Editor's Note: I wrote this column in 2003 the day after the Fiesta Bowl that handed the Ohio State Buckeyes their latest National Championship. Since then I've met some wonderfully annoying Buckeyes fans (Paul!) for whom I'll be very happy if they win the title. Also since then, the Ohio State athletic program has done some incredibly positive LGBT outreach.
Still, as compared to Oregon, it is a lot easier to hate Ohio State...
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is pro-gay
Smith talks about a gay former teammate, his lesbian daughter and his commitment to ending homophobia at Ohio State.
I went to the Fiesta Bowl expecting to be an unbiased bystander. Just somebody with no tie to either school, hoping for a good game. I got the good game; and, I got a team to cheer for too, just 10 minutes after arriving at the stadium; that's about how long it took me to see how obnoxious the Ohio State fans were going to be for the next five hours.
The night before, I had spent the evening at a party at the home of the mayor of Tempe with about 150 gay football fans in town for the game. The Ohio State fans may have been a little louder, but they all seemed nice enough, there to watch the team many of them grew up with finally back in the biggest game of them all, just happy to be there and hopeful of victory.
The next day at 5 p.m., surrounded by a horde of red and white jerseys all chanting, "it sucks to be a Miami Hurricane," I quickly saw the other side of Buckeye fans.
To be sure, part of their obnoxiousness was that there were so many of them: They fed off of one another as about 80% of the fans in the stadium, and probably 90% of the fans lining the streets looking for tickets, were for Ohio State.
I made the mistake, during the pregame show, of saying to Bill Konigsberg that I thought the Ohio State band was boring.
"Keep it to yourself," said Joe Buckeye fan standing next to me. "I'm trying to enjoy myself."
This was the same guy who, an hour later, would be harassing the Miami fan in front of us when Ohio State took their first lead. I figured at that point that, as long as he had a good time, he couldn't care less if anyone else did.
To make matters worse, the Buckeye fans didn't seem to be the brightest bunch. This point was made in the first overtime. Ohio State had the ball down at the goal line and ran the ball up the middle. Maurice Clarett was stopped short, and the officials on either side of the field each raised one hand to mark that the runner was down. The Buckeye fans waited and, when the referees raised their single hand, they then erupted. It seemed they didn't even know that one hand meant the ball was down; two hands signal a touchdown.
More than that, though, the Buckeye fans just seemed miserable. It seemed as though they tied their own personal worth to what their team was doing on the field. While one particular Miami fan in front of us kept saying how great of a game this was, the Buckeye fans didn't want to hear about it.
When Miami kicked the field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation, I stood on the bench and said, "This is great. This is just awesome." The fan next to me said, "No, this sucks." I looked over and saw him, scowling, shaking his head.
"Dude, this game rocks. How much fun is this?" I said.
"We should have won," was his response. "This sucks." He kept mumbling about how the referees had screwed Ohio State the whole game, and how they clearly wanted Miami to win the game. Yeah; so much so that, when Miami had won the game, these same referees made a bogus call that kept Ohio State alive.
The worst offense of all came in the overtime.
Clarett had gone out of the game just minutes before with what looked like a bad injury to his ankle or knee. On Clarett's first carry back, he gained very short yardage. Yet another man several rows behind us, who looked like the only exercise he gets is working the remote, stood on the bench and screamed out, "Suck it up, Clarett, this is football."
Exactly. It's football. Yet, many of the Ohioans seemed to make it so much more. If it was football, then why did this guy have to yell at a 21-year-old kid who just got beaten down to "suck it up."
Was their obnoxious behavior a referendum on people in Ohio? Hardly. Just as I don't want to be lumped in with all the knuckleheads from Boston who blindly spend their money to support the Red Sox every year, I'm not attacking everyone from Ohio; after all, two days later I was cheering on the Browns against the Steelers.
Still, at this one game, there was some class missing from the Ohio State fans. The Miami fans in front of us said they'd been to many away games, at Tennessee and Florida, and they agreed: the Ohio State fans were the least genteel they'd seen.
When I got back home, I met a guy who went to Miami, and who had a big party for all his Miami friends at his house during the game. He told me that, during halftime of the game, when they were all a little down, they were surprised by Ohio State fans (one of whom was his co-worker) who had driven to his house, run through his house, knocked books off shelves, screamed obscenities about Miami, and ran back out the door. Just obnoxious.
Their fans will make Ohio State the perfect villain for me during the 2003 college football season.