Friday, October 23, 2015

Penn State Nittany Lions 10 at Ohio State Buckeyes 38 (NCAA Football, Big Ten) - October 17, 2015

The schedule makers have been kind to me this season. For every Leaf road game that I plan to attend, there is a compelling event in the area around the same time. Toronto visits the Jets just three days after the Grey Cup, while their games in Minnesota and St. Louis are followed by college hockey and an NFL game respectively. The best combination was in Columbus last weekend, where the Ohio State Buckeyes hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions on the day after the Leafs beat the Blue Jackets for their first win of the campaign.

This was the “Game of the Week” on ABC, which meant an 8 p.m. start, allowing Sharpy and me to enjoy some of the early afternoon atmosphere before finding a bar for the first few innings of ALCS Game 2. Turns out that Michigan was playing Michigan State, so the baseball game was given short shrift in terms of TV screens, but we were able to watch the Jays take a 3-0 lead before heading to the stadium. We all know what happened after, so if you believe in chaos theory, blame us for leaving the bar and causing Ryan Goins to stop short of that fly ball.

Ohio Stadium

Located on campus along Woody Hayes Drive, Ohio Stadium doesn't look that big from far away. I am used to some of these new behemoths like AT&T Stadium in Dallas, but Ohio Stadium was built in 1922 with a capacity of 66,210, so its footprint is considerably smaller. These days it sits 104,944, and when you add some standing only tickets, attendance exceeds 108,000.

The pregame atmosphere is incredible, with nearly everyone tailgating under a tent. These guys make most NFL tailgaters look like amateurs; they were out in force at least eight hours before game time and probably longer. The picture below does not do the scene justice; imagine blocks and blocks of red tents with dozens of people sitting under each, eating and drinking. Those without tailgating amenities could visit the Varsity Club jut north of the stadium, or one of the bars a couple of blocks east. Usually games are in the afternoon, so the atmosphere might not have as much time to build, but I don't think it matters.

The rotunda is the unique area the marks the main entrance to the stadium on the north side. There are several plaques here commemorating the football programs and the stadium itself, as well as three stained glass windows showing football scenes that were added in 2001. If you don't think Ohio State Football is a religion, you should have seeing these.

Just in front of the rotunda is a sculpture that honours Jesse Owens, who went to Ohio State and won a record eight individual championships before going on to world fame at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Make sure to get into the stadium early because there is a lot going on and it takes time to tour. With the small footprint, concourses can get crowded, while the entrances get very busy in the last half-hour before kickoff as the tailgating population emerges from their tents around the same time. If you wait too long, you will miss the band’s must-see, pre-game performance.

The OSU Marching Band (often referred to as The Best Damn Band in the Land) marched out of the north ramp (known as the “ramp entrance”) around 20 minutes before kickoff and immediately put on one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen. The pregame show is similar each week, with the highlight being the creation of the Script Ohio and the dotting of the i, which can be seen in this video.

Of course, Hang On Sloopy is also played (study the words if you go!). For those who want to see more of the band, there is a “Skull Session” at nearby St. John’s Arena where the band practices, with doors opening four hours before the game. The band also performs at halftime, and we were treated to a preview of their London show (they are scheduled to perform before the Bills and Jags do battle at Wembley this Sunday). Great stuff, though in some cases you need to look at the big screen to see exactly what their formation represents if you are not sitting high on the east side.

Capacity increased after some end zone seats were added this year, but there isn't really a bad seat in the place. It takes about 30 minutes to tour around, checking food options (no beer here), and trying to get pictures from different angles. Ushers guard every entryway but are friendly and will let you through to take a picture or two.

There are three seating decks, A, B, and C, with even-numbered sections on the west and odd- numbered sections on the east. Even from high up, you get a good view, though binoculars are helpful.

All tickets for this game were $125, seemingly exorbitant for college football (considering face value for Mets World Series tickets in the upper deck behind the plate are $125) but with 108,423 fans entering the building, demand still exceeds supply at that price. This was the second largest crowd in stadium history, but I am not sure where the extra 3,479 fans stood, as there were some empty seats in the upper reaches of the C deck in the north end zone.

This was Black Saturday in the Shoe (the stadium is nicknamed The Horseshoe for its shape) and Ohio State work black uniforms for the first time in history. Fans were asked to wear black and many had purchased special attire for just this occasion, such as this lonely gentleman below.

The few Penn State fans failed to ruin the effect with their white clothing, and although a fair number of Buckeye supporters were in the traditional scarlet and grey, the blackout was a success. Well, except for the fact that every single fan was white.

