Ohio is a battleground state in the presidential election, and tonight it's a football battleground of special interest to us Nebraskans — the Huskers play at Ohio State.
I grew up in Ohio, but I never went to a Buckeye game until three years ago. And that was only because my son attended OSU.
Nick, a 2010 graduate of Ohio State, was pleased when NU moved to the Big Ten Conference. But he told me that as a native Nebraskan, he didn't know which team he would root for when they met.
“I still get goose bumps,” he said, “when I hear ‘Hail Varsity!'”
That's my favorite Husker song, too. Nick loves his alma mater, but at graduation in Ohio Stadium, with more than 8,600 others wearing black caps and gowns, he was the only one wearing a red block “N” for Nebraska on his mortar board.
It made him easy to pick out.
Nick and I watched last year's Husker-Buckeye game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, where Nebraska roared from behind to win. And we'll attend tonight's game in Columbus, where visitors and locals alike will wear red.
On the banks of the Olentangy River, the Scarlet and Gray from Ohio's capital city will meet the Scarlet and Cream from Nebraska's capital city. (Columbus and Lincoln sit more than 700 miles apart.)
Both schools are longtime football powerhouses. They are also flagship universities of states on either end of the Midwest. But they are different states — Ohio's population is 11.5 million, and Nebraska's is 1.8 million.
Like Nebraska, Ohio features lots of agriculture. Compared with Nebraska, it is more urban — and not just because of its football coach, Urban Meyer.
Among those urban areas are Cleveland (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Dayton, Toledo and the state's ninth-largest city, Youngstown (67,000) — hometown of Husker head coach and former Buckeye player Mark “Bo” Pelini.
As Bo knows, Nebraska is pretty much wall-to-wall Husker fans from Omaha on the east to Scottsbluff on the west. Ohio has lots of intense Buckeye fans, but not so many in the southwest corner — the Cincinnati area, where I grew up.
The Cincinnati Enquirer does not regularly staff Ohio State games, and the Cincinnati TV stations don't either. (The University of Cincinnati, ranked No. 23 in this week's coaches' poll, gets the local attention.)
There are some similarities. Both states' names came from American Indian words — “flat water” for Nebraska and “great river” for Ohio. Our state song: “Beautiful Nebraska.” Their state song: “Beautiful Ohio.”
At home games, one section of Husker fans might shout “Husker!” and another will respond, “Power!” At Ohio State, one section shouts “O-H!” and the other responds, “I-O!”
A great Ohio State tradition is the band's “Script Ohio” cursive formation, ending with the “dotting of the i” by a sousaphone (tuba) player.
A buckeye, by the way, is a poisonous nut. Or, as I heard band members chanting when they headed into the stadium, “We are Ohio State. We're the killer nuts.”
Ohio Stadium, known as “The Horseshoe,” was built in 1922 and resembles Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, built in 1923.
Fans attending the game in Columbus might be surprised to notice that a facade in the stadium claims, in large red numerals, that “1970” was a national championship year. Huh?
That was the year of Nebraska's first national title, awarded by the Associated Press after the Huskers beat LSU in the Orange Bowl. The coaches' poll in those days ended after the regular season, and it awarded the title to Texas — which later lost on New Year's Day.
Ohio State also lost on New Year's Day that season. So how does it claim a national championship? It's because the National Football Foundation declared OSU the best team in the country.
Sorry, that is weak.
The campus, though, is strong — and huge. Ohio State enrolled 56,867 this fall on its Columbus campus, third largest in the U.S., behind Arizona State and Central Florida. The Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska enrolled 24,207 students this term.
Ohio State's president is the personable, bow tie-wearing, bespectacled Gordon Gee, who jokes that he is mistaken on campus for (the late) popcorn king Orville Redenbacher. Nebraska, of course, consistently ranks first in the nation in popcorn production.
The Huskers need to pop-pop-pop some scores early — coming from far behind again would be difficult in battleground Ohio.
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