I sincerely thought things were going to be different.
Benny, IC, a couple other buddies and I all arrived from various points in Columbus Friday evening. Staying on the north side of town, we checked into our hotel then went to a nearby sports bar/restaurant to grab a bite. We all were decked out in our Michigan gear and entered to find a sea of red. When we first walked in, we got a bunch of...looks. They were about as welcoming as those Eddie Murphy got when he entered that redneck bar in "48 HRS." I feared our reception would be the same.
Instead, many Buckeye fans came up to us and offered their condolences about Bo's passing that day and asked how we were being treated. The friendliness was even better than I could have imagined.
Leading up to the game, we had heard much about Ohio State university officials trying to change their fans' well-deserved reputation for, to put it bluntly, poor sportsmanship...and worse. Needless to say, for selfish self-preservation reasons, I sure hoped so.
As we left the restaurant that night to return to our hotel, I joked to Benny I hadn't heard a single "Fuck Michigan" the entire night. Maybe things were going to be different.
Boy was I wrong.
Driving to the stadium around 10 a.m. Saturday morning on High Street, pre-game traffic slowed to a crawl approaching Lane Avenue. Suddenly it started -- "Fuck Michigan!"
Outside our window as we drove in the right hand lane, Buckeye fans who appeared to mostly be around college age had either spotted the Michigan plates on our car, our maize and blue clothing or both. As we continued on at a snails pace, turning right on Lane Avenue, the verbal barrage continued from the passing fans, usually variations of "Fuck Michigan!" (often accompanied by a prominently displayed finger), "Faggots!" and/or various suggestions about sucking cock, and even a girl in front of an apartment building on Lane Ave, just west of High Street, who shouted at us over a megaphone saying, "Chad Henne has a small penis and so do you!" (Note: While she may be right, there's no way she could have possibly known this as we were still sitting in the car).
With traffic barely moving and the "Fuck Michigans!" (among other "greetings") coming at a steady clip (and not exactly sure what parking options lay ahead), we turned right and circled back to a business that had valet parking and assured us we could get right out at the end of the game. Our mistake (we would later learn) is that we were right near High Street and Lane Avenue, so no matter what the guy said, it wouldn't really matter much in a few hours.
After parking, we walked up Lane Avenue towards the Fawcett Center where the official Michigan Alumni Tailgate was. Folks, it's no exaggeration to say that every ten feet, we were met with cries of "Fuck Michigan!" and flipping us off as well as the seemingly-just-as-popular "Fags!," including one classy fellow who, walking past, simply pointed and said to each of us, "Fag...fag...fag...fag..." right on down the line.
Even more surprising, considering the OSU administration's stated goal of cleaning up the gameday experience were all the vendors lining Lane Avenue who were selling every conceivable variation of "Fuck Michigan!" t-shirts. I'm not talking about some guy secretly selling stuff out of a duffel bag but full-on tables and displays as shown in the pictures below. Did they have vendor permits from the University or the city? Who knows. Yet even if they did, I'm guessing Nike and Budweiser wouldn't appreciate their logos used as they were.
Passing the t-shirt merchants, somewhere around the Holiday Inn on Lane (or just past it), a group of Buckeye fans (again, college age or just older) on the other side of a fence at some party (not Hineygate) started in with the usual "Fuck Michigan" calls. That's when I felt something hit my jacket. I looked down to see what I thought was a piece of ice, until I looked at the white all over the arm of my jacket and realized it was a powdered donut. Another had just missed my friend.
Now I was pissed. This was complete bullshit. No opposing fan expects to have a welcome mat rolled out on the road, but when one starts getting pelted, coupled with the absolutely vulgar verbal barrage the last couple of blocks, it's just too much. Problem was, I hadn't seen a single cop during our walk down Lane Avenue. I had seen some at the intersection of Lane and High Street but none as we walked along. Finally, nearing the bridge on Lane avenue, I saw a group of seven or eight standing around talking. Not out among the crowd as the bulk of the folks were clustered closer to the Holiday Inn and Hineygate.
I approached an officer and told him some asshole was throwing shit. He asked if I knew who it was, I said yes and pointed. He said, "That group of guys behind the fence?" Yep. To which he said something along the lines of, "Ok, I'll go watch them" and walked over to "stake out" the scene.
