I truly believe that the one thing that separates the fans of Buckeye sports teams (most notably football, but also basketball and hockey to a lesser extent) from the majority of the other teams in the country is the passion that the fans have showed over the years.
Every team in the country has their fair share of tailgaters and loud student sections, but no other fan base in the country takes football as seriously as those that make up the "Buckeye Nation."
But where does this passion that I speak of so eloquently come from? What is it about Ohio State football that can turn not just a stadium, but an entire state of otherwise calm, rational individuals into a group of mindless fans shouting profanities at 11 young collegiate men that they've never even met before? Oh, and this state of so-called insanity that I am mentioning doesn't contain itself to Saturday afternoons, either. Scarlet fever (no, not that scarlet fever) is a year-round epidemic that just so happens to peak in the fall and winter months.
Case in point: This past August, the team decided to hold the first-ever practice available to the public's eyes. Originally, the practice was scheduled to be held at the Jesse Owens Complex, which has a maximum capacity of about 12,000. When word began to spread regarding this lowly-advertised event, the estimated attendance grew to 30,000 and the practice was forced to be moved to the Horseshoe.
Despite the parking fees for the practice (admission was free), the move from a basic day practice to a night one cost the University roughly $20,000. That's right. $20,000 and a last-minute change in location, both of which were completely unnecessary gestures by AD Gene Smith, were made solely for the fans.
As Smith himself put it, "This was a goodwill gesture, and how do you put a value on good will?" Although I don't have any evidence to support what I'm about to say, I can guarantee that no other University in the country made the sacrifices just to make one practice available to the public eye.
But although this is all great support for my argument, it still does nothing to answer my original question. Why is football treated like religion in Ohio? Well, the answer to that question is not quite as cut-and-dry as it may be to teams like the Gators. There are multiple possibilities, however.
The most apparent of these possibilities is that of the school's tradition. Every Columbus Saturday begins with Skull Session (for those of you who don't know, Skull Session is, it is sort of like a pre-game pep rally in which the marching band finishes warming up for the day for the football team and as many fans as can fit inside St. John Arena).
After skull session, the traditions move on to the players and marching band entering the stadium, and after a couple of hours of tailgating, the Best Damn Band in the Land takes the field to introduce The Best Damn Team in the Land in the most famous tradition in all of collegiate sports: Script Ohio. Throughout the game, the Block-O fans in the student section lead the crowd in chants of O-H-I-O, and at the end of every single home third quarter since October 9th, 1965, the band plays the McCoy's "Hang On Sloopy."
What do all of these traditions have to do with the fans? Well, to put it simply, these traditions, which are widely regarded as some of the greatest in all of college football, would not exist without the fans. Skull Session was originally created for the band to run through the songs prior to each game, but when the fans became integrated into the pep-rally sense of it, it became tradition.
Script Ohio was originally created as the team's introduction for the fans. Without the O-H-I-O chants, Ohio Stadium would lack it's uniqueness that separates from the rest of the stadiums across the country.
"Hang on Sloopy" never would have survived as a tradition if it weren't for the fans. As a matter of fact, when the band played the song for the first time, the crowd response was mediocre at best, and the band was considering dropping it from the game routine. However, the very next week, the crowd went nuts when the song was played, and even went as far as to call for an encore. Because of that, the band stuck with it and it hasn't looked back since that day.
But the most important tradition that the fans have had an impact on is the tradition of excellence. That goal line stand in 2002 against Miami and the second half against Michigan this season are two examples of just how the Buckeye faithful can impact the game, and without those fans, it's not unrealistic to think that we'd be without a national championship in 2002, and we'd settle for the Rose Bowl this season.
I think ESPN columnist Eric Neel said it best back in 2003 when he wrote a story over the fans at Ohio State when he said, "I've been to a lot of football games. I've seen a lot of devotional behavior, a lot of fans swept up in the pageantry and the promise of rooting for the home team. But I've never seen anything quite like home-game Saturday in Columbus, Ohio."
It's no secret that over the past few seasons, the Ohio State fan base has developed a bit of a negative reputation for being unruly and classless. There is video evidence out there of those in Buckeye clothing harassing opposing fans, and although it is wholly inexcusable for a fan of any team to verbally (or even physically, sadly enough it does happen) assault someone over a game, I think it is safe to say that 100% of the true Buckeyes out there will agree with me when I say that none of those people are true Buckeyes, and they are usually just liquored-up "mainstream fans" that think causing harm to another or lighting a couch on fire constitutes them as a real Buckeye.
For all of you Buckeyes out there that think rioting and harassment does indeed make you a true Buckeye, then I suggest you read the book "What it Means to be a Buckeye." I think it will deeply enlighten you as to just what a real Buckeye is. The line between "True fan" and "mainstream fan" is often unclear, and unfortunately, that is most true here in Columbus.
"[Being a Buckeye] means we are extraordinarily blessed and we have an awesome responsibility to uphold the higher standards that have been set before us. It means we have a tradition that is second to none. It means we love Ohio State" –Jim Tressel, What It Means to Be a Buckeye
Florida fans are special for many reasons. The top shelf selection follows:
1. Florida fans are very, very, very loud. We are the fanbase that goes to eleven, with most Gator fans holding a steady middle C whenever the other team is on offense. Fans sometimes master the Tibetan Buddhist monk art of circular breathing just to ensure optimal noise making. Key shaking? This is not done at Florida. Thunder sticks? Pish posh. Yelling is what fans do, and if the other team is not forced to go silent count from the kickoff, then we have failed as fans. What's more American than loud? That's right, commie: nothing.
2. Florida fans stand up. Usually on the seats themselves, which gives the impression of a fan base composed entirely of eight-foot tall, rage-filled and sunburned drunks. This represents a bigger claim than you might think, since many other octogenarian fanbases a.) are too old to do this properly (cough cough Alabama cough cough), or b.) will yell at you to sit down, because they're watching the game. (Pretty much anywhere else save Wisconsin.) We stand at Florida because we care.
3. Florida fans are organized. We have five or six major cheers, all executed with enthusiasm and precision. A bonus: being from superficial tropical paradiseland, we're ever conscious of toning beach muscles, which is why the Gator Chomp was adopted as our official hand gesture. It shows loyalty and develops the sexy deltoids simultaneously. (Additional bonus: can be done with drink in lower hand. This move is recommended for advanced students only.)
4. We are very, very visible. The combination of neon orange with electric blue serves both as striking team color combination and viable emergency flag should you ever get lost in the wilderness. Pray that your stranded lifeboat includes a Florida fan, or that ship on the horizon wll pull away, leaving you drinking your own fluids and deciding which boatmate will end up as dinner next. (Pick the Tennessee fan: they're meaty, and will feed a crowd for days.)
5. We look very, very good. Blame our superficial tropical paradise for this, but Florida fans--male and female--are ruthlessly manicured. The manscaping on the front row of the Florida fan section alone boggles the imagination. Erin Andrews, sideline reporter candy with a brain and talent, represents the prototypical Florida grad: dyed and plucked to perfection, dressed in mall finery of the first degree, and able to string whole paragraphs together without so much as a hiccup. Even when we lose, we're hot, something we attribute to receiving ample sunlight and never having to hide in sweatsuits and parkas for half the year like other fanbases.