I am at work, munching on my sandwich during my lunch hour. People around me are singing. Normally staid, sober, middle-aged Ohioans are making fools of themselves, decked out in full Buckeye regalia, belting out the Ohio State University fight song, shaking pompoms and pennants, and cavorting like young bucks (and Bucks).
This is an odd time of year. Oh, I understand it. I’ve lived in Columbus most of my life, and these attitudes are deeply embedded in my DNA. I remember meeting St. Woody Hayes in line at Lazarus one day when I was a kid. Woody shook my hand and told me to study hard. I felt like I had touched the hem of God. I wrote a paper when I was in eighth grade on the topic: “Your Favorite Day.” My favorite day was November 23rd, 1968, a day in which the Ohio State Buckeyes, on their way to the national championship, demolished the Michigan Wolverines by a score of 50 – 14. That was the game in which Woody, already up by 34 points with less than two minutes to go in the game, went for a two-point conversion, and made it. When asked later why he had gone for two when he already had a clearly insurmountable lead, Woody replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”
When you grow up in central Ohio, certain eternal verities are deeply ingrained: the great enemies of freedom and the American way are Communism, godlessness, and the University of Michigan, and not necessarily in that order. It was only much later in life, in fact when I was an adult, that I dared step foot in Ann Arbor, Michigan and found that it was an attractive college town, and that its inhabitants were not horned and fanged.
So there’s this football game tomorrow. It’s a big game. It’s always a big game, The Biggest Game, in fact. But this time it’s even bigger. The Buckeyes are undefeated, and ranked #1 in the nation. The Wolverines are undefeated, and ranked #2 in the nation. The winner of the game will most likely go on to win the national championship.
I ought to care. And in some sense, I do. But I can’t help it. Every year about this time I get embarrassed to be in Columbus, Ohio. Because I also know that sometime tomorrow some unlucky or clueless person will have his car torched for the simple reason that it has Michigan license plates. People who have the audacity to wear Michigan regalia in Columbus, Ohio will be, on the bright side, ridiculed and belittled, and on the dark side, verbally and/or physically assaulted. After the game people will burn dumpsters and couches. Don’t ask me why. You win a football game, you burn the city down. Or, you lose a football game, you burn the city down. It’s just what we do.
The singing appears to be wrapping up now. I am going to attempt to hide in my cubicle and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I made the mistake of wearing a blue shirt to work today. I didn’t think about it. I just reached in the closet and grabbed a shirt. I’m hoping that the minivan won’t be in flames when I leave for home in a few hours.