Have you ever seen the sunrise on a Midwestern horizon?
When the sun rings in the morning, negative feelings rarely accompany it. After all, new beginnings are inherently hopeful. The sight of the golden ball creeping over the Earth’s edge as rays of light splinter across an autumn sky frozen in blue is hardly a discouraging one. It’s an image that conjures up hopeful emotions, aspirations, and the motivation to get out of bed despite whatever hardships came the day before.
A new Day can make all the difference in life. There’s a certain level of security that comes with knowing the next opportunity for such a change is tomorrow. The end of the day, however, is much more open to interpretation.
Sunsets are innately more beautiful than their counterparts. While I find the concept itself hard to dispute, the logic used to arrive at that conclusion usually varies greatly by the individual. My personal reasoning is that sunsets force us to appreciate their presence. A sunrise, though inspirational, never leaves you wanting more. Once the sun is up, it’s up, and there is work to be done and life to be lived while the world remains temporarily illuminated.
Conversely, when the sun sets, there’s darkness waiting on the other side. Often, we don’t remember this given we can become so wrapped up in the beauty before us that we lose sight of what comes afterwards. Sometimes, what’s in front of us is so great that we don’t even want to acknowledge it has to end, and that the end comes faster and more unexpectedly than any of us realize.
This is a picture of a Lake Michigan sunset that I took in October 2018. It’s the best picture I’ll probably ever capture in my entire life. The scene lasted for roughly five minutes before nighttime consumed the entirety of the Saugatuck shoreline for the remainder of the evening. The end can often be beautiful, but we must take care to remind ourselves that life isn’t over when the light escapes us.
One week later, Ohio State lost to Purdue in what was one of the most comprehensively unwatchable Buckeye football performances that I can remember. Ohio State’s rushing attack amassed only three more yards as a team than Dwayne Haskins had passing attempts, and the latter threw the ball 73 times. Sadly, the narrative surrounding this program the last few years appears to have become that this team is good for at least one of these nationally-televised gaffes per season. The consequence is almost always the end of any championship dreams.
Over the next month, Urban Meyer’s impending retirement also began taking shape. The Zach Smith saga had already taken its toll, the team’s coach-in-waiting was the worst-kept secret in Columbus, and Meyer’s health had become a strong subject of speculation since his sideline incident during the Indiana game. But once images and video surfaced of Meyer’s struggle through the course of the Maryland game in mid-November, it became evident that his coaching career was likely in its final act.
At that point, morale for the Ohio State football program was considerably wounded. Meyer’s legendary coaching career was on the precipice of a premature ending, and his legacy at Ohio State — though already tremendous — still felt unfinished. Dwayne Haskins — at that point poised to rewrite seasonal Big Ten passing records — was doomed to finish third in Heisman voting. Nick Bosa’s season-ending injury against TCU had already taken the wind out of the defense’s sails long ago.
But worst of all, Ohio State’s deja vu narrative of missing the College Football Playoff seemed far too likely. One B1G West blemish on an otherwise solid resume would be more than enough for the selection committee to turn up their noses. It took a three-score drubbing of Michigan at home to lift everyone’s spirits again and remind the entire country of what Ohio State football is all about.
In that sense, last season was one that I think perfectly encapsulates the conundrum that comes with being an Ohio State football fan, or really a fan of any perennial powerhouse. A year that yields no national championship often leaves anybody watching with some degree of emotional investment feeling empty. There are fanbases all across college football that would weep for a .500 season. Yet, a year that sees all major rivals defeated, a Rose Bowl won, and multiple conference passing records set is considered underwhelming in Columbus. Ohio State fans were born with scarlet and
silver grey spoons in their mouths.
Satisfying endings to a season are infrequent in college sports, but even less so professionally. If you’re a pro football fan of an AFC team that isn’t the New England Patriots, your team has only had the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl for nine of the last 18 years. That also assumes that the team makes it to and through the NFL Playoffs beforehand. Many fans of professional teams hardly ever see their beloved squad achieve the sport’s top prize, and most of them usually see their season end with a loss.
