Some quick background: Back in the days when there were little more than a handful of nationally televised college football games broadcast over the course of a season, viewer options were one of two. You either watched the game carried in your area or you didn't.
It's within that narrow range of choices that I grew up watching Saturday college football games, often in black and white. More times than not, Big Ten games were the offering because of the three hour time difference between the West Coast and East Coast making it possible to draw larger viewing audiences. Small wonder that I dreamed of being one of the many thousands attending a game in person. Up until three weeks ago, my childhood wish to experience a Big Ten football game was a bucket list item.
On opening weekend, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to take in a Buckeye game and satisfy my curiosity. As is often the case, reality didn't quite match imagination.
It shouldn't come as a new flash that my view of a home game at Ohio Stadium would draw comparisons to Martin Stadium in Pullman. I will also concede my vision is tinted crimson and gray, rather than scarlet and gray. Here are my observations:
1. Ohio Stadium is a majestic arena comfortably nestled near the heart of campus. Washington State has gone one better by positioning the home of Cougar football squarely in the heart of the campus.
2. Similar to Pullman, much of the serious tailgating experience for Buckeyes takes place a short walk from stadium entrances. However, OSU fans don't have a pregame gathering place comparable to the Field House.
3. Not to pick nits, but entering Ohio Stadium is allowed only after meeting certain criteria. They don't inspect purses or man bags because you cannot bring such items inside the stadium. No problem for me because I don't have either.
4. The real head-scratcher was the ban on seat cushions that include flip up back support. The majority of seating is bench-style. Mitigating the lack of a seat back with a cushion which includes a back is only available to patrons for a fee.
5. Once inside Ohio Stadium, or as it's affectionately known by fans everywhere as "The Shoe," there is a stark difference which is dazzling to the eye. The Shoe has a seating capacity of 104,944 -- nearly tripling the 35,117 of Martin Stadium.
BUT IMAGINE MY surprise once the game began that the sound level of fans exhorting their Buckeyes was completely surpassed by sellout crowds in Pullman.
I kid you not.
Whatever the reasons: acoustics, the opposition or energy, Cougar Nation is louder, rowdier and visibly more enthusiastic than The Shoe.
The were two times the roar of the crowd matched the noise level at Martin. When the BGU Falcons trotted out on the field, they were met with a chorus of boos that pegged every sound level meter near The Shoe.
That benchmark was only transcended when the stadium announcer called out the score of the Michigan game.
To be frank, the only game day experience in Columbus that outpaces Cougar football at Martin Stadium? The OSU marching band. It's big. It's musically spectacular. It's visually engaging.
My conclusion after the game day experience? The Shoe may have more plaques citing national championship teams ... but Martin Stadium is home to championship fans and supporters.