The frosty breath of fans drifts through the stadium air as they chant and cheer on their Buckeyes in temperatures so brisk they can keep their pregame Budweisers chilled without the hassle of a cooler. The underneath of their eyes tinged with gray from the early morning they had in order to properly clothe themselves in Scarlet and Gray spirit wear, fuel up the car and make the journey to the game. Tickets to an Ohio State football game will run you about $35 if you’re a student, to $550 if you are not, but putting a price on fandom isn’t something you will find many fans doing. It’s the Buckeyes we’re talking about, a team whose now back-to-back undefeated regular seasons puts on a finishing coat of Krazy Glue in a very strongly bonded relationship between fan and team.
Having attended every away game this season, with the exception of California, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with fans of all ages, varying connections to OSU, and vastly different measures of football knowledge. I’ve spoken to fans whose knowledge of game play mirrors their knowledge of astrophysics, where a linebacker might very well be the one scoring touchdowns and getting sacked. But I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting a fan that holds a perfect attendance record over the past 70 years. John Crawford, an OSU alum, told me death is the only thing that could stop him from coming to a home game. Where his attendance record might be an anomaly, rest assured that his Buckeye spirit is not. The rapture that is OSU pride roots itself in the hearts and souls of people in such a peculiar way that I’m afraid my own dissection of it couldn’t possibly do it justice.
I grew up in a family of artists, where sports did not typically make dinner conversation, or any conversation for that matter. I watched my first football game on television in November 2006 — Then-No. 1 OSU versus Then-No. 2 Michigan, as a matter of fact. I had no idea what was going on and truly, I wasn’t highly motivated to learn (especially not while there was a tin of fresh-from-the-oven brownies on the table). That was seven years ago, but to be fair, sometimes I still don’t know what’s going on. And where that might sound ridiculous, it’s actually not — many, if not most fans are in the same boat, maybe even on a barge several miles behind me. That’s because football doesn’t rely on game-play comprehension to be a staple in American culture. No, football is not about whether or not the audience can knowledgeably commentate on the offensive line, and it’s certainly not dependent on the fans’ understanding of every call, flag or whistle on behalf of the referees. Football isn’t as much about how well people understand the technicalities, as it is the unity that sweaty bodies and grass-stained jerseys indoctrinate.
Consider the many sensory elements that make gameday what it is — the scent of warm buttery popcorn that wafts through the air in harmony with the freshly steamed hot dogs. The uniformity of replica jerseys, scarlet T-shirts and Block ‘O’ adorned skull caps that coordinate the crowd; the “OH-IO,” chanted so often it echoes indefinitely. The players gain celebrity status — signing autographs, getting verified on Twitter (Braxton Miller has almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, more than double the followers of Capital Cities, a music group that topped the charts for months in 2013 with its hit ‘Safe and Sound’), flying on planes to games that could easily reached by bus. Seeing players in class is a story to share with friends and getting assigned to be their lab partner is the stuff that dreams are made of.
To be an OSU fan is to be part of something grand, a seemingly exclusive club that’s joined by signing a large check to the admissions office. That’s not to discount Buckeye spirit in any way — the bond between fans, alumni, and current students is distinct and romantic, even. The many facets of the tradition of OSU bind together Buckeyes in a near biological way, creating a blood bond that can rival that of any traditional family. And that’s what you see in the eyes of fans, the supporters who spend countless hours and dollars to watch the team, a familial gaze that is just as proud of senior running back Carlos Hyde’s run to the end zone as a parent is of their child for scoring high on their English test. It’s a sight unlike any other, an observation that makes me reach back, deep into my memory of my college experience and wonder just how permanent a stamp, the seal of the university, will be left on my own individuality.