Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Best Damn Fans In The Land?

I was born and raised a Buckeye fan but living in Columbus, Ohio is starting to drive me away from the scarlet and gray. People around here think they’re great fans and they pat themselves on the back regularly. The fact is, they are pretty avid and the revenue generated by the Ohio State football program is pretty phenomenal but they leave much to be desired.

First, it’s all football all the time. In case you missed it, Ohio State plunged deep into the NCAA Tournament last year. That’s basketball for the reader in Columbus. The round orange sphere tall guys shoot through a hoop. Ring a bell? The men’s hoops team made it all the way to the championship game before getting clipped by a loaded Florida squad. They put up a fight but in the end Florida’s depth was too much to overcome. Buckeye fans didn’t take much of an interest until about halfway through the Georgetown game. What did they do during the regular season? Obsess over football.

Buckeye fans also have a reputation for inhospitable behavior. It’s often dismissed as a few “bad apples” giving the rest a bad name but I’ve been on Lane Avenue before a game and there are a lot of people behaving badly. The problem is exacerbated by the self-proclaimed good fans that stand idly by while their reckless counterparts run amuck. And the abuse isn’t limited to opposing players, coaches and fans. Ohio State football players who put in a lackluster performance are subjected to intense ridicule, personal insults and even death threats if the stakes are high enough. Most don’t condone personal attacks but the rest of the abuse is regarded as the price a player pays for playing big time college ball. Never mind the fact that these are kids who are trying to juggle big time college ball with full time college course work.

It goes deeper than that. Fans around Columbus are so obsessed they lash out at anything not scarlet and gray… literally in some cases. One of the area high schools, the one that produced All American wide receiver Terry Glenn, no less, happens to sport colors similar to those worn by Michigan. Wouldn’t you know those kids get harasses around town if they do something crazy like wear their letter jackets? And heaven forbid somebody taking an objective point of view and paying a compliment to a Michigan player. In fact, the Columbus Dispatch received bags full of angry letters expressing sheer outrage that Michigan Wolverine Braylon Edwards was depicted on the front page of the sports section after the Cleveland Browns made him their top pick a few years ago.

Former Buckeye hero Kirk Herbstreit routinely gets lambasted by local fanatics who can’t accept the fact that he has to be objective when breaking down games nationally. When he drops by to contribute to his local radio show he plays to the home crowd just a little bit but if he does something crazy such as rank a loaded Michigan team over Ohio State in a preseason poll the pitchforks come out. Keep in mind that this guy was the face of Buckeye football when he played in the early 1990s.

With the Buckeyes getting ready to kick off their 2007 campaign with a leisurely romp against Youngstown State, analysts aren’t lining up to praise Ohio State’s strength of schedule. Buckeye Nation is starting to get defensive. Fans are pouring over schedules looking for punch lines as comical as YAWN but the reality is that Ohio State won’t face a test until well into October.

The Big Ten looks weak, Ohio State doesn’t have to play one of the conference rivals that might be respectable which leaves two formidable opponents out of the 12. Now there’s a chance that Michigan State or Penn State will surprise some people and prove to be a challenge but as of right now the Big 10 looks more like the Big Easy and Ohio State looks like Homer Simpson hoarding all the cream puffs.

I hope the Buckeyes do well and believe that they’ll be a lot tougher than people think. Even though they lost all of their firepower from last year the people stepping up to fill those holes are capable. The Buckeyes will have a solid line and Chris Wells will be a more dynamic running back than Antonio Pittman. Pittman left Ohio State early because he was going to lose his starting job to Wells. Troy Smith leaves behind a Heisman-sized crater at quarterback but Todd Boekman has been a diligent understudy since 2003. He should be just fine and if he’s not, Tressel needs to take the heat for not developing his prized recruit over such a long period of time.

In spite of my high hopes and fervent belief that the Buckeyes will be serious contenders I can’t take offense to those who doubt Ohio State. This is a team coming off an embarrassing performance in the BCS championship and I have serious questions about the coaching staff. Jim Tressel might be a god in Columbus but I see a stodgy old man who doesn’t adapt very well and his loyalty to idiotic assistant coaches, like Jim Bollman, worries me.

Until I see this team prove to me that it can win creatively I’m dubious and I can’t argue with those who predict a 9-3 season. Tressel has had a great start to his career but he has a long way to go and this year’s team is where he’ll have to prove something. Anybody could win with the talent he had last year and 2002 had fluke written all over it. I loved it, but looking back with objectivity I can’t say that it could happen again. That offense was pitiful!

My doubts don’t make me less of a fan but in Columbus it’s dangerous to say these things. People have been punched out for less. That’s why I think Ohio State fans leave a lot to be desired. Overall I they go too far. There’s nothing wrong with taking your football seriously but you have to have perspective. That’s a foreign concept in Columbus and that’s why I’ve retired my Buckeye regalia. I don’t want to be counted among the nuts.

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