College football, like life, is filled with both the traditional aspects of endeavor along with more recent innovations. Football is a shared exercise: hard for the players, hard for the coaches, and, yes, hard for the fans.
Ah, after a winter of shared frustration, discontent, and solution, followed by a long summer of anticipation, fans finally reached the beginning of a new season of Ohio State football. We walked to the bus stop for the Ol’ COTA #2 bus and our Saturday trip down High Street, going to the Ohio State campus and the game against Florida Atlantic. As usual, the Saturday bus crowd buzzed with excitement. It was a new season, but still it was connected with the traditions of so many years of Ohio State Saturday football games. We sat in the front of the bus, in the seats behind the driver where we could face other passengers.
The first stop after downtown Worthington, an older man and a woman got on. You could tell they were excited to be on the bus. The man explained to his companion about the route of the bus. You could tell he was excited to be going to the game. He asked the man behind him if he was going to the game and the man replied, no he wasn’t. Then the older man looked at me and asked if I was going. I replied that I was. He said that I ought to look more happy. I said I would, look more happy, that is.
We began to talk the way people do on a bus. Finally, it became apparent that the man wanted to share information. I asked the older man how long he had been going to games. He replied that he was a member of the National Championship team of 1961. He held out his left hand to display for me his ring. There it was, a big, elaborate, fine championship ring. One does not see those often. We got off the bus at 18th Avenue and walked through campus.
I asked his name. It was Larry Stephens; he told me that he was a linebacker on the ’61 team. The National Championship ring was on the left hand. On the right hand, Mr. Stephens sported a Big Ten Championship ring. The second ring was a little smaller, but it was imposing nonetheless. We talked, he told me he played at 5-foot-10, 214 pounds. He said he was a little lighter today. I told him I played, but it was Division III. I was a little bigger than Larry when I played. He noticed that I was bigger.
Larry and I had a good chat, walking together, all the way to the stadium. Just the way it ought to be on Game Day: just two guys walking down memory lane, telling stories. An American scene—football, Saturday, blue sky. Sharing the past, knowing the future was steps away. As we walked, the other people going to the game were increasingly dressed in scarlet for Ohio State. Younger students, warm day, shorts and t-shirts, excitement all around.
A sacred part of Ohio State “Horseshoe” tradition is the participation each year of the Alumni Band. This year 500 strong. We look forward to the Alumni Band and the current OSU band doing four, count ‘em, four individual versions of “Script Ohio”, all on the same field. Marching “Script Ohio” is a sacred trust for Ohio State fans, the song brings everyone together. Each game, a senior in the band is chosen to “dot the i”, the “i” in Ohio.
This year a friend of mine who works at my bank told me his father would play in the Alumni Band. His father, who plays the cornet, was in the Ohio State band about 30 years ago. My friend told me that the band members, all 500, had to get to the ‘Shoe early, about 6 a.m. early, to learn their routines for the day and practice. He informed me that mostly the Alumni Band will do simple straight lines and play the same version of “Script Ohio” they always played.
We walked to our seats. My favorite usher, Mike Danter, was there. I almost did not recognize him, His moustache was gone.
“You’re here,” I said. “But, where’s the moustache?”
“Of course I’m here, it is my thirty-first year, here at the same gate,” Mike said.
Traditions never cease. He had shaved his great moustache, I was sorry to see that. Last year he had dyed it twice, once a sort of turquoise color and once he had put red dye on the top of his head in the shape of an mohawk strip. Now there was no color. I asked why. He said he started a new job at the warehouse where he has worked for 40 years.
The first game of the year combined a strong ingredient of tradition with a sense of anticipation of the new. In the case of this 2019 first game, all the tradition is nice, but finally there has to be a game, and this year the Buckeyes features a new coach in Ryan Day and a new “on the field” general in transfer quarterback Justin Fields.
There was plenty of room for anxiety and worry. All the traditions, all the championship rings, all the former players, all the steadfast ushers, it all comes together to make the future of the season easier to handle, but, still, the game has to be played.
With under two minutes played, Fields ran a “keeper” to the left and the Florida Atlantic defense went the opposite direction. Time of possession: 1:53. With 11:05 to play in the first quarter, OSU scored again on a pass from Fields. Two plays, time of possession just 36 seconds. With 9:12 to go in the first, after 2 plays, Fields scored again on a pass to Benjamin Victor. Three plays, 37 seconds off the clock. Still in the first, OSU had 154 yards; Florida Atlantic, -12 yards. Under well-known (and well-traveled) head coach of the Florida Atlantic Owls, Lane Kiffin brought a team that was no match for the Buckeyes.
Finally, the last score of the quarter, happening in just four plays, brought another TD for the Bucks. Time of possession: 1:02. The only thing good about this game for FAU was that there was no hurricane in Ohio, except for Justin Fields, a hurricane all his own.
But the football “Hurricane” that come to mind is the subject of a 1952 Bowery Boys film entitled “Hold that Line”. The Bowery Boys were led by the indomitable man named Slip, and Sach was his second in command.
In the film, the Bowery Boys go to the local university. Sach is in the chemistry lab and begins to mix a cocktail of assorted random chemicals. He drinks the chemicals and becomes physically invincible. The Bowery Boys go out for the football team and no one can tackle Sach. The team goes on to win many games and Sach is named “Hurricane” in the local newspapers. Eventually, in the middle of the most important game of the year, of course, the chemicals wear off and Sach is returned to normal. Not to be deterred, the team makes Sach a decoy and Slip is left untouched to skamper, run, score, and win the championship.
The film “Hold that Line”, directed by William Beaudine and written by Tim Ryan and Charles R. Marion, is one of many Bowery Boys films, but in this instance, the film reminds us of a new hurricane on the football field in Justin Fields.
Never forgetting the real-world devastation of the Hurricane Dorian, in the sports world, the word hurricane retains its reference as an athlete who is superb. As warm weather pushed the dreadful real hurricane Dorian out to the Atlantic Ocean last week, off the East Coast, it seemed that a new football hurricane has come onto to the scene.
Against Cincinnati last week, Fields again shredded the defense, passing 20-for-25, 224 yards and two touchdowns. Fields also added nine runs for 42 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. The ceiling for the second-year quarterback is very high.
Hurricane Justin Fields is on his way to becoming part of the tradition of the “Horseshoe”.