To explain this properly requires some back story. My parents are from Ohio, my dad a proud OSU alumnus. They moved to Michigan before I was born. I grew up in Plymouth, rooting for the Buckeyes, and taking no small amount of grief for it. Coach John Cooper never gave me any chances to gloat. During adolescence, my good friend Nick’s parents had season tickets at the Big House. They took me there to see UM/Notre Dame, and the Brown Jug game vs. Minnesota, and the Ohio State game where Tyrone Wheatley took apart the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl bid, and the same story 2 years later authored by Biakabatuka. Only a young sports fan feels such sadness, though I saw some amazing contests back in the day. Players like Desmond Howard and Eddie George, at Spartan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, and Michigan Stadium.
An aside, the Notre Dame marching band has about 5 subaltern drum majors: baton guys in kilts, with tall fuzzy hats like the drum major, but a different color, perhaps. One of these poor lads lost his hat on the 20 yard line during the halftime show. Of course, there’s no stopping, so he rightly let it lie there and continued with the drill routine. After they had cleared the field, the fans all around us- Row 5 at the 10 yard line on the southwest corner- started chanting “HAT. HAT. HAT. HAT. HAT. HAT. HAT.” He ran out to get it, at which time he was booed mercilessly. As much as I yearned for the Buckeyes to beat the Wolverines, I did like it when the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, and when everyone danced the Bullwinkle in the 3rd quarter. Their helmets were brash but that cockiness held some kind of appeal. The Buckeyes had done nothing but wimp out in big games.
You could count on the OSU marching band to raise your spirits. They didn’t bother with woodwinds or color guard. 192 whip smart, rosy faced college kids that look sharp and turn quick. Silver instruments. Black shoes, white spats, black pants, white shirt, black tie. Black jacket with shoulder straps, red beret folded on right shoulder and white belts criss crossed over the chest. Military hat with plume. Theirs were the songs my parents taught me as a toddler. (The Michigan fight song was full of curses -the only time I’d ever heard my folks say “motherfuckers.”) Not even the Black Crowes call themselves “The Best Damn Band in the Land.” I was a big fan. When the Buckeyes scored a touchdown, among other celebrations, one of the sousaphone players would climb onto another’s shoulders. The guy runs back and forth across the end zone while the person on top flails a giant stuffed banana that says, “BEAT BLUE.” Everyone has their traditions.
I was deferred from the Literature, Science and Arts college at U of M, but I was accepted to the School of Music at Ohio State. In the fall of 1999 I moved into Baker Hall East. I was proud of myself, got up every day at 6:30 AM to hit the dining hall for breakfast and go to trumpet warm-up at 7:30. I was in the classical music performance program and thus we were not allowed to audition for the marching band. The professor was pretty strict. That was the same year that my dad’s work transferred him from Detroit to Columbus. He rented an apartment near his place of business, and commuted to our family home in Plymouth on the weekends, where my mom and sister remained while my sister finished high school.
My dad scored a ticket to the OSU/Iowa game that October 30. I had season tickets in the student section, so we met up at a tailgate, and figured out where each other were sitting. (In 1999 we didn’t carry mobile phones so we made plans and then would meet at an address at a specific time. Imagine it.) Sitting across the stadium from each other, me in the lower bowl and him in the upper deck, we spied each other through binoculars in the 2nd or 3rd quarter, stood up and waved. It was phenomenal to me that we happened to see each other at the same moment, so we stood there waving and laughing like dopes. The game continued.
By and by, Ohio State scored a touchdown. One sousaphone player climbed onto another’s shoulders and began swinging the banana while getting bounced across the field. (This is the part I meant to tell you about.) Iowa’s mascot, Herky the Hawkeye, was standing around, perhaps dejected about the imminent loss, when the celebrating sousaphone players rambled past. The banana man whirled the thing around a couple of times and WHOPPED Hercky on top of the helmet. Herky staggered around a bit before taking a knee. He was carted off by the medic, sans Hawkeye helmet, with an ice pack on his head.
What made it all the more enjoyable was meeting my dad afterward at the tailgate and discovering that he’d seen the whole episode. We laughed about waving at each other across the stadium and laughed even harder about Herky the Hawkeye (short for Hercules) getting whopped by the Beat Blue Banana and taking a knee.
At OSU home games my dad parks at the Fawcett Athletic Center. They have a cheap pre-game brunch buffet, and also host the away team’s supporters in a ballroom. We watched people come and go, silently wondering about the giant duffel bag that the Iowa cheerleaders were carrying. There were three well built young men and three young women with hair done up like Babs and Mandy from “Animal House,” going to and fro, taking pictures with fans. Then they disappeared. You can imagine our joy, standing at the bar, drinking our Yuenglings before the game, when Herky the Hawkeye barrels out of the bathroom and up the stairs with the cheerleaders in tow, ready to rile up the Iowa faithful in conference room B. We shouted, “it’s Herky the Hawkeye!” of course happy to see him back in action and remembering the fun times at Ohio Stadium, while scrambling for our phones.
Now that we have mobile web and social media, we had to post the pics right away, and that’s why I’m explaining my picture of Herky the Hawkeye on Facebook.
During my freshman year I found out my professor had gotten the job teaching trumpet at the U of Michigan, so I sent an audition tape and transferred. There were a few good sports years, then I spent the next decade rooting for Blue while they got beat by the likes of Appalachian State. My sister went off to MSU, and my parents had a new house in their old hometown. So you see, I’m not from Ohio- I was born in Wayne County. Funny enough, my sister and her husband found work down there, relocated, and had a baby. My nephew turns out to be a 9th generation Ohioan, rooting for the Spartans, growing up in Columbus. Does this explain why I love sports?
And Nick Anderson, if you’re reading this, drop a fella a line. Thanks for all those good times throwing paper airplanes out from the top bleacher during the boring games, and teaching me the proper lyrics and gestures so I knew what to do when I got here.