Over the years, it’s been so easy to pick on Ohio State.
Jim Tressel as The Senator rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The sweater vest seemed too fake, and his offenses turned what should be America’s most joyous sport into a slog more often than not. By the end of his tenure, the Buckeyes played in the overrated Big Ten, threw up on their shoes on the national stage, were the not-ready-for-prime-time players.
ESPN became ESPiN to some fans, whether for it was for Mark May’s diatribes, Kirk Herbstreit’s (generally misconstrued) comments or ESPN The Magazine’s 2004 claims against the program. Being a Buckeye fan meant having thick skin, fending off the slings and arrows of those who wanted to take the Buckeyes down on the field or off it.
And now, in 2015, the Buckeyes are media darlings?
How did this happen?
Well, simply put, the Buckeyes are fun. They’re fun on the field, where Cardale Jones throws bullets, Ezekiel Elliott takes it to the house, Michael Thomas breaks down potential first-round draft picks, Braxton Miller spins his way to the house and Joey Bosa shrugs his way to the top of the draft.
And they’re fun off the field. Jones’ Twitter stardom has been well documented. Tyvis Powell never stops cracking jokes. Joshua Perry is a Senior CLASS Award finalist who also happens to be a burgeoning GQ model. Bosa watches Elliott’s puppy while the latter racks up 80-yard touchdowns.
The national media has noticed. Talking to many college football teams – most of whom have been drilled by paranoid coaches not to say anything too interesting – is a chore for writers. A national obsession based on random regional grievances and crazy fan bases turns stale when most teams hit the interview room.
Not at Ohio State. A Buckeye interview session is a laugh a minute, oftentimes.
“Here’s a front-runner that ought to charm a country – except, of course, for large chunks of Michigan,” The Washington Post’s Chuck Culpeppper wrote this week. “To an interloper, these Ohio State Buckeyes circa 2015 are a revelation. When you visit them downstairs in stadiums, they’re conversational, listenable, engaging, effusive, contagious and even witty.
“To objective American hearts, Ohio State, like many football kingdoms through time, might have seemed cold, impersonal, opaque. Woody Hayes’s frequent gracelessness might have overshadowed his admirable curiosity, his intellect and his fondness for academia. Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes of the early 2000s might have felt clenched and nongregarious. Maybe it’s hard, anyway, to embrace unanimous No. 1 teams and other mastodons.
“Well, from East Lansing last November to New Orleans and Dallas-Fort Worth last January to Columbus in March to Blacksburg on Monday night, this champion has told its story in long, thoughtful answers. Its locker room has specialized in gentlemen. Its way forward has loaded up with appeal.”
Hey, you want people to like you on the field? Help them like you off of it, too.
Of course, on the field, it isn’t hard to be a Buckeye fan.
“I am not an Ohio State fan by any means. I have seen my teams lose violently to the Buckeyes too many times. I have met Ohio State fans, and well … let's just say my experiences are primarily negative,” SBNation.com’s Rodger Sherman wrote this week.
“And yet I can't recall a college football team I've wanted to watch more than this year's Ohio State squad, a garden of destructive flowers each capable of ruining an opponent in its own way.
“Ohio State's 2014 was one of the most fascinating championship runs in recent college football memory, as the Buckeye Hydra kept getting its quarterback heads chopped off and kept growing new ones.
“Ohio State's 2015, however it ends, is something equally fascinating: all those heads, with each spitting its own brand of fire. Perhaps there's a Hercules out there capable of slaying this beast. Until then, I want to watch it lay waste to everything in its path.”
Compare this all to, say, the Florida State team that tried to repeat as champions last year. Off the field, the Seminoles – from lunatic preacher Jimbo Fisher leading the way to Jameis Winston serving as the face of the franchise – seemed generally unlikeable. On it, they were just as hard to root for, grinding out victories that seemed to be more work than play, more talent than spirit.
What of Alabama’s run of three titles in four years? It seemed to me most of the country united against Nick Saban’s Death Star, a ruthlessly efficient team that generally seemed to play without joy. Rooting for Saban’s Tide was – and still is – like rooting for the house in blackjack, the steal a line.
Dynasties are polarizing in sports, but there’s little debate – they are highly watchable. I enjoy watching Serena Williams ground opponents to a pulp, watching her battle herself just as much if not more than the person across the way from her. Lots of people loved watching Tiger Woods because he made greatness seem so easy, pushing the boundaries of what an athlete could accomplish in his sport.
But lots of people root (or rooted, in the case of El Tigre) against both of them as well. Sometimes, it gets boring watching the same person or team win all the time.
The Buckeyes will hit that fate, too, at some point. Others will just never embrace Urban Meyer. At some point, the shine will come off the Buckeyes.
But for now, you’re watching America’s Team. Sounds good for once, doesn’t it?