Everyone has a place they recognize in a very hallowed, very sacred manner. To some it’s Mecca, others Jerusalem, to a screwy bunch of nutcases it’s Salt Lake City. To me though, it’s Columbus, Ohio.
For full effect, download “Carmen Ohio” by absolutely anyone and play at maximum volume throughout the duration of this post.
If you have known me for more than three sentences, you know without question what team I’m rooting for 366 days out of the year. In fact, I think the first three things that come to a person’s mind when they hear the name “Brock Bybee” are “seizures”, “jerk” and “die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes fan”, in that order. Correct me if I’m wrong on that assumption. I have cheered for this team through highs and lows, through championships and corruption, my fandom being ingrained into my character by some Jewish looking guy who took my Mom to the altar back in the 90’s.
Dad: “Look son, I know I’ve only been your Father for a few weeks, but in this house we cheer for Ohio State. If I catch you cheering for anyone else, well, I’ll just have to kill ya. Do you understand?”
5-Year Old Me: “Uh…sure. What’s your name again?”
From that point on I was a Buckeye. Cheering on a team for the sake of being part of a family that had pulled me into the fold, a family I was unsure I even belonged in at that stage of my life. And so I rooted right along with the rest of them to fit in, and was adopted by the hallowed fanbase that praised to the heavens of “how firm thy friendship”. For nearly 25 years I have been a Buckeye junkie owning nearly every piece of paraphernalia possible. I have yelled and cried, broken shoulders and pantry doors, applauding a team I had never before been privy to witness in person.
Until this weekend.
Up until this point of my life Columbus was just a mirage to me. A place that I knew existed on paper, but never had the time or the money to experience in person. This is a place my adoptive family claims as their roots, where all of their heritage can be traced back to. It’s a place that helped create their characters, a place I glorify with a fervor but had never set a single foot upon. And so I packed three days of my life into a duffle bag, boarded a plane, and flew four hours across the country in the middle of the night to experience the land I had worshipped but never witnessed, the place I deem nearly as sacred as the church I revere. My expectations could never have been higher to finally see the holy O-H-I-O.
And they sure didn’t let me down.
Columbus is fanatical. I mean that by the fact that the entire city of 787,000 people shut down on Saturday in devotion to THE Ohio State University. We’re talking miles of drunks, decked out RV’s, and games of cornhole. There were planes with 100-foot banners circling in the sky, legions of fans packing themselves into an arena to watch The Best Damn Band In The Land perform their skull session. 80-foot projections of The Team Up North getting pummeled by the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and everyone screaming in elation when they saw Brady Hoke shaking his head. It was organized, intoxicated pandemonium. And I loved every second of it.
On Saturday I walked around Columbus all day and took it in. I absorbed the drunks, the fraternity parties, the random shouts of “O-H!” followed by a random reply of “I-O!” by any number of the Jack Daniels sipping bystanders in scarlet and gray. For the first time in my life I wasn’t a minority when it came to the team I was cheering for. Back home in Utah you’ll find Ohio State fans every few hundred miles. But here, on the corner of Tuttle Park and Woody Hayes Drive, I was absorbed into the hundreds, nay, thousands of lunatic Buckeyes getting ready to scream their faces off at gametime in The Shoe.
For one of the first times in my life, I kind of felt like I was home.
We all screamed, and cheered, and threw high fives around to complete strangers with O’s on their chest when J.T. Barrett would gain another first down with his feet, or when Anthony Schlegel body slammed a random fan who thought it would be a good idea to run on to the field mid-second quarter. Yeah, I witnessed that in person. And I’ll never forget it. 108,364 fans in euphoria clapping their hands and singing “Hang On Sloopy” in between quarters, and uniformly spelling out their team’s letters in order to cheer on the Bucks. It’s the closest thing to heaven I think I’ll ever experience.
Who knows when I will return to Columbus? It could be next fall as a grad student, ten years from now as an assistant professor, or even never. I have no idea. It’s a beautiful place that any college football fan would ogle over if they had the chance to be a participant. This can easily be classified as one of the greatest moments of my adult life, without question. For 72 hours I roamed the streets of Columbus, Ohio like an inebriated five-year old and reveled in the memories my Dad fed to me as a child. Except this time the memories weren’t his.
This time, they were mine.