Once and Again a Fan
June 18, 2016
By Michael A. Calvert
Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy took the hand off, burst through the right side of the line, cut back to the left, evaded two tacklers, reversed field again, and crossed Indiana’s goal line for his third touchdown of the game. Everyone in Ohio Stadium was on their feet cheering and clapping. I stood on my seat to see over the adults just as Hopalong crossed the goal line and trotted back to the bench where all his teammates engulfed him and l tried to pat him on the back at once.
Uncle Bill, a graduate student in speech therapy, brought me to the game. I was eleven. It was the first college game I saw. In 1954, television had not arrived in my living room. I listened to many play-by-play radio broadcasts of OSU games, but seeing the Buckeyes play was a high point of my young life. Hopalong, a future Heisman Trophy winner, was my hero. I knew his statistics on yards per carry, touchdowns, pass receptions, and every other record the Columbus Dispatch compiled and printed. I had always been an Ohio State fan and I expected to be one forever.
Uncle Bill and I walked to the stadium from the apartment across from the campus where he lived with Grandmother. He pointed out the vintage buildings and the subjects taught in each. Hagerty Hall was for business, Mansfield Hall for botany, and Brown Hall for architecture (where I would study city planning ten years later). I glanced at each and nodded, but I was thinking about the game. Ohio State was favored. I hoped I was not a jinx.
Bells rang out from the bell tower at Orton Hall, a rough stone structure that housed the geology school. A carillon played the Ohio State anthem “Carmen Ohio.” I heard this lugubrious music on the radio after football games. Uncle Bill sang the last few bars that accompany the slow, drawn out pronunciation of Ohio in his deep baritone, “O-HI-O.”
These buildings faced the Oval, a four-block long expanse of grass crisscrossed by a maze of concrete walkways. Uncle Bill said a new walkway was paved when students wore down the grass with shortcuts—much better than “Keep Off the Grass” signs and fences he assured me. He pointed out the huge Thompson Library and the seated bronze statue of former university president, William Oxley Thompson, with his bald pate made shiny by thousands of students rubbing it for luck as they passed, especially during finals.
More students and alumni joined us as we got closer to the stadium. “You could be one of these students on the Oval in a few years,” he said to me. “You could get student tickets for all the home games.”
“I wouldn’t miss a game! Maybe I could go to OSU games in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois,” I said.
Then he spotted University Hall and told me it was the oldest building on campus. This red brick, Victorian clocktower flanked by four-story wings that housed the entire university in 1870. I stared at it, nodding again.
We turned a corner and saw the massive Ohio Stadium, towering gray concrete arches forming a horseshoe around the field. The American and Ohio flags and Big Ten pennants flew from the many flagpoles above the “shoe.” Approaching on foot, the stadium impressed even more than driving past on nearby streets.
“This dome at the entrance was modeled on Rome’s Pantheon. The stadium was built in 1922 for 70,000 spectators. At the time, no one thought it would ever fill up. Now every game is sold out,” said Uncle Bill as we entered beneath an archway on the side and began climbing wide concrete inclines with hundreds of fans to reach our seats. I stopped to take in the view when we emerged into the sunlight high above the field, emerald green with yard lines precisely chalked and the end zones dyed red. Uncle Bill said “You know that’s scarlet not red, Michael. OSU’s colors are scarlet and gray.”
Gradually people in bright sweaters and jackets, mostly scarlet (not red, I reminded myself) filled in the remaining empty seats. Pennants and pompons waved. The band, in their blue uniforms and hats topped with scarlet plumes, played the OSU fight song. “Fight the team across the field…” I sang along in a low voice to show Uncle Bill I knew the words. Afterwards cheerleaders raised their megaphones and repeatedly called out “O-H-I-O, Round on the ends, High in the middle, O-HI-O.”
“There’s the card section. Each student holds up a colored panel to spell out cheers. Up on top is the press box,” said Uncle Bill. I was gaping and wide-eyed at the entire spectacle. As we stood for the national anthem, smoke tickled my nose. Two men behind us were puffing on newly lit cigars.
Grandmother had scored autographs from linemen Jim Parker and Aurelius Thomas, players who lived in the dorm where she worked. I found their numbers in the program and followed them them instead of the ballcarrier for several plays.
The Buckeyes scored first and never trailed. Cassidy made several long runs, deftly sidestepping and swerving around defenders. We bought peanuts in a paper bag from a vendor with a tray supported by a strap around his neck. I was not ready to see the teams leave the field at halftime, but the rousing music led by the director conducting atop a ladder at midfield soon held my attention. Then they marched in formation, dispersed, merged, and formed images on the field. I was fascinated.
“Watch this closely, Michael,” said Uncle Bill as the band members began marching in single file playing music with a steady, hypnotic beat. Clapping and foot stomping accompanied the band. The drum major led them in forming a large oval as if following a giant pen. They continued and scripted a lower case “h”, then an “i” and finally an “o.” Applause grew as the tuba player broke away from the other players, escorted by the drum major, both high-stepping to dot the “i.” His horn flashed in the sun as he bowed. Ohio ! When the band members tipped their hats in unison, the crowd thundered their appreciation.
When Ohio State lined up to kickoff, Uncle Bill said, “Tad Weed, our kicker is not much bigger than you. Only one hundred and forty pounds. He hasn’t missed an extra point all season.” I nodded and imagined that I was about to dent the football with the toe of my high-topped cleats and launch it far down the field. For weeks afterwards (well, maybe days), I practiced kicking a football over the swing set in our back yard. I planned to request Tad’s number on my scarlet and gray jersey.
