I said there would be no regrets for this one. I lied. This isn’t regret for staying home instead of traveling to Dallas to watch Ohio State take on Oregon. No, the regret came from eating what I can only approximate was around 10 pounds of brisket, beef ribs, sausage, burnt ends on Sunday…for lunch. Follow that up with a 20+ ounce bone in ribeye for dinner and you might have some regret. I’m pretty sure my roommates for the weekend regretted my decisions as well…on Monday morning.
So when I last checked in I spoke of how I would be going to Dallas for the final leg of The Chase*. Come hell or high water this was happening. Work be damned. This, to me, is more important. I have been in the stands for all of Ohio State’s championship game appearances since the dawn of the BCS era. A dubious 1-2 going into this fourth opportunity. Yes the Buckeyes captured the title by dethroning the unstoppable Miami Hurricanes in 2002. An unbeatable team they said. Ohio State proved that wrong. In 2006 it was Ohio State who came in as the ‘unbeatable’ team. Perfect record. The Bucks had already taken down two teams ranked #2 to OSU’s #1 during the season. Bollocks is what Urban Meyer said back then as his Florida team routed the Bucks for title #1 for Urban. Another trip in 2007…another beating provided by the SEC. LSU had the courtesy this time playing in a virtual home game in New Orleans.
For as great as Ohio State was under Jim Tressell in the 2000’s, those two losses provided by the SEC served as a dubious reminder where the power shift in college football was headed. South. Having lived in the south for a number of years now, I can fully attest that college football has a different meaning down here. The game day atmospheres are not so different from Columbus to Athens or Tuscaloosa. Passion exudes on any given fall Saturday in these cities. No, the difference lies in what happens on Sunday and into the week. Where my attention shifts from what happened in the Shoe on Saturday to what is going to happen on the North Shore on Sunday many of those in these parts have no concern for the professional ranks. It is the college game and nothing else. There is no LeBron to distract the diehards from the latest Tiger or Gator recruiting haul (or to hide their butt hurt when an 18 year old kid elects to take his talents somewhere other than Baton Rouge or Gainesville). Braves baseball is merely a stop gap between the spring game and fall two-a-days. Yes there really is only one show in town, for better or worse, for many down in these parts. That is the difference.
It is said to be the best you have to beat the best, and with the power shift and national media focus there is no doubt that many consider the SEC the best. Within that microcosm it is the Crimson Tide of Alabama who have proven to be the kings of the south more often than not over the past decade. Nick Saban exudes a control over his program that many CEO’s would envy. When Ohio State dispatched of Herr Saban and his SS machine you could tell something was happening. A perceived gap was closing. Maybe these kids from the north aren’t sloths. A devastating combination of speed and power did the Tide in that day. Still no matter. Oregon had dispatched the defending national champion FSU Seminoles with the ease of Charlie Sheen dispatching a dozen hookers and an 8 ball on a Tuesday night. The same Florida State that was riding a 29 game winning streak and ended the SEC’s run of 7 consecutive national crowns. Oregon was clearly the better team. Even Vegas agreed with an opening line favoring the Ducks by 7 points. This is the situation I was walking into with my trip to Dallas.
As I waited for my flight in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport you wouldn’t have guessed that Oregon was even playing in this game. No the airport had been taken over by a sea of Buckeye faithful making their connections to DFW. I saddled up to the bar to await the arrival of my buddy Junior from Cleveland and a sea of scarlet began to form around me. A few reserved cries of O-H! This wasn’t the place to make a scene, but you must let them know who is here. Junior arrives in time for us to share a few pre flight pints and then we were off to Dallas. Upon arrival we make our way to the hotel in what can only be described as a crazy cabbie. Our friend must have dropped the f-bomb at least 15 times before we even were out of the terminal area and a harrowing 30 minutes later we were finally in Dallas proper ready to face the evening.
