August 1, 2009
I was walking with my friends to the Horseshoe to see the Ohio State-Purdue game when someone in the distance suddenly belted out “O-H,” which was promptly followed with a resounding “I-O” by a crowd of rowdy Buckeye fans—including myself. This was not something I would usually do, but, in the overwhelming emotion of the atmosphere, I had no choice but to acknowledge the invitation of my unknown brother. We continued down Neil Avenue passing what would have been on normal days a motley collection of academic buildings bus stops, restaurants, and houses. But on game day, despite the incongruity of these structures, the buildings appeared uniform in purpose, woven together with the pomp and prideful emotion of the day. Even the gothic academic buildings, the temples of reason, seemed to yield their dignity to this overwhelming spirit.
As we approached the Horseshoe, Ohio’s own Coliseum, I saw the vast scarlet and gray masses through the rising smoke of their grills; I smelled the hot dogs and bratwursts that they cooked, and I watched many fans reaching into their coolers to grab another beer. As I moved through this crowd of loyal Ohioans, I saw all different kinds of people—people who normally would have no connection with each other—come together on that day to fulfill their duties to the state. Suddenly, I heard the steady beat of a drum. You could see the band marching toward the stadium. At once, the people put down their hot dogs and beer and ran up the entrance to pay homage to their band as it passed by. Just a second ago, the scene had been a disorderly festival, but now the crowds had gathered to make a tunnel for the approaching band. The band marched by in its disciplined and austere manner and entered the stadium, paving the way for the crowds to start moving in. At once, people stood tall, and took on amore serious disposition. This was after all a football game, a contest that would decide the superiority of one school over the other. We needed to be at our best to represent the Buckeye State to the rest of the nation. We moved into the stadium and found our seats.
The band took the field, marching in its famous “Script Ohio” formation and the crowd roared. Building off the momentum of the band, the team took the field, and the stadium rumbled with excitement. The atmosphere was electric, and the game was quickly underway. But soon, after a couple of incomplete passes and a punt, the intensity of game was dampened, and people seemed to lose their interest. I was one of these people.
I couldn’t help but wonder why our state identity and honor seemed so important on game day and not on all the other days of the year. During the week, my association with most of the people in the stadium, if at all, is only accidental or commercial. But on Saturdays, we turn into brothers—fellow Ohioans—there to participate in victory—which somehow is living proof that Ohio is the best state in the Union. But why is it that sports have a monopoly on our local political affections? What ever happened to the pride in the virtue and industry of our people, in the beauty of our land, in the wisdom of our laws, or in the customs we practice? Those no longer excite the people; they have been replaced by touchdowns, field goals, and solid D.
Some Buckeye fans even admit that the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, one of the most celebrated and lively rivalries in all of sports, is just a less-important reenactment of the (bloodless) Toledo Wars of the 1830s. But does watching the Ohio State-Michigan game excite the same political affections as being engaged in that political dispute? Can a North-South All Star game really replace what the Civil War era did to the character of the American soul? Can winning the National Championship replace the pride that comes from good laws, industry, and virtue? It was certainly clear from the almost idolatrous enthusiasm we Ohioans had just expressed that those local passions still existed. What was unclear was whether this emotion spoke well of the health of our souls.
Was our enthusiasm just the new way we could take pride in state affairs, or was it a yearning for something more—something that we used to have but lost. Perhaps we got distracted and it was stolen when our most pressing political concerns got transferred from Columbus to Washington. Or maybe the spirited pride we have in our state universities’ athletic victories are the last elements that make state lines relevant to our local political affections at all. I didn’t know…besides, there was a game going on: “O-H”…”I-O.” But the question remained in my mind.
Ohio State played a sloppy game, but they managed to win handily. As the satisfied crowds began to leave, the band started playing. I looked over the South end of the field and found the team holding hands singing the AlmaMater with solemn reverence. The crowd joined in:
Oh come let’s sing Ohio’s praise
And songs to Alma Mater raise
While our hearts rebounding thrill
With joy which death alone can still
Summer’s heat or winter’s cold
The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship … O-HI-O!
I listened in astonishment to the people in the stadium—virtually 105,000 people—sing Carmen Ohio with more reverence and ardor than they sang the National Anthem. I still didn’t know whether this was good or bad, but it was better than apathy. I sang along.
Joe D’Andrea is a senior from Westerville, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and Economics.