watched the new Buckeye recruiting video the other day; it’s at once very slick and very moving. The emphasis is on tradition. Since it’s a recruiting film, and its audience is high school football players, the traditions are player traditions: a sense of brotherhood, always striving — even fighting — to get the job done, winning, championships. Ohio State football, in a nutshell.
But it got me thinking about other Buckeye football traditions, those that are aimed more at the fans or at least shared with the fans. As I’ve said elsewhere, I grew up in Columbus. As a Boy Scout, I ushered at games in Ohio Stadium; my dad was in the press box, broadcasting on WVKO radio. The old traditions stuck with me from childhood, but there are some newer ones too. For what it’s worth, here are my ranked favorite Buckeye football traditions.
1. The Ohio State-Michigan game
I don’t care how many leaders and legends there are or how east and west are divided; Ohio State will play Michigan last, now on the weekend after Thanksgiving, though it was the weekend before for generations. “The Game.” Touted as perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports, there’s often a great deal riding on the outcome, besides bragging rights. Certainly, a Big Ten championship, often something even grander, at least there used to be.
As a kid, I sang a variety of anti-Michigan songs. And a vivid childhood memory is when the mother of one of my grade school friends published in “Sports Illustrated” a story about the 1950 Snow Bowl game. Over her manual typewriter, she explained to me the importance of “The Game.” In college sports, I can’t think of any richer tradition.
2. “Script Ohio” performed by the Best Damn Band in the Land
The Ohio State Marching Band is the best marching band that I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched them now for over 60 years, and they’ve always been superb. The military uniforms and style, the high stepping, the precision: all are trademarks. But the band’s signature routine is “Script Ohio.” Have you ever seen another band do a script routine? Me neither. Script Ohio is unique. There’s nothing like it.
“Script Ohio” was first performed on Oct. 10, 1936, at a game against Pitt. The music (which I often hum, without thinking about it) is “Le Regiment,” by French composer Joseph François Rausky.
Rausky died in 1910, but several albums of his music are available; all are marches, a couple performed by the United States Military Academy Band. You get it: military marches. Perfect for the OSU band. When “Script Ohio” is shown on TV, the announcers (even if they’re not Ohio State alums) treat it with a kind of awe. The dotting of the “i” is not an afterthought; it’s an honor.
3. The Victory Bell
Ringing after every home victory, the bell housed in the southeast corner of the stadium sparks for me both memory and emotion. Bells have always been symbolic. The Liberty Bell is one of our nation’s best-known emblems. Church bells have summoned worshipers to services and have proclaimed celebration at weddings or mourning at funerals.
May the Victory Bell always chime.
4. Buckeye leaves on helmets
These days, lots of teams, at all levels of play, sport some kind of sticker for outstanding play. I doubt that the Buckeyes, who started awarding buckeye leaves for big plays or general contributions in 1968, were the first in college football to decorate helmets in such a fashion. But they’re the best known, making the Buckeye helmet truly iconic.
To have a helmet full of stickers come season’s end is as significant a mark of accomplishment as one could have in the scarlet and gray. And for those of you who are confused, no, they’re not stars or footballs — they’re buckeye leaves, yes really, they are buckeye leaves.
5. Gold pants
Related closely to item No. 1 above are the gold pants charms awarded to Buckeye players who play on teams that beat Michigan. They’re engraved with the date and score of the game. My advice to a first-year Buckeye? Get four of them!
Following the 1934 game against the Wolverines, in which Ohio State amassed its biggest win to that point in series history, then-head coach Francis Schmidt uttered a phrase that still echoes across campus nearly 90 years later.
When asked about the victory, Schmidt downplayed the accomplishment, reminding the questioner that Michigan’s players “put their pants on one leg at a time same as everybody else.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
6. “Carmen Ohio”
I like this tradition, but it’s fairly new, so I decided to rank it at the bottom. Win or lose, the team and the crowd join the Ohio State Marching Band and sing the school’s alma mater, “Carmen Ohio.” Players, coaches, cheerleaders, guests, all gather around the south end of Ohio Stadium at home games, place their arms around each other, and gently sway back and forth until it’s time to spell out the final word of the song; “O-hi-o.”
Although the song itself was composed in the first decade of the twentieth century and had been sung at commencements, the singing of the alma mater after football games was started by Jim Tressel and continued by Urban Meyer and Ryan Day. Other teams across campus have adopted the tradition as well. It’s a new tradition, but a good one.
Lost tradition: Illibuck
Oh, I know that the Illibuck turtle is still awarded to the winner of the Ohio State-Illinois game, but clearly its significance has fallen. First, since the creation of Big Ten divisions, the teams don’t even play each other every year. Second, Illinois struggles on the football field. They claim 15 conference championships in their history, but the most recent one was twenty years ago. In the Illibuck trophy series, the Buckeyes boast a 64-23-2 record. Not close enough to rival the Michigan series and barely hanging in there as a tradition. Although, it is Ohio State’s only rivalry trophy, unless you count the Big Ten Championship trophy.