Upon hooking up with a few other friends we were off to the Uptown neighborhood and the McKinney Ave Tavern where the local Ohio State alumni club had set up shop for this weekend’s festivities. There is nothing like walking into a bar where a few hundred of your fellow faithful have gathered to get absolutely snookered for the evening. Yes a lot of cheers of O-H! greeted us as we walked in. Unfortunately the weather that evening was absolute shite so this meant that these few hundred folks were crammed into what can only be called a dank space. So my cohorts and I jumped across the street to another bar that was not as crowded for a few beverages and some much needed dinner…little did we know that the Oregon bar was the one we walked into. Although we had stumbled upon enemy territory, there was no immediate departure because there were only about 10 Oregon fans in their so called bar. So dinner and drinks it was! As we guzzled our beers and chicken wings we did notice a few of the Oregon faithful try to approach our table for what would likely be friendly banter. However, they would soon notice that one of the guys with us was a former rugby player who could likely bench press a small Fiat and cower away as they didn’t want to awake the angry beast. I can’t say much of anything eventful happened the rest of the night. We tried to do a bit of bar hopping in the rain which didn’t help to liven up our mood any before settling on a bar that wasn’t overly crowded where we could close down the night.
Sunday was supposed to be a day of waking up a little bit early and taking in some of the sites of Dallas before getting back up on the horse of booze. Well some things are better thought than actually done as Junior and Sam (the rugby guy) didn’t wake up until after 11. At this point it was time to head out and find lunch and find it we did. For anyone traveling to Dallas I would completely direct you to the Pecan Lodge for some legit Texas style barbeque. This place was legit. When we arrived the line was out the door and almost down the block, however, Junior does not stand for such things. No he headed in to the bar area because damnit he was thirsty, and lo and behold he was able to secure 5 stools at the bar for us where we could immediately order meat in bulk. When I say bulk, I mean bulk. The plate that was brought over to us had what could only be assumed was a minimum of 2 pounds of brisket, 2 pounds of burnt ends, 4 house made kielbasa, and a half rack of deep fried ribs. On top of that was the quart of baked beans, quart of mac and cheese and a quart of collards to complete the meal. As Sammy cried ‘no meat left behind’ we demolished this bad boy. So much so that our neighbors who were calling no mas started forking over their leftovers to us. No meat left behind indeed.
After that bit of gluttony it was on to the Ohio State team hotel for the organized fun portion of the day which is the Buckeye Bash. So the Buckeye Bash is basically something the alumni association puts on for just about every big road game where they bring in the band, some former players, the university president, and others for a big event for all of the Ohio State faithful who make the trip. Plus there is beer which is always good. This one was a bit unique though as due to limited space they wanted to limit the number of attendees by making you sign up to get a wristband. Well we missed the deadline on wristbands…no bother though…we just acted like we owned the place and walked right in. No one even cared to check on us so after procuring a few frosty beverages we listed to the band and a few of the former players for an hour or so and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. At this point a few others had arrived in Dallas and two of my buddies who were staying with me for the weekend wanted to go and get steak, because when you are in Texas you eat steak. So although I was already about to have a cardiac arrest from the earlier feeding, it was off to Bob’s Chop House for dinner. Now I could have been wise and ordered a small fillet for dinner, but what is the fun in that…no it was the bone in ribeye that caught my eye. Medium rare please. Creamed spinach, you bet. Mushrooms and onions, yes please. Whipped potatoes and skillet potatoes, why the hell not. Also, some asparagus please as I like it when my pee smells funny. Wine? Opus you say? Why yes, we shall do that. Once in a lifetime experience (although this was my 4th national championship game) we tell ourselves. Meat sweats is what I gave myself. Let’s just say that after this feeding I could barely move and it was back to the hotel for the steakhouse trio…which may have proved to be wise given the tardiness to the tailgate of those who ventured for more beverages that night.