Before the game, they showed the highlights of the Michigan punter fumbling the snap, resulting in a last-second Spartan victory, which led to a prolonged cheer and a general feeling of happiness that lasted throughout the evening. It is safe to say that Ohio State fans hate Michigan with a passion.

There is much chanting going on before the game, with the four stands chanting O-H-I-O alternately, starting with the south stand. My seat was in the west stand so I chanted H, though this became O later in the game (I never chanted I, proving I am not a narcissist). A number of other chants were heard, though I couldn’t make all of them out. Everybody seemed to be having lots of fun, except the poor Penn State fans. Chanting continues throughout the game and is a huge part of the fantastic atmosphere here.

Ohio Stadium is doubtless one of the top experiences for a sports traveler. As a Canadian, I will never fully understand the devotion adults have to a football team at a school they did not attend, but I can appreciate the attraction to attending these events. College football home games happen only 6 or 7 times a season, so they are truly events and if you haven't been to one of the top football stadiums in the Big Ten, consider Ohio State as a great place to start.

The Game

It was a chilly fall evening, with temperatures forecast to dip below freezing, and fans were bundled up. My seat was in the first row of 14B, under cover and warmer than those up in the unprotected nosebleeds of C deck (sorry Sharpy). Tickets here sell out immediately and there were no pairs available within seconds of the public sale. Keep that in mind if you are traveling with a group; the secondary market will probably be your only option if you all want to sit together.

After much anticipation, the game got underway and Ohio State fell behind as Cardale Jones struggled to move the offense. Penn State kicked a field goal on their first possession after a 45-yard pass play from QB Christian Hackenberg (#14 above) to Chris Godwin got the Nittany Lions to the Buckeye 21. The rest of the quarter saw each team punt twice before Ohio State took over on their 30. They then unleashed a collection of weapons that demonstrated why they are the #1 team in the nation. Ezekiel Elliot carried the ball 4 times for 24 yards, Jones completed two passes, including one to former QB Braxton Miller for 17 yards, Miller ran for 15 on another play, and J.T. Barrett took over under center (that's him with the ball below) and ran for 17 yards on 2 plays, including a 5-yard trot for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Buckeyes scored TDs on their next two possessions, a 10-yard run by Elliot and then a 13-yard scamper by Barrett to make it 21-3 at the half. Game over, right? Not quite. Hackenberg connected with Godwin for a 56-yard bomb on the first play of the third quarter and after Saquon Barkley ran for 14, Hackenberg found DaeSean Hamilton on a screen, and Hamilton dove into the right pylon for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

After a few punts, Elliott and Barrett combined for 65 yards on the ground to set up another field goal early in the fourth quarter. Barkley started Penn State’s ensuing possession with a 56-yard jaunt to the Buckeye 21. Things were getting interesting! A Penn State touchdown would certainly lead to some clenched butts in Columbus, but it was not to be. A couple of runs brought up 3rd and 2, but Barkley was stuffed, and the Lions had no choice but to go for it on fourth down. Hackenberg was sacked, and the game was essentially over. Ohio State marched 85 yards, culminating in a 5-yard pass from Barrett to Miller to ice the game. Hackenberg fumbled on the next possession and Barrett added another TD pass, this one to Michael Thomas, to finish the scoring. The 38-10 scoreline doesn’t reflect the nature of the game, which was not decided until midway through the final frame.

In fact, this was a more entertaining game than a typical NFL affair, with only eight penalties and the one turnover. The teams combined for 510 yards rushing (Barkley had 194, Elliot 153 and Barrett 102). The difference was on third down, Penn State was only 1-12, while the Buckeyes were 5-11, allowing a couple of key drives to continue. The game ended just after 11 pm (commercial breaks seem longer than those in the NFL, it have finished much sooner with all the rushing) and Sharpy and I were able to find a bar where we watched the lowlights of the Jays game.


I mentioned the lack of alcohol sales, which I happen to like. Some fans smuggle in a flask (security here is quite weak) but in general there is little of the annoying behaviour that makes NFL games such a chore sometimes. There was one extremely obnoxious guy in my section who couldn’t stop jumping up and down and cursing and screaming on nearly every play, earning him a couple of warnings from the usher. Without any booze to fuel his madness, he settled down by halftime, otherwise he would surely have been booted out.

Next Up

I’m at Fordham for another college football game tomorrow, and then heading to Chicago and Milwaukee, which will include a trip to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals as I try to complete that league this season. Check back as always for updates.



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