My Dad grew up in Lawrence County, Ohio, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky and West Virginia. As a homegrown Buckeye, Dad loved Ohio State. His uncle took him to an Ohio State game when he was a sophomore in high school, which would’ve been 1957. Dad doesn’t remember anything about the game, and it was the only Ohio State football game Dad ever attended.
Dad moved to Nashville in 1967 after teaching high school in Lawrence County for three years. He brought his Buckeye fandom with him and instilled it in his three sons.
I got a double dose.
Don’t tell anybody, but as a small child I remember cheering for the University of Tennessee at times. I remember being overjoyed that UT beat Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. I was nine years old at the time, and, well, as a man grows up he puts away childish things. In the winter of 1986, I watched Ohio State beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on TV, and I was hooked. (My oldest brother, Mark, still has that game on a VHS tape.)
There wasn’t anything special about the late ’80s to early ’90s Buckeyes. They had good records, a few special players (ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit was a quarterback on one of those teams), and a couple of bowl wins. But things changed dramatically in the mid-’90s. The talent level sky-rocketed. Dan Wilkinson was the number one overall pick in the NFL draft in 1994, Eddie George won the Heisman Trophy in 1995, and Ohio State was consistently a top 10 program year after year. But there was one problem: They couldn’t beat their biggest rival, Michigan.
John Cooper, who would end up in the College Football Hall of Fame, ended his career as Ohio State’s coach (1988-2000) with a 2-10-1 record against Michigan. Unacceptable. And since that game is always the last game of the season, Michigan kept Ohio State from playing for–and possibly winning–at least two national championships in the ’90s. Otherwise, Cooper was a terrific recruiter and his teams consistently won 9-10 games a year.
Ohio State’s Michigan woes ended with the hiring of Jim Tressel (2001-2010) and his successor, Urban Meyer (2012-present). Since 2001, Ohio State has won 14 out of 16 Michigan games. What’s more, Tressel and Meyer each won national championships in the meantime.
So, here’s the thing: Ohio State football has given me many awesome weekends and only a few agonizing disappointments. Watching Ohio State sports is something I can do with my Dad and brothers. It gives me something to root for, and everybody needs something or somebody to root for. And it’s just a lot of fun.