Saturday, November 22, 2008

(The) Gameday

A few minutes before five o'clock this morning, I squinted at the thermometer.

Twelve degrees.

I suppose if you live long enough and spend enough time outdoors in cold weather, sooner or later you'll figure out how to dress yourself. I wasn't worried so much about my own comfort -- I was more concerned about our spawns, but hey, this is how they'll learn what I've learned. Besides, by the time we left the house, the mercury had climbed to a balmy eighteen degrees.

We started our gameday earlier than usual because today was OSU-Michigan, The Game, and we knew that all of the parking lots would be full if we arrived at our customary time -- and we were right. But instead of ending up in a field next to the Olentangy River as I'd expected, we were directed into a paved lot smack-dab in the middle of "tailgate central."

The party scene itself was outrageous, not unlike many other college-football environs. The sight of tens of thousands of groggy grownups grilling and swilling at sunrise on a bitterly cold morning, though, made me laugh out loud.

We sat in the warm truck for a while, eventually emerging for the half-mile walk to the Holiday Inn for Hineygate. Along the way we passed dozens of vendors hawking the typical array of OSU souvenirs, hot food and the like. The biggest gameday of the year attracted a lot of corporate booths, too, most of them handing out freebies of one sort or another.

I don't drink rum, I don't drive a Ford, none of my vehicles burns ethanol, my satellite radio doesn't get Sirius and I prefer ESPN Game Day to FOX College Sports...but did somebody say "free"? Here's what a family of four can get just for showing up:
  • Six t-shirts;
  • Two shoulder bags;
  • Two bottle-opener key rings;
  • Two rubber wristbands;
  • A deck of cards;
  • A miniature football;
  • Three doses of a quick-energy potion;
  • Two coozies;
  • Two mousepads;
  • A package of solid-fuel charcoal substitute;
  • A scarlet-and-gray "rally towel";
  • A reversible "Go Bucks/Beat Michigan" placard;
  • Three red foam-rubber "We're #1" mitts;
  • A red foam-rubber pirate hat; and
  • $50 in gas-station gift cards.
Yes, that's quite a haul, and no, I don't have a good explanation. For what it's worth, we passed up more giveaways than we grabbed -- no lanyards, no caps, no flashing pendants and absolutely no thunder sticks (perish the thought). I hiked back to the truck and stowed our booty rather than lugging it around.

I've written about the craziness of the Hineygate party in earlier posts, but nothing compares to a Michigan Hineygate. The crowd is bigger and rowdier, the band puts on a better show and, probably most important, everyone shivering in that hotel parking lot knows that it's the last time we'll gather 'til next season.

The Danger Brothers were in rare form today, surprising us by bringing several guest players onstage -- two members of an old local rock'n'roll band, a portly guitar wizard, and a soulful audience member to belt out a Motown standard.

(Incidentally, I would've taken more photos of the festivities, but my camera's aging rechargeables kept freezing.)

Three hours after they struck their first chord, the band broke for The Game -- and since we didn't have tickets, we broke for the truck, choosing to follow the action on radio and, once we got home, on TV.

Wherever he is, Woody is smiling. This was his kind of day and his kind of game -- cold and dominated by a suffocating Ohio State defense. It was a thing of beauty.

I believe my fondest memory will be of senior quarterback and team captain Todd Boeckman coming in late and firing a touchdown strike to receiver Brian Hartline. Last year Boeckman led the Buckeyes to the national-championship game, but after three games this season he was benched in favor of freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor. By all accounts, the demoted Boeckman's leadership never wavered. That's one rare young man, and I'm glad that he got another moment, however brief, in the spotlight.

He left the field today to a standing ovation. Perfect.

My Morgantown missus wanted much more blood from F-Rod and the Wolverines -- for at least one jilted Mountaineer, a 42-7 smackdown wasn't quite humiliating enough. Still, I think she'll take it, and so will Buckeye Nation.

It was the largest winning margin for Ohio State over Michigan in 40 years and the third-biggest ever. The Buckeyes now have an unprecedented five-game win streak in the rivalry, and Tressel runs his mark in The Game to 7-1. And this class of talented seniors -- even the fifth-year seniors -- is undefeated against "that team up north." What's not to love?

Just 363 days 'til The Game 2009.