I pity the professional football fan that supports their team in the same way that a college football loyalist worships their Power 5 championship contender. We saw this play out in an absolute nightmare scenario this past weekend amid Andrew Luck’s surprise sunset over in Indianapolis. With the Colts realistically entertaining Super Bowl dreams merely two weeks away from the start of the regular season, Luck decided the injury/rehab cycle that came with his football career was simply too much to bear any longer. He arrived at this decision after throwing the second most passing yards and third most passing TDs in NFL history through 86 games...
… and he got booed out of Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night.
The same Colts fans that sang Luck’s name to high heaven after leading a miraculous 28-point Wild Card comeback against the Chiefs in 2014, the same ones blessed with over a decade of Peyton Manning on their team, the same ones that witnessed two Super Bowl appearances and a win within the last thirteen years, sent their historically elite franchise quarterback off with boos during his final moments on the field as a player.
The end isn’t always beautiful, but life isn’t over when the light escapes us.
Unless Jacoby Brissett proves to be a worthy successor, the Colts’ window for contention has now closed, and that angry instinctive reaction that the fanbase had threatens to set the tone for what could be a very difficult era of football for the Indianapolis faithful. Though Luck’s retirement is an unprecedented move in its own right, the emotional grieving that a fanbase undergoes after suddenly losing part of its identity is not at all uncommon in professional sports. Far too often, there are examples of fans with even more extreme reactions to even less dire circumstances when their favorite player departs.
And that’s what makes college football so beautiful by comparison. Tomorrow is always a brand new Day.
Whatever the disappointments, shortcomings, or mistakes that upended the season last year; this is the start of a new slate. Goals are rewritten, expectations are reset, personnel is reloaded, and the schedule renews. Players are exceptionally lucky if they play a part in their team’s narrative for four years, and most that are good enough to do so are in the NFL before they get that chance. Fans can’t afford to get attached to players or narratives, because often in college football the arcs only last four months. There’s never a reason to be angry at the start of the college football season. Even when you lose a starting quarterback to career-ending injury, you can still end up winning the National Championship.
But there sure is no shortage of arcs for Ohio State this year, and it marks the start of so many stories as well as the beginning of the end of some fascinating ones. Justin Fields rolled into Columbus, kicked Tathan Martell over to the middle of Miami’s WR depth chart, and now sits at the helm of what figures to be one of college football’s most potent offenses yet again. J.K. Dobbins is out of his timeshare with Mike Weber and reunited with a dual-threat QB in the backfield. K.J. Hill is now firmly the center of attention in the receiving corps after flourishing as a metric darling alongside Ohio State’s three captains at the position a year ago.
Some are lamenting the inexperience of the offensive line, forgetting that four of the leading contributors to the team’s 1,055 penalty yards last season have been replaced with fresh talent. Chase Young now has the expectation of replacing Nick Bosa as opposed to replicating him. Malik Harrison will lead a linebacking unit tasked with finally correcting its trend of lackluster play against conference opponents over the last two seasons. And as if all that isn’t enough excitement, Chris Olave is presumably going to practice this season wearing contact lenses.
At the center of it all, of course, is the new coach, and with a new coach often comes a new perspective. Program expectations are realigned, recruiting relationships dramatically shift, and the entire perception of the school’s football image gets some degree of reconstruction. However, I believe this is one of the rare cases in which the head coach hand-off has gone about as seamlessly as can be desired, especially given the three games that Meyer had to sit out last season. Fans will get to watch the season unfold with a renewed sense of curiosity, but without most of the growing pains that come with such a high-level shift.
Whatever dreams went unrealized over the last four seasons no longer matter. The sun will rise over Columbus at 6:59AM ET on the final day of August, and it will be the dawn of a new era in Ohio State football.
The beginning of a new Day.