I awoke bright and early last Saturday, the morning of the Northwestern-Ohio State football game, eager to begin a day that I hoped would find me mocked, jeered, insulted and booed at my own school. I was stoked. I couldn’t brush my teeth fast enough.
See, I live for this stuff. I adore antagonizing and welcome provocation. College football is all about disrespecting your opponent and their fan base. My mission that day was to venture into hostile territory (Ohio State tailgates), engage the enemy (Buckeye fans), endure their scathing abuse (Bud Light-fueled insults) and escape from their vile clutches filled with tales of boorish Buckeye brutality to reveal to the Northwestern faithful. Armed with a pen and notepad, and dressed all in purple, I strode into the SPAC parking lot where hordes of Ohio State fans were sipping beers and grilling hot dogs.
As I ambled around in their midst, trying to make direct eye contact with every hideous creature clad in red and grey and practically requesting their malice, I was struck with an insult for which I was never prepared: indifference. I wandered past tipsy twenty-somethings and was treated to a soul-crushing symphony of silence. It was like I was invisible, only worse. They simply did not care that I was parading around smugly in the opposing team’s colors. These unsympathetic Buckeye fans responded to me with a maddening mix of apathy and detachment. Like sleepy dogs, they would look up, see me, and, finding nothing that aroused their interest, return their attention to the grill or their game of catch.
And why should they care? Since 2005, the Buckeyes have appeared in two National Championships while Northwestern has not won a bowl game since they beat Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl. If this was high school, we’d be begging these guys not to give us wedgies and steal our lunch money.
But believe me, I wanted to provoke them; I tried to elicit their ire with taunts like “You guys came a long way just to lose”, but got nothing. In fact, one nonchalant OSU fan casually responded “It’s just Northwestern.” Another fan asked me if I was a Wildcat fan, and when I replied in the affirmative, he shook his head and said “that’s too bad.” Normally, I’m not morally above firing back a reply like “Well, other than the education, job, income and future part, I guess it is too bad.” But this time, I wanted to interact with these people—actually talk to them and exchange innocuous barbs, not alienate them. So I soldiered on and asked people what they thought would be the result of the game. Naturally, I received many predictions of an Ohio State win, and some who predicted — not so much prophetically as pragmatically — a Buckeyes’ blowout.
On the walk to Ryan Field, accompanied with a few friends, I was able to goad a few opposing fans to retort. “Go U!” I would shout, and point to them to extract the response. “Blow me,” one replied, after I enthusiastically told him that “It’s really easy, all you have to say is ‘NU!’ Here, let’s try it again…” But another time, my taunt backfired, and a group of middle-aged OSU fans struck up their own fight song, which, naturally, attracted dozens more singers and soon drowned out any attempt I made at a comeback. I achieved a moral victory upon approaching the stadium when an Ohio State ticket scalper asked us if we needed tickets to the game and I responded earnestly “Nope, we’re on our way to the library,” preempting the jab Northwestern students often hear from opposing fans.
The experience inside the stadium was no better than the disappointment I had suffered at the tailgates. OSU freshman quarterback Terelle Pryor decimated the Wildcats defense, running and gunning the Buckeyes to convert 8-of-13 crucial third downs and effectively deflating any momentum the ‘Cats D could muster. Running back Beanie Wells ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including one that was a straight punch to the Northwestern gut. Ultra-conservative play calling also doomed the Wildcats, as quarterback Mike Kafka rushed 29 times despite the fact that Northwestern trailed nearly the entire game. True to form, Northwestern had suffered the blowout many OSU fans predicted.
So I went to bed that night without having been the victim of vituperative verbal assault. But I was pleased to learn that Ohio State fans, unlike many Big Ten foes whose tailgates have raided our campus and left the parking lots looking like landfills (I’m looking at you, Michigan State), were humane, tasteful, even respectful. And for that, I will always offer a hearty “Go You!”