There was a time that I liked Ohio State. Not that long ago, even.
I thought that Eddie George seemed like a really stand-up guy, and those ESPN spots of Greg Oden as an ad man were hilarious, and what about that dotting-the-i thing they do? Awesome.
I didn’t care about Maurice Clarett getting paid, having guns, or collecting felonies like yards after contact. Everyone’s got problems. It didn’t bother me that they were selected to play in the BCS National Championship Game one year after getting embarrassed by Florida while playing for the same stakes. I didn’t even mind when Troy Smith was awarded the Heisman over Darren McFadden in 2006.
Wait. Yeah, that pissed me off. That was bullshit. But I didn’t hate Ohio State for it. And I certainly didn’t hate the state of Ohio because of it.
What fueled the hate came after that BCS Championship Game in January of 2008, when it became very evident that Ohio State fans are obviously ignorant of the Rule of What Not to Do After You’ve Completely Humiliated Your Program. Instead of taking their lumps, they lashed out. Buckeye Fan emphatically and irately informed anyone who would listen that it WAS NOT a vulnerability to “SEC speed” that did them in. Two consecutive years. In convincing fashion. Couldn’t be.
That’s when I started to realize that, no, I actually did not like Ohio State very much. As happens when you discover you do not like something, I paid more attention to the Buckeyes and their fans. I read the comments following articles about them. Even made the mistake of visiting their message boards. My dislike grew rapidly as their whining grated ever on. If you’re wondering, and I know that you are, Ohio State could win them all every year if they accepted anyone that can spell their name right, like the SEC does. They would also win every year if bowl games were played up north, out of the backyard of the Southeastern Conference, and in the elements. Where real football is played. When it’s not being played inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game will be held in December.
What else? Oh yeah. Oversigning. To an Ohio State Buckeye, every school in the SEC deserves to have an asterisk next to each win due to their audacity to follow NCAA guidelines for awarding scholarships in a manner which maximizes wins, minimizes losses, and does not result in a violation of NCAA regulations. Cheaters, the lot of them, whether they are following the current rules or not. It compromises student-athletes! Ohio State would never do that. Unless you’re talking about looking the other way while your coach looks the other way while those student-athletes congregate around a drug dealer to trade signatures for tattoos and merchandise for money. That type of compromising doesn’t require a step down from the pedestal.
Which brings me to the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
Certainly as a result of proximity to the bowl site and no other reason whatsoever (a loyal and rabid fan base like the SEC is known for having… another myth, Buckeyes?), I, along with many other Razorback fans bought tickets to the Sugar Bowl through Ohio State after Arkansas’ allotment quickly sold out. If I wasn’t convinced from the Bourbon Street tailgating that the word Buckeye was Iroquois for “narcissistic douchebag”, sitting behind enemy lines quickly and permanently cemented the notion.
Due to my insistence to be on the aisle at all seated venues, my trio thankfully had Ohioans only to our right. To their credit, even as Ohio State jumped on top early, our neighbors were cordial. We swapped pleasantries and some light banter back and forth until the Buckeyes threatened to break it open in the second quarter. Communication at that point pretty much ceased, at least until halftime. During the intermission, as I pulled out my phone to snap pictures of that lucky sousaphone player dotting the “i”, the Rust Beltian next to me went on and on about the bands. How great Ohio State’s was. How terrible Arkansas’ was. I agreed wholeheartedly, and told him so, but the funk of douche was growing. Bands? Really?
After establishing the superiority of his band, this idiot pharmacist from Cincinnati or Dayton or wherever leaned over and honestly, genuinely, inquisitively asked “So what do you do in Arkansas?”
Notice the italics. He wasn’t asking about my profession. He meant between milking Bessie and feeding Wilbur. Between pumping well water and slaughtering dinner, I guess. He was surprised to learn that we had mastered both indoor plumbing and the internal combustion engine. We’re even getting an Apple Store. I told him about Wal-Mart and Tyson Chicken and Stephens, Inc. He was blown away.
That exchange sealed it for me. The naïveté of Marie Antoinette without the stature to support it doesn’t even make for condescension. Just stupidity. People in ivory towers look down on others. Jersey-draped nimrods who voluntarily cheer for the Reds don't. Something about throwing stones from glass houses, right? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland fits right in with the rest of the state, apparently.
Which brings me to Friday.
After years of Ohio State fans screaming about the underhandedness of the SEC, months of denying that their legendary coach Jim Tressel could ever perpetrate a cover-up of NCAA violations, and, finally, weeks of running the proverbial bus back and forth over their former hero after it was realized the overhanging NCAA cloud, like Cleveland smog on an August day, would not just blow out onto Lake Erie, Buckeye fans learned Friday that their beloved program would not be hit with the charges of “Failure to Monitor” or “Lack of Institutional Control”.
You’d think the reaction would be one of relief. Of a bullet dodged. Certainly not one of defiance, smugness, arrogance. Unless you’re talking about Buckeyes, of course. In their eyes, the news Friday brings vindication. A righted ship. Nevermind that the proud program had to vacate an entire season, give up their only EVER bowl win against an SEC opponent, and jettison the coach whom school president Gordon Gee once jokingly intimated had the clout to dismiss him. Friday signified a return to normalcy for Buckeye fans. A victory over Yahoo and Sports Illustrated and ESPN. Those mean, nasty, agenda-driven haters who’d done nothing but grind their axe against a proud program while they should have been elbows deep into the inherent advantages of oversigning and warm-weather bowl games. Pathetic.
Though it will certainly be pegged as such, this is not sour grapes from an Arkansas fan. Not in the least. I’m glad those five players participated in the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State was the better team that night, and earned and deserved their victory. I didn’t want a “W” that way then, and I will not claim one by forfeit now. And I won’t dismiss the shortcomings of the SEC and its problems with playing by the rules. What I will do from now on, though, is forever mock Ohio State and its fans for their absentee integrity, apparent ignorance, and brazen hypocrisy. They’ve been pointing that finger and banging that drum for the past half-decade. Turns out they make a pretty good target, too.
Bill Clinton, Ricky Norton and me
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