Tolling Bells and the Nature of Man

Kristin Striker

August 1, 2009

Aristotle says that man is by nature a political animal. Well, the Philosopher has obviously never been to an OSU football game. I had the privilege of going to the OSU-Purdue game this fall. Surprisingly, I had never been to a home game, although I consider myself a well-seasoned OSU fan. I never fully understood the magnitude of the Scarlet and Gray, though, until I made the pilgrimage down to Columbus. The trip gave me a whole new understanding of the phenomena that is OSU football. It also gave me a unique perspective about men… specifically, men when they are part of a crowd of 105,000.

I spent my time with Ashbrook Scholars—men who have been taught to contemplate the highest good, and it is not OSU football. But for some reason, or for lack of, this education left them the closer we got to the Horseshoe. We started out with a conversation focused on politics and justice. However, as we made our way closer and joined the stream of scarlet and gray clad fans, the talk turned to the game. We started to hear chants of O-H and I-O. We walked past Mirror Lake, where, I learned, thousands gather the night before the OSU-Michigan game to jump into the water, actually more of a small pond than a lake. These men who had been so energized speaking of candidates and policy issues now seemed to catch the fever of the thousands of fans surrounding them. Talk turned to win-loss records, players, and stats.

When we made it the stadium, one of my companions said the stadium reminded him of the Coliseum. How far we have come—instead of watching lions maul human beings, we have come to watch men maul men, all over a piece of pigskin. Please do not misunderstand me. I enjoy football and I get excited just like any other true sports fan. But as we got closer, I realized I was in a whole new realm of sport. There were tailgaters everywhere; I knew we were in serious tailgate territory when I saw a satellite dish mounted on top of a car. As we made our way through the throng, the guys informed me that these people had likely been here all morning and some didn’t even have tickets.

I glanced up at the revered Horseshoe, seeing the dome overlooking the main entrance. It was beautiful—ornate and rich looking. However, the thing that struck me the most was its resemblance to the National Basilica in Washington, D.C. The dome really looked like that beautiful church. At the time, I did not know that below that dome were stained glass windows, the center one sporting a large scarlet block O. This made me wonder if I was there for a football game or a church service.

After stopping at a few tailgate parties, our group split up—some were sitting in the student section, but my ticket was in C deck. As we climbed the stairs, I enjoyed the respite from the sun, although I was anxious to break into the sunlight and observe the essence of what I had only heard about. I was glad we were sitting up high (close to God, as my friend put it), so I could better witness the scene. As we emerged into the sunlight, I was assaulted with a sea of scarlet. Tens of thousands, all wearing some form of scarlet and gray. Wedging ourselves between our seatmates, I felt like I was a part of the giant conglomerate that is OSU football. I watched the teams enter the field, the coin toss, the singing of Carmen Ohio, and the National Anthem—in that order. The crowd went nuts for all of these, but the best was yet to come.

The first series ended in our favor, a blocked punt that we ran in for a touchdown. Soon, it was third down for Purdue and I realized that there was a sound in the air. It sounded like tolling bells. I was informed that these were the bells from the song “Hell’s Bells.” After the first time, there was no way I could ignore the reaction spurred by this sound. It didn’t matter what people in the stands were doing. When the bells came over the sound system, the stadium was thrown into near pandemonium. It was as if the team had no chance to stop the opponent if we did not yell our hearts out. So that’s what the 105,000 fans did, time and time again.

It was as if we were Pavlov’s dogs, our stimulus the sound, the reward a punt. It was amazing. Even the most timid girl would cup her hands and give a lusty yell. It was clear reason had left the building, if it had indeed ever been there. Not only were we watching men tackle one other in the pursuit of a small oblong ball, but we were stirred into a frenzy by the sound of a bell tolling. There was something both exhilarating and disturbing in the realization of this fact. However, it being my first time here, I could not help but be intrigued. When the play did result in a punt, we all took great pride in playing our part. When Purdue got a first down, we took it hard, as if we were the ones that had let the pass sneak by, sailing into the arms of the receiver. We lived and breathed each play, and on those third downs, the bells let us know that it was the proper time to let our emotions free. Although I realize that reasonable arguments can be made that football is political, it was during these times that I was cognizant of the fact that more often than not, at OSU football games, passion rules the day and reason gets placed aside.

No other cheering quite compared to the reaction to those bells. It was almost as if a switch had been thrown, allowing these raw emotions to come out. Now is the time to forget the Philosopher—we are not political animals at all, we are merely animals, without Reason to guide us. At this moment, it was passion that mattered. We, this mass of scarlet and gray, can influence the play. We let it take hold of us; we give into it. We are no longer bankers, students, teachers, and kids. We are OSU fans—a family—with an obligation to help our team. When we score, it gives us permission to high-five strangers. We are one with the body of believers in this great hall we call the Horseshoe. In the hallowed space, rational thought is abandoned and we give in to the passion.

Before I knew it, it was halftime. We watched the band’s spectacular show, marveling once again at their skill. Sadly, we would see no other touchdowns. However, we would have many more chances to hear the bells. Each time, it became more familiar; each time, I felt more like one of the crowd. I still never got over my awe, but I felt more at home in the moment. I added my yell, feeble though it may have been, to the clamor of voices. I high-fived my companions on this journey to a win. The final score: 16-3—not a landslide of a victory, but we would take it.

Meeting back up with the others, we made the trek back from the stadium. Discussing the game, we remarked on the crowd and how we could have played better, but happy that we had won. To my amazement, as we got closer to the car, the conversation turned back to politics. There was talk of Lincoln, McCain, and even a passing reference to Churchill. It was amazing to behold. Here were four men, Ashbrook Center educated, two of them in law school, who had come full circle. They started the day with Reason, entered into the Passion of the football game, and now were back to their roots. We ended up at a pizza place, and the discussion turned to whether or not the citizens of a state have the right to secede from the Union, thus permitting the state itself to secede. Listening to them, I recognized that politics has its own element of passion—perhaps it was just not as palpable as the pandemonium at the Horseshoe. Maybe it is partially true what Aristotle says—man is by nature a political animal; it’s just that at OSU games, passion comes to dominate even the most political football game.

Kristin Striker is a senior from Galion, Ohio, majoring in Marketing.