This Buckeye football road trip was engulfed with many firsts for me.
Along with it being my first jaunt to Seattle, this was also the only time I've followed the Buckeyes on the road when my husband, The Cheesehead, accompanied me – except for Wisconsin, of course.
Shortly after our flight gained its cruising altitude, a medical emergency occurred on our Frontier Airlines flight from Akron to Denver, involving an obvious Ohio State fan. Fortunately, for him, a husband and wife doctor/nurse team was on board that cared for the young man throughout the remainder of the flight and the situation wasn't serious enough for our plane to divert. Often times one hears about a health crisis materializing on airplanes loaded up with passengers but that was another first for me.
Our flight, with about 15 people clad in scarlet and gray, landed on time in Denver and we had about 45 minutes before the next jaunt continued on to Sea-Tac International Airport. While using the ladies room there, two young women spotted my Ohio State outfit and while one commented on how she loves the Buckeyes, the other mentioned that she's always had affection for Michigan. Upon hearing that, the Buckeye exclaimed quite loudly, "Michigan Sucks!" and looked over at me, shouting wholeheartedly, "Go Bucks!" Meanwhile, the other women in the restroom looked around, puzzled, having no clue as to what was going on.
Since The Cheesehead decided to wear his Badger gear on the flight (he did bring along one Ohio State shirt for game day much to my delight) he was on the receiving end of more than a few "dagger" looks from some of the OSU fans we encountered while walking through the airport concourse. On the other hand, I had other Buckeyes commenting to me that they liked my style so much better than his.
As we sat at the gate, waiting to board, a couple of Buckeye fans walked up with an Ohio State car flag sticking out of the top of a back pack. What a pretty sight to see that flag waving with each quick step made by the guy toting it on his back. That couple lives in the Denver area and was meeting up with a sister who flew in from Indianapolis before going on to the Emerald City to watch the Bucks. So much of the enjoyment in traveling to watch the Bucks is meeting and seeing so many other Ohio State fanatics doing the same thing and proudly displaying their allegiance.
At one point while still sitting in the gate area, some old geezer walked up to The Cheesehead and me, asking, "Do they still play football in the Big Ten?" I responded with, "No. The Big Ten will soon be giving up football altogether and is looking to replace it with tiddlywinks. We already know we're wasting our time and money coming out here to watch another Big Ten butt whippin'." The old guy just looked at me, laughed sarcastically and walked off in a huff.
Upon arriving in Seattle, tired and famished after the hours of traveling and not having anything to eat except for a donut and a granola bar since climbing out of bed more than 12 hours earlier – before the birds even think about waking up back in Ohio – we headed straight for lunch.
Keeping with the "firsts," the restaurant was Anthony's Pier 66 where The Cheesehead's former college roommate, Dave, is the general manager. Dave had encouraged us beforehand to stop at his restaurant for lunch as soon as we got in town so we did, making this the first occasion for me to be personally introduced to my husband's friend.
Our waiter tried to dish out a little trash talking during lunch and there was some light-hearted banter going back and forth until we told him the meter figuring out his tip was going backwards and he finally let up.
After an exquisite lunch, Dave told us to explore the waterfront area, take our time but stop back in to Anthony's before leaving so he could validate our parking stub. We took his advice and naturally we ran into fellow Buckeye fans all over the place. One guy was by himself and offered to take a picture of The Cheesehead and me together, and not surprisingly, seeing my husband's shirt, he told us a story involving his son who was at the 2003 OSU-UW game in Madison.
Evidently his son was accompanied by Badger friends who were connected somehow with someone on the Wisconsin football staff. They were all invited to Barry Alvarez's house after the game for a postgame party when the guy's son called him, unsure as to whether he should go or not after having that "choking thing" happened and how crude and rude the Buckeye fan was treated at Camp Randall. But he decided to go anyway.
He said Barry was really nice and didn't care that a Buckeye fan was in his house. Once the guy's son fell into a comfort zone, being the sole Buckeye in a house filled with Badgers who had just upset Ohio State, he had a couple of opportunities to chat with Barry about the game. One thing he asked Alvarez was about the pass to Lee Evans that turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. He wanted to know if Barry made that call and Barry responded with laughter saying that he didn't make that call because the quarterback who went in for Jim Sorgi could never pass the ball accurately in practice more than 15 yards. Knowing this kind of gives a little insight on maybe why Chris Gamble bit on the fake because possibly the scouting reports on that particular quarterback showed Ohio State that he wasn't a very competent passer.
It seemed like the employees of every shop, restaurant and even at our hotel were all very surprised at the number of Ohio State fans who invaded their city and regularly commented on that fact. Some even said that they'd never seen so many visiting fans for a Huskies football game.
