The thing that separates college football from every other sport in the world is its traditions. Sure, European soccer clubs have been doing the same chants and singing the same songs for centuries and baseball managers are still forced to wear unflattering uniforms on the off chance that they are called upon to pinch-hit in extra innings, but college football traditions are so much more than songs sung by hooligans and questionable wardrobe decisions — although both are often part of the equation.
What makes college football traditions different is that they aren’t just about the celebration of a single team. At their heart, they are celebrations of ourselves, they are celebrations of our homes, of our communities, of a time in our lives when potential and optimism were the currency with which every decision was made. They are celebrations of what made us who we are today and what will help us to become the very best version of ourselves tomorrow.
While I admit that I am completely and utterly biased, I do not believe that any institution of higher education has football game-day traditions as rich and intrinsically vital to the fabric of its community than Ohio State.
If you know much about college football, it will likely not surprise you that many of Ohio State’s most beloved game-day traditions involve the Ohio State Marching Band. Known as the “The Pride of the Buckeyes” for a reason, for many fans, home-game Saturdays don’t officially begin until they’ve secured a seat in St. John Arena, hours in advance of the Skull Session.
You know that a fanbase truly loves its marching band when they are willing to forgo all of the fun happening at the various tailgates and parties surrounding the stadium in order to cram into a hot and stuffy gym in order to watch the band warm up. The doors to St. John open four hours before each home game and the Skull Session begins two hours and 20 minutes before kickoff and the arena is never not filled to the brim with Buckeyes.
At 9:40, the band marches into St. John, playing its iconic ramp entrance cadences (more on that momentarily), and the sound of the cheers is deafening in that old barn. The Marching Band will then proceed to play through their pregame show until the team arrives to greet the crowd.
Generally, a selection of players and coaches will address the fans, turning the band practice into a spirited pep rally designed to get the assembled fans even more fired up for that day’s action than they already were.
Once the team exits, they will walk across Lane Avenue to Ohio Stadium to begin their pregame routine and the band will do a final musical run-through of its pregame and halftime shows. I have known many people over the years who will come down to campus simply to attend a Saturday Skull Session, despite not having tickets to the game, and then will either go home or to a bar to watch that day’s matchup; that is how special the Marching Band and the Skull Session is to Ohio State fans.
From their viral halftime shows paying tribute to Michael Jackson or video games, people around the country seem to understand why the Ohio State Marching Band is known as The Best Damn Band in the Land, but for me, the power of the band begins with The Ramp Entrance.
To this day, I can not watch — or even really think about — the band entering Ohio Stadium without tearing up. I am not a musician, nor was I ever in the band, and other than being a lifelong Buckeye, I have no real connection to the band, but the electricity generated by their entrance, the anticipation that comes with their presence, the precision of their every movement, the nearly century's worth of tradition, it is all just such a powerful experience that it is nearly impossible to put into words.
TBDBITL began performing the now-iconic Ramp Entrance in 1928. Approximately 20 minutes before kickoff, the percussion section is first to exit the tunnel as they silently (at least for the majority of fans) and methodically march onto The Horseshoe’s field. Once in position, the rest of the band files into the sounds of “The Buckeye Battle Cry.”
Once the entire regiment is assembled, the drum major races through the ranks to take their position in front of the band and performs their signature backend, touching the plum of their shako to the ground, before literally leading the band “Across the Field.”
In the 95 years that the band has been performing this tradition, there have been only minor modifications, mostly for logistical reasons, and knowing that you are witnessing one of the most indelible traditions in college football only serves to amplify the excitement and emotions of what is to come next.
The Incomparable “Script Ohio”
Let’s put the rumors to rest. No, the University of Michigan Marching Band did not create “Script Ohio” in 1932, four years before the Ohio State Marching Band began its now legendary tradition of a constantly flowing formation spelling out “Ohio” to the music of Robert Planquette’s “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse.”
Yes, the Wolverines’ band did perform a program that featured its members spelling out “Ohio,” but it was set to different music and was not done in the signature — pun intended — style that we know and love today. In fact, OSU Marching Band director Eugene Weigel based the design on the marquee of the Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus, just about six miles away from the stadium.
The unique performance first sees the band form a triple-Block O formation on one side of the field, and then led by the drum major, slowly unwinds to form the famous script design. This section of the routine is the prelude to one of the most exciting and emotionally satisfying moments you will ever see pregame.
The highlight begins when the drum major picks up a lone sousaphone player (it’s a tuba that wraps around the musician making it easier to march with) at the bottom of the second “o” before completing the spelling of “Ohio.” Then the pair high steps to the summit of the “i,” and after the drum major marks the spot, the fourth or fifth-year sousaphone player takes their moment, doffs their cap, and bows to each side of the assembled crowd.
In “Script Ohio’s” 87-year history, there have been only a handful of honorary, non-Sousaphone playing “i”-dotters, including some of the most beloved members of the Ohio and Ohio State communities, including Bob Hope (1978), who grew up in Cleveland, former Ohio State football coaches Woody Hayes (1983) and Earl Bruce (2016), former Ohio State golfer Jack Nicklaus (2006), Sen. John and Annie Glenn (2009), and a small selection of others.
While it might seem silly to outsiders, the dotting of the “i” plays a tremendous part in the pomp and circumstance of any Ohio State game day. Bruce said upon his inclusion in this exclusive club, “I think this is the greatest honor I’ve ever received.”
For many years, “Script Ohio” was done only on a handful of occasions throughout the season, including post-game following the Homecoming contest. However, more recently, it has become an integral part of the pregame festivities, and TBDBITL will often pull out double-scripts, and with the help of the Alumni Band on one Saturday early in the season, even a quadruple “Script Ohio.”
While the university’s alma mater has been “Carmen Ohio” for more than a century, it was written by Ohio State athlete and Men’s Glee Club member Fred Cornell in either 1902 or 1903. There are potentially apocryphal stories that claim he wrote the words to the melody of “Spanish Hymn” on the train ride back to Columbus after the football team was beaten in Ann Arbor 86-0, though Cornell’s family has stated that they did not know if that is true.
The song became popular when the Ohio State student newspaper, The Lantern, published the words in 1906, and it has remained an important part of the school’s traditions ever since.
However, it was in 2001 when the song became a cherished and solemn part of the football game day experience. In head coach Jim Tressel’s first season in Columbus, he instituted the tradition that following every home game, win or lose, the team would congregate in front of the band on the south side of the stadium to sing “Carmen Ohio.” This tradition has become part of every game day, whether at home or on the road, whether the band has traveled with the team or not.
With their arms around each other, the team — and everyone left in the stadium — sings the song affirming their love for the institution and the friends they have made during their time in Columbus. Then, as is also tradition, everyone uses their arms to ceremonially spell out “Ohio,” the last word of the hymn.
The Victory Bell
The final game day tradition is one that, unfortunately, doesn’t occur at every home game, though it does at most. Located in the southeast tower of Ohio Stadium, the Victory Bell is rung after every Ohio State win. The sound can be heard throughout the central part of campus where the stadium sits, and according to the school, on especially calm days, the bell can be heard up to five miles away.
Originally a gift to the university from the classes of 1943, 1944, and 1945, the bell weighs 2,420 pounds, and the tradition of ringing it following home victories began on Oct. 2, 1954, when the Buckeyes defeated the Cal Bears. The privilege and responsibility of ringing the bell falls on members of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.
There is nothing quite like walking out of The Horseshoe with the sounds of the bell celebrating another Ohio State victory.