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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

(A note: mgoblog is generally a PG-13 website. This post ain't. The F word shows up. A lot, for versimilitude and shit. Also the word "shit" appears.)

(A second note: A while ago I posted a much-abbreviated version of this story on a message board. Ohio State fans found and copied it as a classic example of someone making stuff up in order to tarnish the good (ha!) name of Ohio State. This is not the case. Every word of this story is true. You can't make this stuff up.)

(A third note: I wish to preclarify my positions here given previous debacles with opposing fanbases. Ohio State fans are probably a lot less sensitive than Notre Dame fans, but this is going to be less benign than "you have sucked in the recent past." I think that OSU has a problem with a significant section of their fanbase. Yes, there are dicks that support every team, but I don't think I'm going out of my gourd to suggest that OSU fans have a well-deserved reputation for being uncouth. I do realize that Michigan fans are not immune to this disease.)

The thing started going wrong well before we ever got to Columbus. We ended up in Dayton after a missed turn and arrived in the evilest place in the universe late after traversing the two legs of a right triangle instead of its hypotenuse. As such, parking was impossible. The officially sanctioned lots were full and we, out of town idiots in hostile territory, had no backup plan more sophisticated than "we could drive around and stuff."

We executed the plan and eventually found a strip-mall lot with a miraculously open spot and a woman wandering around, glaring owlishly into the windshields of the cars packed into the lot, looking for some magic symbol of passage--or at least the right to peaceful repose instead of a quick trip on the back of a tow truck. Clearly we weren't home free yet. Also I had to go to the bathroom.

The parking attendant took pity on us and told us that we could acquire a pass from the sports bar situated in the strip mall. We attempted to do this but were rebuffed; the sports bar was "out" of passes. A return trip to the parking lot coupled with some peeking inside windshields revealed that the pass consisted of "Michigan Parking" scrawled on a piece of paper. Phil, who is diplomatic, and Raffi, who is crippled, were dispatched back inside to guilt the bartender into giving us said piece of paper and succeeded in their mission. ("You done spell Michigan with one U or two?") This task grudgingly accomplished, we were ready to head off into the belly of the beast.

Let's just get this out of the way: things are not going to go well here. Disaster looms. Disaster did not loom over my 2000 trip to Columbus, and after the events described here I wondered why this trip had come to such a bad end. The worst thing that happened in 2000 was a trucker screaming "what is that, fucking pleather?" at my uncle's jacket and, incidentally, me, as I was wearing it because I had neglected to remember that it was cold as shit and left my jacket at home. In 2000 the Buckeyes were dispirited, beaten down by the cruel trick of fate named John Cooper and trudging through a season that would end with a dismal loss in the Outback Bowl. In 2002 they were gunning for a national championship under Jim Tressel. Also, in 2000 they lost. In 2002, they didn't. However, in retrospect neither of these sweeping sociological reasons really suffice to explain what happened. No, in the end, it was the capes.

I don't remember whose idea the capes were, but I do remember that once said idea--going to the Ohio State game with huge Michigan flags draped across our backs like mighty capes--was conceived, it was inevitable. There wasn't any debate about the wisdom of garishly declaring ourselves the enemy amongst the wretched and drunk of Columbus because the idea was clearly idiotic on its face. But one night when I was in college I played something called "SHANKAI JUKU DANCE TROUPE," which consisted of a friend and I screaming "SHANKAI JUKU!!!" over and over, jumping up and down on the furniture, tearing the massive pile of former residents' mail that lived in the family room into tiny bits (a felony), and throwing the bits around the room--we were not the kind of people who would forgo doing something awesome and ridiculous because it was stupidly dangerous.

So. Flags were procured and string to tie them with was procured and we, parking pass in hand, donned them in their glory. They were spectacular, aside from one problem: since flags are generally longer than they are tall and people are generally taller than they are long, we had to wear them sideways, turning the famous block M into more of a block epsilon. Anyone with a lot of math knowledge and no football knowledge whatsoever who happened to run across us would think that the four of us were really into summations. Nonetheless, they were spectacular. No, screw that, I love math: they were fucking amazing. Few things in my life can match their wonderful, useless stupidity.