Regarding the Buckeye Nation, it's actually a very small world. We ran into folks we've met in our tailgating lot at St. John Arena, Buckeye fans I met at a Route 23 rest area a couple of years ago on my way to Columbus for the night practice, and the Buckeye Guy was also a guest in our hotel. Also, former OSU sports information director Steve Snapp, current SID Shelly Poe and team physician Dr. Chris Kaeding all came in to Anthony's Pier 66 for dinner on Friday night while we were there doing the same. There was a small marina right next door to Anthony's full of boats, many of them decorated with Ohio State flags and banners. The dockmaster there said that most all of the boats docked there for the weekend were Ohio State fans that cruised in for the game.
We knew beforehand that Anthony's would be hosting a charity fund-raiser sponsored by the local sports talk radio station, and UW head coach Ty Willingham was on a long list of sports celebrities who would be attending. The two sports talk personalities who kicked off the show at 10 a.m. were former Washington quarterback Hugh Millen and his sidekick, Dave "Softy" Mahler. We didn't have a problem so much with things Millen said, other than he dogged out Ohio State and Michigan a little bit, saying that neither are really that good this year but Softy was a cocky trash talker. As soon as he spotted the two Buckeyes in what was a very, small crowd, the Buckeye bashing began.
Softy guaranteed that the Buckeyes would be getting their butts kicked but thanked us for coming anyway. He continued to heckle The Cheesehead and me while insisting that Washington was a team that matched up well with Ohio State. He did give a few props to the Ohio State defense, being ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, but he made excuses that they hadn't played anyone yet as good as Jake Locker. That was true but what he failed to mention was that Locker had yet to see a defense as good as OSU.
Softy even made cracks that Laurinaitis sounds more like a hoof disease than a last name. Oh, and they made sure to bring up Ohio State's thrashing at the hands of the Gators more than once until I finally yelled, "At least the Buckeyes were in the title game to lose it! That's something the Huskies will never even dream of sniffing!!"
OSU play-by-play announcer Paul Keels made live comments about the game via telephone during the event, and they also got WBNS-Radio personality Bruce Hooley on the phone giving his perspective of the upcoming game, so we kind of felt a little bit at home for a couple of moments.
The sports celebrity guests continued for the remainder of the day with the show lasting well past the afternoon and into the evening, ending at 7 p.m. In addition to Willingham, some of the other notable guests on the program were Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz and outfielder Jose Guillen, former NFL star Warren Moon, ESPN pro football analyst John Clayton, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and head coach Mike Holmgren as well as former OSU offensive lineman Rob Sims, who is now with the Seahawks.
Also on Friday while canvassing the downtown Seattle waterfront, it was funny the number of Buckeye fans we encountered who asked, "Who brought the Badger?" I will say this, though – by Saturday, The Cheesehead had the "Go Bucks!" down perfectly every time we passed by another Buckeye fan. In fact, I think he said it more often than I did, which is hard to believe.
On game day, The Cheesehead and I were parked and ready to go about 9:15 near the baseball field which sits just a bit north of Husky Stadium. I was on a mission to get a photograph of Archie Griffin at the Seattle Alumni Buckeye Bash, so we hung out around there until Archie showed up. After doing that, we decided to figure out where the Buckeye buses would be pulling in. When at away venues, I always look for the Ohio State equipment truck which is always easy to spot because the Buckeye semi is usually parked pretty close to the visiting team's locker room entrance. Standing by the semi were two of its three drivers, Chuck Chambers and Carl McElwain. Chuck and Carl were most helpful in directing us to the exact doors that the team would be entering through once their motorcoach caravan arrived. Shortly thereafter, with sirens blaring from the police escort, the Buckeyes came ready to play and exited the busses to the sounds of clapping and cheering from the excited Ohio State crowd mostly made up of the players' family members.
Herein lies another first for me, in that this would be the fourth time having a field pass for an away Ohio State football game but this one was definitely the first to be so much fun. My first two experiences were fun but the outcome on those games pretty much dampened the excitement. The memories of being on top of the action in 2003 at Camp Randall and 2004 at Evanston aren't all that pleasant after being so up close and personal to those losses. In 2005, my first on-the-field victory came by way of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.
That was fun, but the feelings and vibes I got from the team were definitely not up to the magnitude of those I felt this last Saturday afternoon. Plus, after that game, I think I was more banged up than any of the players.
I could feel it during warmups. The swagger was there and the players were excitedly calm yet businesslike. It's really strange to explain, but even after the bad things that happened right before halftime, I wasn't worried at all. It was almost as if I could feel what the team was thinking or saying in the locker room and I had no doubts they would come out firing in the second half, which we all know they did.
They didn't seem to be down on themselves or panicked, which is something I felt in both the aforementioned Wisconsin and Northwestern games and they proceeded to come out of the halftime break with a renewed determination to let the country know that they were, indeed, the better team.
I enjoy having the opportunities I've had to take pictures now and then. I don't think of myself as a professional photographer because I'm not. Not even close. I like to refer to myself as a fan who's fortunate enough to enjoy a media credential once in a while and sometimes I have to remind myself of that and not jump and down and do back flips every time OSU does something great. Not that I could do a back flip, mind you, but if I could, I would.
