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These Jolly Days of Priceless Worth

As a result of my marriage to Mrs. 614orty-Niner, an alumna of The Ohio State University, I've more or less been absorbed into the Buckeye family.

In fact, one of my most interesting mental exercises as I grew accustomed to this area was seeing how much of the Columbus metro area is tied to and revolves around the goings-on of the university. This phenomenon is amplified to even greater heights when college football season rolls around (I have kinda' noticed that this area is a tiny (ahem) bit crazy for the university's football team.) Even the Mrs. has told me that I am more likely to be the proverbial "football widower" during the season than vice versa.

Getting with the program
For example, I've noticed supermarket shopping is a much more hectic affair the hours before the kickoff. On the opposite side, there was nary a soul in sight at a music show I attended that had been unfortunately scheduled at the same time as a big nighttime Buckeyes game. And no local sports bar worth their salt wouldn't have a plethora of Buckeye-related paraphernalia and a TV screen turned to their games for the next few months.

Having lived three-plus decades in Northern California, I had a generally good idea that fanaticism for any of the Bay Area's major college football teams (namely, Stanford and University of California Berkeley) couldn't hold a match to that of schools like Ohio State.

There are numerous reasons for this of course, but the main one lies in one simple word: success. Ohio State has built a tradition and expectation for success over the life of their football program, and has been the beneficiary of much media exposure. In contrast, both Stanford and Cal have had generally only sporadic, short runs of good to excellent play. Another important factor is that sports fanaticism in the Bay Area for sports generally lies with the professional teams; Ohio State does not have to battle Columbus' pro franchises for the community's attention to any great degree.

Now, reaching these conclusions on a mental level is fine, but having the chance to test them out in real-life is much more desirable. I was excited to experience my first up-close taste of this fanaticism when my spouse and I traveled into enemy territory to watch the Buckeyes take on the Golden Bears early in the 2013 season.

For what it's worth, I had no particular loyalty to Cal when I lived in the Bay Area other than they were a local team and I wanted them to do well against other big name schools. Even more so, I wanted to beat teams from Southern California; in fact, this unofficial Northern California vs. Southern California geographical and lifestyle rivalry may actually be the state's most far-reaching, spilling over into things like both amateur and professional sports.

The scarlet and gray's prominence could not be missed
I knew, based on years of prior commuting experience, that the best way to get to Cal's home field (Memorial Stadium) on game day was to take the BART train, the Bay Area's version of the New York City's subway, or Washington DC's metro system. This is where I first noticed how well Buckeye fans travel: for those who were obviously sporting their college colors at the platform, most of them were sporting the scarlet and gray of OSU.

Further evidence came as we both left the station and walked through downtown Berkeley to the stadium, where scarlet and gray clothing dominated the view. Despite trying as hard as I could, I spotted only occasional splotches of Cal's blue and gold (side note: all University of California schools have some variation of blue and gold as their school colors.) This proved the same on the way back, where it seemed every big tour bus parked on the street was Buckeye-chartered.

A Cal alum's worst nightmare?
If I was a old-time and/or hardcore Cal alum, I would've been distressed by the breakdown of those attending the game. Ostensibly, we sat just outside of the area designated for fans of visiting teams, but in reality we probably could've sat most anywhere (save for the Cal student section) and been surrounded by hordes of Buckeyes. In fact, Buckeye fan distribution there was such that the "O-H-I-O" chant that normally swirls around The Shoe between stadium sections regularly crescendoed around Memorial Stadium during the game.

Talking with other Buckeye fans in the stadium made me and my spouse realize we weren't alone in making the journey here from far away places. For some, attending this game had been planned pretty much since the home and home series between Cal and Ohio State was announced in the late 2000's. Another family we ran into said this was the last stop of a West Coast excursion, and that they would be starting the drive back to Columbus after the game.

The Buck-I-Guy grabs some grub
At this game, I also received my first Buckeye "baptism" of sorts in that I ran into and shook the hand of Ohio State's most prominent fan, the Buck-I-Guy. I'm not sure what it is about Berkeley or Berkeley-esque settings, but I actually crossed his path again this year's Comfest event. Who knows: with this trend, my next random meetup with him might be a Yellow Springs Street Fair, or perhaps cruising the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

For what its worth, there were Cal fans near and around our section, but they must have felt a little bit outnumbered. A few gave as good as they got, but by the end the avalanche of Ohio State support and the inevitable result finally caused most of them to leave as the clock was winding down its final minutes.

As the sun set, the scoreboard told the final tale
In any case, Buckeye fans went home both satisfied and unsatisfied on this day. On the positive side, the day couldn't have been more perfect weather-wise, and the Buckeyes put up 52 points in their win over Cal. On the negative side, the Buckeye defense allowed 34 points to a team that would end up winless in conference play, and kept things relatively close until late. This foreshadowed a precarious tightrope that this edition of the Buckeyes would end up walking more often than not right until the very end. For the spouse and I, we couldn't have imagined a much better day together enjoying some football.

Who knows what this season may bring for OSU's football team and their fans, especially after the season-ending injury to talented starting quarterback Braxton Miller. The prospect of a freshman QB leading an already rebuilt offense (including four new starters on the offensive line and the loss of their top running back Carlos Hyde to the pros) has rightfully put a lot of their fans on edge. Interestingly, a decently tough starting schedule (including Virginia Tech and University of Cincinnati) may tell the tale of how well this team will fare against the big boys of college football more than their Big 10 conference games.

No matter what happens, I believe two words apply: Go Bucks!

Ohio State Buckeyes Football 2014
First Opponent: Navy Midshipmen (at Baltimore, MD)
Saturday, August 30, 2014
12 noon EDT
Official School Website
Official Schedule

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