Monday. Game day. The game kicked off at 7:30 local time. Lots opened up at noon. The game plan, be on the road at noon, grab lunch and head to the parking lots for the tailgate. Game plan executed to perfection. Upon arriving at the parking lot around 1:30 we figured out that the rest of our crew was in the same location so it was settled. Slamming beers with many of the usual suspects from our Saturday tailgates in old Columbus town. Beers were drank, pretzels were eaten, pisses were taken. No time for the organized fan fest. We were there to drink quick and head in to the stadium early. Gates opened at 5:30 so right about then we made our way into Jerry World. I will say this this stadium is the real deal. We somehow got into the club area at first and popped by the swanky Maker’s Mark lounge, but then it was to the upper throws of the stadium where our seats were located. Very solid seating on the 50 with a fantastic view of the notorious 50 yard long video board. More beers in hand and we were ready for the game.
After all of the pleasantries, it was time for kickoff with OSU sending the ball to Oregon. First drive…holy fuck do they move fast. I have watched Oregon on TV before but to see the way they move down the field in that no huddle…10 seconds in between plays…quick hitters left and right…touchdown. Oregon 7-0. I think to myself, “Wow this could get ugly, I have never seen a team move with so much efficiency on the college level and maybe even the pros**.” OSU gets the ball and punts. Yikes…I am starting to have the same nerves I had during the Alabama game. Oregon moving quickly again but a drop on 3rd down forces the punt…and Oregon pins it on the 3. OSU quickly into a third down, Cardale once again zips it 26 yards for the first down. Next play Jalen Marshall with a huge catch and OSU is in business. Oregon’s D step up forcing a 4th and 3, but the 6’5″ Jones barrels over the defense for the first down. No more screwing around, feed the beast and Zeke Elliott takes it 33 yards to the house! Tied up 7-7.
Oregon once again trying to move the ball, but OSU’s D is stepping up. Third and long and another Oregon drop…a wide open receiver on what should have been a huge play for the Ducks and he short arms it. Oregon punts…OSU rides Zeke again down to the one and caps the drive with a quick TD pass to Nick Vanett 14-7. The Buckeye faithful in the stadium are going nuts. We all knew our boys would be able to score on them, the question was would the d be able to stop them, and the defense has answered the bell so far. 7 points allowed in the first quarter. In a game that is supposed to be a race to 40+, that is a huge victory.
OSU opens the second quarter with the ball and is moving again until a fumble. Not again. The Bucks overcame the turnover issue in the Sugar Bowl (thanks in part to Alabama turnovers as well), but we can’t have this happen tonight. Giving Oregon good field position is a death sentence. It was Florida State’s downfall. Oregon quickly moves inside the 10. The silver bullets stand up. Fourth and goal from the 3..denial. Zeke gets the Bucks out of the deep end with a 25 yard scamper. Jones then rips off a huge pass to Corey Smith down to the Oregon thirte…FUCK! Another fumble by the Bucks. The defense gets NASTY. Oregon gets less than nothing and is forced to punt. After a huge pass to Devin Smith to the six, Cardale calls his own number for the six, tag on the kick and OSU is up 21-7.
The more OSU scores the more we drink. It was a good thing the bathroom was right outside of our section because the bathroom trips are starting to add up. An understanding is formed by my friends, if you go down you bring two cold ones back. Beer is plentiful in AT&T Stadium and we are doing our best to deplete their stash. Oregon has the ball to end the half but the drive stalls inside the OSU 10. No gutsy call this time, Oregon takes the 3 and the half closes out with the Buckeyes up 21-10. As the bands take the field I head down to catch up with some of the tailgate crew sitting a few sections over.
After a quick halftime beer with the boys we are back. OSU immediately starts feeding Zeke the ball, this may essentially become a game of keep away from the Oregon offense. The Buckeye’s offensive line is just destroying Oregon. The Ducks may be fast, but the Bucks are fast and physical…a devastating combination. Down to the Oregon 30 and ANOTHER TURNOVER! This one is in and out of Jalen Marshall’s hands right to the Oregon defender. This game should be over by now…and the very next play Oregon makes sure it isn’t with a 70 yard touchdown. 21-17. OSU continues to feed Zeke the ball, out to midfield and then Jamies Winston decided to possess Cardale Jones for a play. A self fumble…Jones just drops the ball. Four turnovers. More field position given away…and once again Oregon stalls. The field goal cuts it to 21-20. The defense has done their part only allowing 10 points off of the turnovers so far. It is time for the offense to get back on track.
