Every fall the Victory Bell tolls at Ohio Stadium calling Buckeye alumni, like myself, back to Columbus to take in the sites and sounds of a football Saturday at The Ohio State University campus. The phenomenon isn’t unique to OSU of course, Wisconsin alumni (my close friends who loath the tradition being the exception) make the trek back to Madison once they see the stadium shake during “Jump Around” and the pompous Michigan alumni find their way back to their landfill of a school once they hear the annoying jingling of the keys again. I know this because I have a sister who went to Michigan and made the 14 plus hour drive from NYC to Ann Arbor after work on a Friday to see the Wolverines game against Notre Dame this fall. What these schools and a couple dozen more have in common is that they all possess powerhouse football teams steeped in rich tradition and history. And it’s these special football Saturdays that don’t allow me to go more than one autumn in between trips back to the OSU campus.
In 2001 when I was deciding on a college to attend I had three requirements. First the school needed to be large. I’d spent 13 years at a small private school and was ready for a drastically different environment. Second, the school needed to be outside the stretch of land between Boston and DC on I-95. About 90% of my classmates and friends from home were going to schools within that area and I wanted a chance to start anew. The third and final requirement was that the school needed to have a sports program (football or basketball) that competed on the national stage. It was a requirement my college guidance counselor had not come across before, and gave her pause. She was used to trying to place kids at the college that was the ranked highest in the US News And World Report college rankings, not the school that was ranked highest in the AP and USA Today polls. That guidance counselor can thank my mom, who went to Ohio State, for my bizarre request.
My mom started taking me back for games when I was 11 years old. Once in middle school she even delayed telling my dad I had received a one day in school suspension so that we could go to Columbus for the game knowing if he was made aware before we left I’d be grounded for a few weeks. And for more important games, like Michigan, my mom dad and I would go to the OSU alumni bar in the Philadelphia area to watch games with friends of my mom’s from college who had also migrated to Philadelphia. On at least two occasions these games ended with me crying into a plate of mozzarella sticks. Thanks Charles Woodson. It was this continued connection with her university despite graduating __ years earlier (redacted by mom) that I thought was fantastic. So from an early age I had this specific vision of what I wanted my college experience to be, and I wasn’t going be denied it because my high school wasn’t thrilled with sending kids to state universities. And while the decision seemed short sighted to many at the time as the years have gone by I’ve come to realize it was one of the better long term decisions I’ve made.
There are a lot of things that separate us from animals, like clothing and not eating our own bowel movement, but one that is more important is our ability to form friendships and from those friendships have shared experiences that turn into memories. It’s an incredible ability we possess as humans to be thrust into a living situation with 40 people we’ve never met before, in a building that was selected at random, at a location that is typically far from where we grew up, and form bonds that shape the way the rest of our lives unfold. The memories made with these friends are both big and small, like going downtown to Brothers post game, drinking the cheapest beers in Franklin county at 5 AM while singing “Don’t Turn Off The Light” in order to get pumped up for a noon game against Purdue or rushing the field after beating Michigan and getting a mouth full of pepper spray from the Columbus police. Of course there are the memories that take place away from football games, like the year spent living with 6 people who you believe are most unstable people in Ohio or telling someone you love them for the first time behind a CVS with four rats as an audience. Now having experiences like these obviously happen on college campuses everyone and don’t require football, but what separates the schools with football Saturdays is those Saturdays continue on long after graduation and provide the perfect excuse to return to campus in order to retell and relive those college adventures with the same people we went through them with. Outside of my friends that also attended schools with nationally ranked football teams I don’t know anyone who consistently makes the trip back to their college to get together with their friends regularly.
Really returning to college is a lot like going back to Disney World as an adult and reliving your adolescence. For example at OSU the Gateway area would be Poor Decisions Land, the business school would double as Frustrationtown, and Ohio Stadium is the Magic Kingdom. And like Disney World while there are always going be some minor cosmetic changes there is a comfort in knowing that the traditions, uniforms, and stadium remain unchanged as the years go by. Being able to return for a weekend is a somewhat cathartic experience since the years after college are when everyone goes through the most life changes because of a job, a spouse, or the birth of a child. And as the responsibilities mount and constantly orbit our brain like planets around the sun, time begins to slip through our hands. Even with the ease of communicating today we all are guilty of letting a call go to voice mail or ignoring a text and justify it by saying we’ll respond after work or on Sunday “when I have some free time.” Something always comes up though and two weeks pass before responding. But because I went to Ohio State and because of those football Saturdays I have 8 opportunities every fall to pause my life for 48 hours and reconnect with the people that I lived with, studied with, and grew up with, and were integral in shaping who I am today.
It’s rather appropriate that Ohio Stadium is in the shape of a giant magnet because every fall the stadium pulls myself and alumni alike back to Columbus as we fall helpless to the memories, like the post game victories at Out-R-Inn and singing of “Hang on Sloopy” with the best damn band in the land and want to relive them just one more time.