In Columbus everyone knows who the Ohio State players are and all about the team's schedule. When Ohio State and Michigan meet in their annual play-in, it seems that all Columbus (pop. 580,000) is rushing to the scene. It not only comes to see the game, but also to observe with warm possessiveness such spectacles as the huge Ohio State band—an organization so dedicated that during the 1950 Michigan game it continued to play throughout a blizzard—and the traumatic reactions of Coach Wayne Woodrow Hayes, guiding light of OSU teams for 16 years, as he stalks up and down the sidelines, shouting imprecations at the officials, personally calling every play, visibly suffering each time his team fails to gain, complaining, gesticulating and living up to his reputation as the man who hates to lose. Hayes is the sort of coach that Columbus understands and appreciates.
On a game day 35,000 cars converge on the stadium. From downtown Columbus, crowds pass the tall luxury apartments of Thurber Towers in Thurber Village. They park over some 50 acres of intramural playing fields—including 24 for football—on the giant pastures of the agricultural college across Olentangy River and at the base of the two new dormitories beside the stadium. The dormitories are 24 stories high, the tallest in the U.S.—gaunt, two-toned, almost windowless structures that are known on the campus as the Grain Elevators. Crowds on foot move out High Street and Neil Avenue, cross the Oval, and wander down the narrow one-way streets past Mirror Lake, where grass-lined banks are favored for campus romances. It is here that new members of Bucket and Dipper, a men's honorary society, are initiated during May Week, kneeling on a certain rock in the lake while the old members of the society pelt them with buckets of water.
The way leads past the tall twin smokestacks of the power plant that remind one of how large an industrial complex a university campus with 38,000 students really is, then downhill, past the sizable campus police station and on to the stadium. There is a unity of setting and action here, the right place for football drama. And the day ends happily when the bells of Orton Tower ring out after an Ohio State victory. They do not ring if Ohio State loses. There have been 162 home games since 1940, and the bells have been silent after only 37, three of them last year.
Milton Caniff, an Ohio State graduate who created Terry and the Pirates, summed up the scene in a locally famous poem:
So, on these bright autumn Saturdays, when cars are mercifully stopped at campus gates,
I will take my place in that friendly web of people moving ever west across the Oval....
The poem managed to link football with school spirit, brotherhood, love of country and the civic pride of Columbus, but sentiments of that sort do not seem out of place at Ohio State. The hippie subculture thriving at some more notorious colleges could hardly be more remote. People at Ohio State are no more afraid of being sentimental or square, or corny, or old-fashioned than the violin player who recites poetry on the
Lawrence Welk Show. Early in the school year freshmen go to a Dad's Day Game at which the Dad of Dads is chosen. The Dad of Dads award goes to the father of the student who writes the best essay on the subject: Why I Think My Dad Should Be Dad of Dads. It is probably better than having the old man hanging in the closet, and it certainly indicates how far Ohio State is from the off-Broadway mood of many colleges.
Rarely do you see the long-haired one: in the enormous crowds of undergraduates the close-cropped Jack Nicklaus look is the fashion. Among the brisk Ohio State girls hurrying past the parking lots and advertisements—DOES EVERYONE BANK AT 16TH AND HIGH?—there are almost none of the pale, macabre types found among the student demonstrators at Berkeley. There is a lot of talk that brings to mind the '20s—the happenings on Fraternity Row around 15th and Indianola, for example. Now the row includes the new $300,000 house of Alpha Tau Omega, as impressive in its way as the $375,000 Phi Gamma Delta structure or the quarter-of-a-million dollar Delta Upsilon House.
In short, if Ohio State's student body has been banking its football fires—and it has—it is not because the students have suddenly turned into 38,000 campus rebels, oddniks and demonstrators. The university's athletic department says that today's students are "apathetic," but that does not explain it, either. What is happening is a deeper matter and one that seems to apply to many colleges. It is not so much a case of today's students parting company with football as it is of the discovery of other interests previously obscured or even nonexistent. The change just happens to be more apparent at Ohio State because 1) football was once dominant, almost to the exclusion of other undergraduate activities; and 2) Ohio State was renowned as the greatest football factory of them all, a reputation profoundly approved of in the city of Columbus, which looks upon the school as its personal property.
There are many reasons why Columbus citizens have long thought that Ohio State was their school, that they do, in a way, own it. To begin with, they bought it. A century ago Ohio legislators were backward about accepting 630,000 acres of fine federal farmland to which Ohio was entitled if it would start a land-grant college. The University of Michigan, for example, had been operating for 52 years before Ohio got around to taking action in 1870. Ohio finally did accept the land and sold it for 54� per acre—amid charges it could have got more for it. This was still not enough money to start the college, so the state offered to establish OSU in the county that would pay the most to get it. Franklin County, which means Columbus, got the school for $300,000.
The first trustees bought the old Neil farm—three and a half miles from the corner of Broad and High in downtown Columbus—because there was a good spring on the property, and from this point Columbus lost interest in OSU for 40 years. Except for an occasional tennis match, when the governor let the team use the court at the mansion, and a few baseball games, sometimes with a squad garbed in the cast-off uniforms of the Columbus Buckeyes, the college scarcely had a sports program. James Pollard, in Ohio State Athletics, 1879-1959, wrote: " 'Official records prior to 1912 appear to have been lost or, worse, destroyed." Judging by fragments that have survived, destruction would be understandable. Through the historical gloom you get such football scores as one from the 1892 season: Oberlin 50, Ohio State 0. Or 1902: Michigan 86, Ohio State 0.