Everyone in the building knows that #15 is getting the ball. It doesn’t matter. Zeke is putting this team on his back now. A few passes just to keep the defense honest, but this is now the Ezekiel Elliott show and he caps the 3rd quarter with a 9 yard touchdown run bowling over two Duck defenders for the six. 28-20***. Just when Oregon was gaining momentum, Zeke rips it away. The defense which has stepped up all night turns it up to 11 in the fourth quarter. Bump coverage at the line to disrupt timing and the line is starting to tee off on Mariota. OSU gets the ball back and it is more Zeke and timely passing plays. The drive is capped off by Zeke with a 2 yard touchdown. 35-20..just under 10 minutes to play. Excitement is building in the sea of scarlet^^. The crowd noise is deafening, and Oregon is beginning to unravel. OSU eats clock, but has to punt. Oregon goes nowhere and on 4th and 11, a last ditch effort to come back falls short when Mariota’s pass sails high. The Oregon fans begin to file out, those that stay are not in good spirits as they see their dream season tick away. They had come in with high hopes that their first Hesiman Trophy winner would deliver their first national crown^. Urban Meyer and the Bucks had different ideas.
One more touchdown for Zeke put an exclamation point on the title. 42-20. Ohio State, the team who wasn’t supposed to be there, caps an amazing run. A two time conference player of the year lost 12 days before the season, a redshirt freshman who became a Heisman contender lost during The Game, and a third stringer who was once on his way to the doghouse leads the way through Wisconsin, big bad Bama, and finally Oregon to capture Ohio State’s eighth (or sixth depending on who is counting) National Championship. Possibly drunk on joy but more likely just plain old drunk we celebrated.
This season was one that was full of highs and lows as an Ohio State fan. Personally, from the first two weeks of the season traveling to Baltimore and to Columbus for the Navy and Virginia Tech games I would have never thought this team was capable of this. The team looked lost without Braxton Miller leading the way. JT Barrett showed signs of promise against Navy, but looked completely lost (along with the offensive line) against VaTech. They way they responded from that point forward can only be described as amazing. However, it wasn’t until the trip to East Lansing did this team look like true championship contenders. Playing at night, in a hostile environment, against the team that bullied Ohio State a year before in the BIG Championship the Buckeyes finally showed their moxie. This then rolled right through the end of the season as OSU became a part of the national conversation, earning the final spot in the playoff with the 59-0 victory over Wisconsin, and running roughshod over Alabama and Oregon.
As I sit here a month later reminiscing on this I revisit the gamut of emotions that this season took me on. The long, silent walk back to the hotel with TJ and Smitty after VaTech. Singing Carmen Ohio with my buddy Walsh in East Lansing. Taking my Dad to his first OSU v. scUM game. The silence of Ohio Stadium when JT went down (erie). The schadenfreude watching OSU destroy Wisconsin. Regret for not going to New Orleans. Finally, the unabated joy of Dallas. That evening in Dallas wound down with another beer or three in the parking lot and a final trip to the Buckeye bar to close down the trip. After a quick four hour nap it was time to head to DFW for the trip back to Atlanta. Hungover and overjoyed I boarded my flight knowing that for once I was 100% right about something. There was no regret in this trip just an amazing year of Buckeye football. I can’t wait for this roller coaster to start up again. See you September 7th in Blacksburg.
*The Chase is what Urban Meyer coined Ohio State’s quest for a National Championship for the past two years. I wonder what next year’s quest will be dubbed. They like to keep a buzz going in old Columbus town.
**I am a Browns fan….
***Though 3 quarters Ezekiel Elliott had 203 yards…a National Championship game record.
^^My estimation is that the crowd was slanted at a minimum 70/30 in favor of Ohio State and might have been closer to 75/25.
^Cheer up Oregon fan you still win the unofficial hot cheerleader national crown…that one is no contest.