeve dress shirts and ever-present, game day sunglasses masking the fact that his eyes burned red like the devil’s— was going to come into the Big Ten (not yet the B1G) and lend the rest of the conference’s denizens some class.
Well, in 1993, the Buckeyes welcomed the Lions to the Big Ten by handing them a 24-6 defeat in the Horseshoe. At that point, while still a little annoyed by the adulation that PSU was getting for joining the league, I didn’t yet hate them. That would come a year later.
When the two teams met in 1994, Ohio State was ranked No. 21, Penn State was No. 1, and I was in eighth grade. A formative time for any budding sports fan. The Buckeyes traveled to Happy Valley that season, and JoePa returned John Cooper’s welcoming gift with one of his own, to the tune of a 63-14 epic beatdown.
This is the first time that I remember feeling so embarrassed by a sporting event that I was angry. Unfortunately it has happened more times than I would care to admit in the past decade or so (2007 and 2008 BCS National Championship Games and the 2016 Fiesta Bowl come to mind).
But, there were two things that made this humiliating outcome even worse to my barely teenage psyche. The first was Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter. On the day, Carter went for 137 yards on the ground and four touchdowns on only 19 carries. Not Tim Biakabutuka numbers, but he would end up rushing for 1,539 yards on the season, and finishing second in the Heisman Trophy race to Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam.
What made his dominating performance even more painful was that he was from Westerville. He went to high school at Westerville South, 20 minutes from Ohio Stadium. And, instead of playing for Ohio State, he was beating the Buckeyes senseless. My 13-year-old mind could not wrap itself around the fact that someone from Columbus, who grew up in the shadow of Ohio State, just as I had, could ever choose to play college football anywhere other than OSU. It felt like a personal betrayal; as if he was turning his back on everything that my little heart thought was important at the time.
Looking back, I don’t know if Cooper actually even recruited him, but even if he did, Carter almost certainly made the best move for his future. Because, if he would have come to Ohio State, he would have been competing for playing time with Robert Smith, the “Ultraback” Raymont Harris, Butler By’not’e, and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner (Pennsylvania native) Eddie George. That was already a pretty crowded running backs room, even without Carter.
But to me, Ki-jana Carter’s defection was painful; like a repeated punch to the gut, once for every time he carried the ball into the end zone. But, it’s this next annoyance that tipped my animosity to hatred.
The damn, incessant lion roar sound effect.
Don’t know what I mean? Well, listen here if you want to get your blood boiling, or if you want to attempt to inoculate yourself before Saturday night’s auditory onslaught.
I know that Ohio Stadium plays “Hells Bells” on defensive third downs, but this obnoxious lion’s roar just grates on every single one of my nerves that are usually already frazzled by the high-stakes competitive nature of the matchup.
The Beaver Stadium staff plays it on offense, they play it on defense. They’ll play on first down, they’ll play it on third down. They’ll play it whenever they damn well please, and it will get the crowd riled up every single time. And, I guarantee you, that it will make my skin crawl, like nails on a chalkboard, every single time.
I am prepared for Trace McSorley to run away from Ohio State’s linebackers for big gains. I am prepared for James Franklin to freak out on the sideline. I am even prepared for Urban Meyer to break out of his self-imposed “game manager” role and shove OSU’s offense back into the between-the-tackles running shell where he feels most comfortable. However, the one thing that I am not prepared for is an entire game of that damn lion roar.
I hate that sound cue more than I hate the “Michigan Man” elitism, more than Desmond Howard (another Ohio-born turncoat) striking the Heisman pose, more than Cooper’s 2–10–1 record against the Wolverines; you know what, maybe not more than that, but it’s close.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still sports hate the crap out of Michigan. There is something just so unbelievably sports hateable about Jim Harbaugh. As you can probably tell by my age at the time of the Ki-jana Carter Penn State game, I suffered through a lot of painful losses to TTUN as well, but for some reason, the 1994 Penn State game and the 1998 Michigan State game (damn you Nick Saban) stick out to me as the games that hurt and angered me the most.
Between Ki-Jana Carter aiding the Nittany Lions in embarrassing the Buckeyes and the abhorrent roaring sound effect, the fact that Ohio State is 17-8 against Penn State since the Lions joined the Big Ten is little solace for the pains of my impressionable youth. But, every time the Buckeyes can add a number to that left-hand digit, it does make the “hate” subside just a little.