Chills run up and down, not just my spine but my entire body, when I'm standing just a few feet from Coach Tressel as he brings his team out from the tunnel to take the field. There's this aura, yet peaceful fire about him that just draws you in as he's walking back and forth, shouting words of encouragement to his bunched up gathering of scarlet and gray warriors. He even makes this old lady who wouldn't last two seconds on the playing field wish that she could play football for him.
Fast forward now to almost the end of the fourth quarter with only a few minutes left in the game and the Buckeye fans finally got the "O-H-I-O" chant going around the stadium. Watching the reactions of the photographers and other Washington people on the field was neat to see as soon as the chant got going good and loud. Some of their eyes were as big as saucers as they looked around trying to figure out what was going on.
It was then that I asked ESPN sideline reporter Jack Arute if he would be going straight to Tressel at the end of the game. I let him know that I would like to get some photos and he replied that he would be so I should just follow him out. I stuck by Jack until someone from the bench informed him that team was going to Gatorade the coach for getting his 200th win. Knowing that, I decided to try and stay in the best location to be able to get out in front of the players on the field and hopefully capture the Gatorade bath, so I left Arute's side and kept an eye on Tress' location at all times. This plan would have worked if Brandon Saine hadn't made that fantastic touchdown run which also ran out the clock. Even the ESPN camera didn't catch Coach Tressel getting showered with icy cold Gatorade and they knew it was coming. By the time my focused eyes left Saine and went back toward JT, the deed had been done.
Then came the coolest part of the whole afternoon. As soon as the team finished their postgame prayer at midfield, someone, and I think it was Steve Rehring, jumped up and shouted, "The band is here! Let's go!" and suddenly it was like a stampede of silver helmets and Buckeyes running my direction so I just turned and ran with them to the east end zone where a group of TBDBITL alumni members had formed a pep band in the stands.
I have seen and heard the team singing "Carmen Ohio" at various venues before, but never have I been right there, up front and center. So, again, for the first time, what a thrill to be standing nearly face to face with some of the players as they so joyfully belted out the words to their alma mater with their beloved head coach. There are several memorable moments in my life that I will never, ever forget and now there's one more addition to my exclusive memory bank.
The singing ended so I filed along behind the players with the other media folks, in through the tunnel and past the locker room en route to the postgame press conference. On the way, I could see part way into the locker room where the team was kneeling, in prayer again and then watched as they sang, "Across the Field" in celebration of another hard-fought victory.
The postgame interviews took place inside the basketball arena, which is where the football locker rooms are located and the players enter the football stadium via an underground tunnel from the arena. Several players were waiting around for Coach Tressel's Q&A with reporters to finish as they were next on the agenda.
One of those players was Ryan Pretorius, who recognized me, and said, "Aren't you Danielle's mom?" When I told him that he was correct, he said that my daughter and I could be twins. I laughed and said, "Thank you, but that's impossible since I am just a little bit older than Dani. In fact, I'd say you're a lot closer to my age." Keeping in line with dolling out the compliments, he replied, "Oh yes, so that makes you about 30?" I laughed and commended him on his wonderful ability to correctly guess my age.
Earlier in the day, while searching for someone else in the stands, I met a group of 11 members of Ryan's family. They were all decked out in Buckeye shirts, hats and photo buttons displaying pictures of Ryan in his Buckeye uniform. Sporting the same South African accent as Ryan, one of the eldest gentlemen in the group informed me that Ryan got 11 tickets for them to come to their first Ohio State football game. They all live in Vancouver and never knew a thing about Ohio State football before Ryan joined the team. Now they are all 100-percent Buckeyes and loving every minute of it. So I told Ryan about meeting his family and he was so excited talking about them being able to see him play for the first time.
I left the basketball arena and headed outside toward where the buses were parked and where, hopefully, my husband was waiting for me. As it turned out, I ended up being on the team side of the barricades. For most games, the barricades are set up to give the players an open path to the buses as usually a mob of Buckeye fans are hanging around. The team members filed out one by one with boxes of KFC in hand. Several of the players lost their chicken when the bottoms of the boxes fell out so a bunch of people started yelling, "Five-second rule! Hurry up. Pick it up. Do a Matta!!" That was pretty funny but fortunately, they were able to get new dinners.
Sunday morning came early but not bright as we were booked on a 6 am departure out of SeaTac airport to Denver, so after arriving to our gate by 5, I decided to grab something light to eat in lieu of a real breakfast from a bakery concession on the concourse and picked up a thick slice of banana bread. I don't know how many of you saw the bit on GameDay about how the Huskies are forced to drink chocolate milk after every football practice because it supposedly replenishes the body and helps build muscles. "Milk does the body good" I guess is how it goes so I decided it would be fitting to buy a pint of chocolate milk to toast the Buckeye victory we were bringing home to Ohio.
Go Bucks!! Beat the Wildcats!!!
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