I awoke the same way I had every Saturday this school year — regretting not going to sleep sooner as I hit the snooze button. But this Saturday was different. Sliding out of bed, I met my father, Jed Dailey, an Ohio State alumnus and former OSU football player, in the hallway.
“What are you doing today?” my father said as I rubbed sleep out of my eyes.
Reminding him that I was dressing as a Michigan fan for the day, he slightly nodded his head as he walked back into his room. I hoped he was going back in there to pray for my safety.
Growing up in Columbus, I’ve been conditioned to hate the color combination of blue and yellow. When I was at school or in a restaurant with my family, someone was always pointing out the Michigan fan in the room, chanting “O-H-I-O” in their faces as they tried to go about their business. Never have I been singled out like a Wolverine is in a sea of scarlet and gray.
That is until the OSU vs. Michigan game Saturday.
Michigan alert. Michigan alert.
With my sister and 100-pound bodyguard for the day at my side, we nervously walked into the Walmart on Hilliard-Rome Road, getting caught off guard by a Walmart employee who was pushing carts.
“Go Blue,” he said as he made a fist bumping motion in the air. The phrase was so foreign to me that it did not register. Is that what they say? Do they change it up or stick with the same call-and-response technique?
“Go Blue,” I said in response after stumbling over my words.
Weaving in and out of the aisles, I could feel myself becoming unnerved as I saw most of the shoppers going about their business. I grew tense as I passed a Buckeye fan, but it was a wasted feeling as they paid no attention to my presence except for a group of little kids, who upon seeing me said “Michigan alert. Michigan alert.”
Glancing through the electronics aisle as I was looking at the items, I walked passed a man who was dressed as Santa Claus, sitting on a bench for children to take pictures with. Claus looked up at me and raised an eyebrow.
“A Michigan fan, huh?” he said in a huff.
I had done it. I had disappointed Santa. Forget disownment from my family and friends, I put myself on the naughty list.
They keep looking over here
Stopping at the Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Lane Avenue, I felt somewhat unnerved as I slowly made my way toward Buckeye country. I walked into the store, getting no reaction from the workers or the customers save for the two customers who ordered before me.
Sitting at a table facing an entrance, I happily sipped my drink as I chatted with my sister about school projects.
“They keep looking over here,” she said, throwing her head in the direction of the customers. For a brief moment I didn’t understand why, quickly remembering I was wearing a sweatshirt with the word “Michigan” sprawled across it.
I was now a part of this innocent fun
As we walked into the Ohio Union, a couple of fans’ eyes darted to me, their faces turning in disgust. Being a student on campus, I had walked through those tall, glass doors a number of times throughout my journey here and never had I seen a reaction among my fellow students change so fast.
Imari Mitchell, a fourth-year in theatre, said the rivalry between OSU and Michigan is “innocent fun 80 percent of the time.”
“I think people take it too far,” Mitchell said. “I’ve seen people get a little rowdy and red in the face and ready to fight.”
Although Mitchell was wearing OSU merchandise and sitting not too far from a group of people watching the game, she said her pride was not too deep into OSU sports.
“I’m not a sports person,” Mitchell said. “I could care less about football or basketball. But I go here, so I wear the colors.”
Jacinda Walker, a first-year graduate student in design, said when she transferred to OSU from the University of Akron, the faculty member who helped her schedule classes informed her of the rivalry between OSU and Michigan, to which she had only heard about while living in Cleveland.
“(The University of Akron’s) colors are blue and gold,” Walker said. “As (the faculty member and I) were walking through (paper work), he said ‘Oh, I see you’re a zippy.’ I said ‘Yes I did my undergraduate at the University of Akron.’”
Walker said the faculty member told her that OSU does not care about what she did before she came here, but that she was a Buckeye now and to not wear the blue and gold colors.
“He said I was now a part of this innocent fun,” Walker said. “It was traumatizing.”
Walker said most of the aggression is perpetuated from older OSU fans and the faculty members.
“With the younger generation, it’s not so much the madness,” Walker said. “With the older folks, it’s as if nothing else matters.”
Don’t do it. You’re going to die
I began to walk into Woody’s Tavern, rapidly returning to the foyer after seeing a crowd of Buckeyes in the room. I threw on my coat and buttoned up, making sure no blue and yellow was poking out. My sister and I sat at a table with our food, slowly blending in with our nonaffiliated-with-anything pea coats. I looked to the screen, seeing the score was, 14-21, Michigan.
“Don’t take off your jacket,” my sister said in a hushed voice. She didn’t have to tell me twice.
The image of Woody Hayes next to the projection screen seemed to look as if it were glaring at me. I apologized silently, then realizing that I was being sincere to a wall.
Throughout and after halftime, I could feel my heart rising to my throat. What will become of me if I take off this coat? I began to strategize when that would be, at least waiting until OSU gained another touchdown.
Every time the crowd clapped, I wanted to. Every time the crowd yelled, I wanted to. But I could not be included in this community, for I was a Michigan fan.
It was then I wondered if Michigan fans feel the same way I did in deciding where to go or if I was that much of a chicken to stand out. A simple sweatshirt gave me fear and anxiety when its intension is to provide me with warmth and comfort.
Third quarter. OSU is a touchdown ahead. There are six minutes left to fourth quarter. I looked to my sister and she stared back in horror.
“Don’t do it,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re going to die.”
I’m going to die.
No boos. No reactions. No threats against my life.
As OSU fans passed the table to get food, I felt as if each of their encounters were close calls from Final Destination. I sighed in relief each time they did not react to me.
Tension arose as the final play was in action. Surveying the room, the crowd sat on the edge of their seats. The play was made. OSU blocks Michigan from gaining more points on the board. The fans go into an uproar as OSU beats Michigan by a single point.
A single point might have just saved my life.
With this however, I discovered that not every Michigan fan gets ridiculed in public just as much as how OSU fans aren’t always aggressive. I didn’t die. I didn’t get hurt. I walked out of the room like I had done many times before.
Ugh. Why is she wearing that?
We started to leave the Union until my sister heard someone say “Ugh. Why is she wearing that?”
“Did you hear that?,” she said excitingly as she pointed to two students carrying a pizza box across the Union. The only reaction I received was directed toward the sweater and not me as a person.
As we walked back to my car, it occurred to me that my views on OSU fans differ than what I’ve experienced in my own life. The celebration of a certain football team doesn’t always risk your chance of survival in public as I had been told all day. Saturday was like any other Saturday except for a few interactions.
Sharing this realization with my sister, she nodded in agreement while looking annoyed.
“Yeah, I understand,” she said, and then pointed at my sweatshirt. “Just take that off now please.”