The Bucks increased their lead in the third quarter with Cassidy’s long run, and OSU’s coach emptied the bench by the end of the game. Even the third string scored on the hapless Hoosiers. Everyone around us cheered for every additional touchdown. My throat was sore and my hands stung from clapping. Finally the clock wound down to zero and we joined a happy throng stutter-stepping down the wide inclines and emerging onto the campus.
“Poor Indiana,” said Uncle Bill as we strolled back across the campus. “I can’t remember the last time they beat Ohio State. I almost feel sorry for them.”
I felt no mercy. I was triumphant. “The Buckeyes are just too strong for them. Maybe they ought to stick to tiddlywinks,” I said laughing jubilantly.
“You know who Ohio State is afraid to play?” asked Uncle Bill with a sideways glance. When I didn’t respond, he exclaimed, “Notre Dame! Not since the 1935 game when the Fighting Irish scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 18-13.It was called the Game of the Century.”
“Notre Dame is my second favorite team. I’m glad Ohio State won’t play them,” I said. Uncle Bill took me to a couple of more games before he graduated, but they are not etched in my memory like my first visit to Ohio Stadium.
I continued to be an avid Buckeye fan as a young boy and a teenager. Every day I read articles on the sports page about OSU football: the game summaries on Sunday, detailed questions about play calling and substitutions early in the week, forecasts about the next opponent, and carefully qualified predictions as game day approached.
I did not go to games after Uncle Bill graduated and married. I watched televised games and listened to radio broadcasts when I could. Caddying and, later, work at the grocery store occupied my Saturday afternoons, yet I remained a loyal Buckeye fan.
After graduating from high school, I did not begin classes at OSU until winter quarter. Once again Ohio State beat Michigan to clinch the Big Ten title and was invited to play in the Rose Bowl, football’s premier contest of the season. Along with all the other Buckeye fans, I looked forward to the game on New Year’s Day.
The huge banner headline was a shocker! “FACULTY NIXES ROSE BOWL”. Fans responded with cries of “Impossible, unbelievable, preposterous!” The faculty senate had decided that football was overemphasized and Ohio State was becoming known as a “football factory” instead of an institution of higher learning. Students marched to the Faculty Club, broke some windows, and built a bonfire in the intersection in front of the university gates. The traffic light sputtered and sparked when the flames engulfed it.
The ensuing debate consumed the city and state for weeks. Beefy players lamented the loss of their dream of a lifetime. Alumni wrote letters of protest and some cancelled donations. Pipe-smoking professors bloviated about the ethos of the academy and the pre-eminence of scholarship and education at a university. Newspapers and television covered little else. Most people I knew supported the team. I nodded when my neighborhood friends ranted about the faculty’s decision. Arguments divided families, preoccupied co-workers, and tested friendships. The faculty remained firm and Alabama played in the Rose Bowl in place of Ohio State.
I was to begin classes the day after the Rose Bowl. I knew many people who delayed enrolling repeatedly and never began college. I was relieved not be one of them. The value of the college education I was pursuing was confirmed by the professors’ vaunted statements. Privately I embraced their lofty ideals about the life of the mind.
My first class was History Survey 101 in the venerable University Hall. The professor met my expectations. His shapeless tweed coat with elbow patches hung loosely from his shoulder as he fervently promised to give us a tour of the ancient and medieval world that provided the foundation for the Enlightenment and western civilization.
Afterwards the student next to me grumbled about all the required reading in the syllabus. We continued our conversation on the Oval and had coffee at the Student Union. Jeremy Schwartz was from Long Island. His girlfriend, Diane Meyers, joined us. After introducing ourselves, Jeremy said that the Rose Bowl controversy mystified them. They chose Ohio State for its academic reputation not its football ranking. The faculty made the right decision in their view. I did not disagree with them, and tried to explain how everyone in Ohio was obsessed with football. As I sloshed through the snow that winter, I gravitated toward students in the Arts College with an interest in the concepts and ideas put forth by our professors. Between classes, I studied in the Music Room at the Student Union where classical music muted conversations.
During my undergraduate years, I continued to read the sports page and take pride in OSU’s national ranking, but it was a guilty pleasure that I did not share with my campus friends. Our conversations were about books and current events. Kennedy’s Peace Corps, sit-ins at lunch counters in the South, and confrontations with Khrushchev crowded out unwelcome comments about Buckeye football.
In graduate school, my dozen classmates were from California, Georgia, Missouri, and other parts of the country. I was the only OSU graduate. Several classmates were football fans and eager to see the Buckeyes play at Ohio Stadium. We purchased season tickets, and I led them to the first game on a warm September day. We traversed the Oval where Uncle Bill and I had walked a decade earlier. I pointed out some of the academic buildings bordering the Oval. The carillon at Orton Hall struck the hour. I proudly reported that more than 81,000 fans would be cheering for the home team that day.
We stepped into the stands and saw the verdant field bathed in sunshine, the mostly scarlet-clad crowd, and the flags and pennant stirring in the breeze. The eleven year-old fan was back. I was transported to the day when Hopalong Cassidy amazed me with his down field running. The band played the fight song and I remembered the words. The cheerleaders elicited great roars from the crowd. As we stood for the national anthem, the sweet aroma of cigars wafted to me. I screamed and yelled as the Buckeyes scored, grew misty when the tuba player dotted the “i” at halftime, and sang Carmen Ohio aloud afterwards. It was good to, once again, be a Buckeye fan.
To view Script Ohio by the “Best Damn Band in the Land” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPNnIFH6_RU