Capes flowing gracefully behind us, we set off in the direction of the game. Not a minute into our journey a shirtless man grilling something on his balcony cried out to us. "Fuck Michigan!" he exclaimed. We would soon learn that whenever an Ohio State fan does not have anything else to say, he says "Fuck Michigan." It is appropriate for any situation you find yourself in, from meeting a new coworker to cops busting your meth lab to being confronted with your infidelity on Jerry Springer. It's a "Roll Tide" for the gap-toothed central Ohio set. I heard or read "Fuck Michigan" probably over 100 times during my brief sojourn in Columbus. Perhaps this will suffice to explain the thing's magnitude: I assume the "Ruck Fival" t-shirt scourge is a nationwide thing. You've all seen the slack-jawed moron who wears this incredibly clever shirt into the stadium. These things exist because you can't wear a shirt that says "Fuck Rival" into a stadium... unless that stadium is Ohio Stadium and that opponent is Michigan, in which case approximately 10% of the crowd can and will wear shirts that say "Fuck Rival" and declare to fans of Rival who pass by that Rival can indeed get fucked and how. I think this is "hegemony" or something, but I'm not sure since I am not a humanities grad student. And thank God for that.

In any case, I merrily responded to our first-but-certainly-not-last "Fuck Michigan" of the day with a listing of the multitude of times in the 90s when all that stood between the Buckeyes and a national championship game (de facto or otherwise) was an undermanned Michigan team. Each meeting had been a Buckeye-soul-equivalent-crushing Michigan victory, often times in ridiculous and unexplainable fashion (313 yards for Tshimanga Biakabutuka, etc.). I finished it with a predictive flourish: "...and 2002!" The shirtless man said "Fuck Michigan!" again.

I had blown my rhetorical wad and thus returned to silence as we continued on. The people walking around us limited their hostility to evil-eyed glances but every minute or so a car full of booze-veined Buckeyes would zoom past screaming "Fuck Michigan!" I made a stop in a Value City Arena bathroom, where a grizzled old man saw me and said "Fuck Michigan." Eventually we reached the immediate surroundings of the Value City Stadium, having dodged Fuck Michigan flak every step of the way. I was striding in front, my companions flanking me, when I noticed something ominously wrong.

People have a sixth sense about moving in packs. When people you believe to be following you at an appropriate distance cease popping in and out of the edges of your peripheral vision, you notice something is wrong with the migratory pattern. This probably the case for deeply important evolutionary reasons favoring hunters who notice when their friends are being eaten by horrible toothy beasts.

Unfortunately, I would make a very bad caveman. My awareness was at an ebb because of my single-minded focus on the fact that we were LATE LATE LATE because of the triangle thing and very possibly going to miss the kickoff. (The kickoff! I'm horrified to arrive at the stadium after the bands have taken the field. Not once have I ever missed the kickoff. Ever ever.) It took me some time to realize that I was no longer towing my three companions behind me.

I turned around.

(A moment for a digression on my companions, in case anyone is wondering whether we antagonized someone. Raffi, currently a med student at Wayne State, has cerebral palsy. This has turned his legs into things that don't work very well. He walks with crutches; we call him "Cripplewitz" or "Dr. Cripplington." He smiles and nods amiably when we do this, because he's the smiliest ambiabliest man in the world (this is why he is spectacularly unsuccessful with women*). Ryan is an electrical engineer who is a Michigan Marching Band alumnus, a hardworking man best described as fundamentally good if slightly boring. Sorry, man. Phil has just finished teaching math in Botswana as a part of the Peace Corps. He always liked John Navarre. When he left everyone threw a party and some people actually cried. Mother Teresa tried to come but couldn't get a ticket.

All right, all right, I know what you're thinking, "what about you, you nasty man?" All I can say is that while I am indeed prone to fits of volcanic anger, these are generally referee related and my preferred method of approaching stadiums at away games is a practiced look of arrogant disdain. After all, I went to Michigan. Twice, bitches! I didn't get a master's degree to go around looking humble. But, as mentioned, I was too busy panicking about the time to antagonize anyone. And even if I tried, I probably would have used a word like "festering" and confused Ohio State fans instead offending them.)

Anyway... I turned around.

The tableau that confronted me could not have been more frightening and alien. It was as if I had turned around to find that Columbus, Ohio had turned into the airless cratered moon. Ryan had been tackled into a bush along the side of the road. A man in an Ohio State jersey was attempting to shove Ryan's jaw into his brain. Raffi laid on his back, arms, legs, and crutches flailing in the air wildly, looking quite like an upturned beetle. My memory does not supply details as to Phil's disposition. A purple, vein-splattering rage descended upon me. We were walking to the game, saying exactly nothing to anyone save ourselves, and we had been descended upon like Crips walking into the wrong part of Compton. For a split-second I was ready to murder.