By now, my gameday experience was pretty sullied (even before we passed the guy on our way back from the Fawcett who, seeing us, grabbed his neck and said, "What's that choking sound? It's Bo"). There's good natured trash talk (which I don't mind and even expect), then there's what we experienced in Columbus. And no fan of any school at any stadium in America should have to put up with it.
The ironic thing is, many of the older Buckeye fans approached us asking how we were being treated or wishing us luck. In the handful of times I've been to the 'Shoe, this had never happened before. I even had a girl and her friend who just witnessed the latest volley of "Fuck Michigans" shouted our way as we walked along say she was sorry, adding, "We're not all assholes like that."
While both appreciated and obviously very true, the sheer volume of abuse was about equal to the number of friendly comments we received. Thus, such bad treatment can't simply be written off to "a few bad apples" as, based on the similar numbers of positive and negative incidents Saturday, that would then make the many Buckeye fans who were great to us just "a few good apples." No, the problem portion of the fan base in Columbus is much, much bigger than that. Even more surprising to us was the fact that, probably 60% of the "Fuck Michigans!" hurled at our group came from college-aged girls (many with matching "Fuck Michigan" shirts).
AFTER THE GAME
But all the above just made me (very) mad. After the game was scary.
We left when Michigan failed to recover the onside kick with about two minutes left, hoping to beat the crowd and the raucous celebration we knew was coming. We decided to cut in a diagonal line toward High Street before heading north toward Lane Avenue.
For most of the way, we were ahead of the crowd. Then we reached the corner of Lane Avenue and High Street.
The crowd was growing by the second. People were streaming out from everywhere. Spotting a group of Michigan fans, we became the targets of every imaginable insult. Of course by now I was used to the "Fuck Michigans" I'd heard all day. But there was an edge to it all now. People were getting right in our faces now even more than before. The entire area was a tinderbox. Unfortunately, our Michigan clothing was like a flame to moths. Drunk, excited moths. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them.
But we pressed on, just keeping our heads down. Not wanting to provoke anyone (or provoke them anymore than Michigan's school colors apparently already do). Making it to our car, we jumped in, took off all our Michigan clothing and started to head back to our hotel, narrowly avoiding getting trapped on a side street in the neighborhood behind High Street and Lane Avenue (visions of that alleyway scene in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER dancing in my head). And it's a good thing too as, no matter what OSU President Karen A. Holbrook says, things turned ugly with some 40 fires being set, 38 arrests and a car was flipped over by "fans."
Back at our hotel, we talked more about our treatment than the game. We were more upset about the abuse we endured from the moment we got near the 'Shoe than our team just losing to it's arch-rival. We also marveled at how, in the frenzy of the post-game "celebration," we heard way more "Fuck Michigan!" cries than "Go Bucks!" cheers. We never once heard anybody singing the OSU fight song but instead heard "Don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan" numerous times.
That, in a nutshell, sums up what I believe to be one of the big problems that fuels the unacceptable behavior in Columbus -- it's not "Pro-OSU," it's "anti-Michigan." It's not "we're good" it's "you suck."
Doubt me? Check out Buckeyextra, the Ohio State football coverage of the Columbus Dispatch. The team just won the Big 10 and clinched a trip to the BCS title game yet what does it say in the upper left corner of the page -- Days since Michigan's last victory over Ohio State in football: 1094. Not 49 days or whatever it is until Ohio State plays for the National Title. Not congratulations team. Not way to go! Nope. Anti-Michigan.
And I wish I could say I was the only one. But I ran into Michigan fans on the way home who told similar tales. Which is why I find the Buckeye President's claim that the OSU fans were so good and there were no problems laughable (more about that in the post below).
And which is also why I might not go back to Columbus for a game. Because if Saturday was good, I'd hate to see bad.
NOTE: We'd love to hear about the experiences of other Michigan fans in Columbus last weekend. Drop us an email. Most importantly, let us know if you wore Michigan clothing around the stadium. I talked to one friend who said it wasn't that bad for him in Ohio. Then I asked what he wore. His answer? A red jacket.