Instead, I ran over to Ryan and, instead of giving the drunk fuck the shattered skull he so richly deserved, merely attempted to pry him off my friend. Eventually he released his grip and tumbled to the ground, swearing incoherently and slurring obscenities. When I turned back to Raffi, Phil had reappeared and was busy flipping Raffi over and removing any stray rocks from his carapace. Later I would ascertain that my friends had not even made eye contact with their assailant. He had just charged at the first sight of blue.

Though I had managed to restrain my fists, my mouth proved too wily a foe to be locked down. I exploded. "What the FUCK I wrong with you fuckers? You fucking trash! You fucking human fucking trash! Who treats people like this, you fucking assholes? You stupid, pathetic shits!"

They said, "Fuck Michigan."

Phil placed his hand across my chest, giving me the international symbol for "cool it, there are twenty of them and four of us, one of whom walks with crutches." I muttered "motherfuckers," and turned back to the path, stalking my way to the game. Ten seconds later two more Ohio State fans--older, gentlemanly, not bombed out of their skulls--approached us and apologized for the behavior we had just experienced.

"That shouldn't have happened," one said. It would be nice to say that I thanked them warmly. I didn't. The only thing that managed to grit its way out through my teeth was a cold, terse "No, it shouldn't have."

The assaults receded to the verbal level once more and we finally arrived. A game happened. Its details are largely irrelevant to this story, except for the fact that, aided greatly by one questionable offensive pass interference call and the services of a man who was undoubtedly ineligible, the Buckeyes won 14-9. As we exited the seating areas of the stadium, an Ohio State fan said "good game" and shook my hand. The shirt he wore said "Fuck Michigan."

(Why did this happen? Why do these people act like this? How can this guy shake my hand and look me in the eye while wearing a shirt that essentially says "Fuck You, Brian"? I've thought long and hard about that and arrived at this conclusion: collegiate fan bases can take on the personality of iconic coaches. Penn State fans have absorbed Joe Paterno's paranoia. Michigan fans have taken on Bo Schembechler's mix of arrogance and cantankerous adherence to tradition. 'Bama fans will live under the shadow of Bear Bryant until the sun is a grey cinder. Ohio State fans have become Woody Hayes.

Hayes' hatred for Michigan was legendary and insane. What can you say about a man who refuses to get gas in a state because of a football team that plays there? What can you say about a man who said "I didn't like that SOB when he played for me, I didn't like him when we worked for me, and I certainly don't like him now," about Bo Schembechler, a man who counted Woody as a mentor and friend? A man who never referred to the school by its name? You can say "but he won a lot" and come off like an amoral mercenary. Or you can say "but he was really, deep down a beautiful person," and come off like a battered wife. Woody Hayes is a man you always say "but..." about. There's no justifying his childish outbursts unless you are a Buckeye of a certain tribal stripe, in which case you adulate him for it and emulate it, becoming just as emotionally immature as a man who was infantile enough to punch an opposing player at 65.

Woody made it cool to hate Michigan, to obsess about them every day, and to punch innocent people. Connect the dots.)

After the game the area outside the stadium was Pandemonium with a capital P--check your Milton. Abuse flowed freely; I told someone to live it up in the trailer park tonight because you never knew when a tornado was coming. He said, "Fuck Michigan." We reached the tunnel spanning whatever river runs by the stadium (Styx, probably) and trudged through it. As I reached the end of it, I felt a tug on the cape I had forgotten I was wearing. I felt another.

Again, I turned around. What confronted me this time was exactly what I had expected: a man who looked like an extra from Deliverance adorned in Ohio State finery, 32-ounce cup of beer in hand, and a woman who looked like she had just finished applying the entire contents of K-Mart's makeup department to her face.

"What's your problem?" I said.

What followed was inexplicable. The man looked at me muzzily for a moment, then threw all 32 ounces in my face. A red mist descended over my vision. Luckily, my friends were better prepared to aid me than I had been to aid them before the game, or I would probably be writing this missive from prison or the afterlife. Phil's hand immediately rested on my shoulder; Ryan stepped between us. The future balanced on a knife edge for a brief, tense moment.

I wiped the beer from my face and walked off once again, fists clenched, more angry than I had ever been before. Woody would have been proud.

So no, I don't particularly like Ohio State.

*(anyone desiring Raffi's number for possible carnal adventures--he's going to be a doctor, ladies--please email me.)