Penn State: Out with a fizzle.

Change was in the air Saturday as I wandered along the Olentangy in search of a tailgating spark to start my day. I don’t know if it was me, or if it was the day, but the spark wasn’t there. Just a feeling of going through the motions, as if everyone was going through the motions, counting down until it was all over. The tailgates were there, lodged into corners and spread across lawns, but it didn’t seem quite the same. It seemed fitting for the final home game for the 2011 edition of the Buckeyes, the last time most of us will see them this season. The end of a long and heartbreaking season.

But there was still hope, still a chance to go out with a bang, a chance at our own redemption by heaping another helping of heartache on the beleaguered Penn State football program.

I zig-zagged my way through the western campus, looking for something different to take a picture of, but I didn’t really see anything that caught my eye. The block O kids getting painted were on my mind, and I didn’t want to miss them. I headed to the ‘Shoe.

I timed my arrival perfectly for my memory of how things worked, but I was early for how things really work, so I hung out for a while, waiting for the students to show. They eventually trickled in for their turn under paint.


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Indiana: Oddly compelling.

I decided to gauge the pulse of Buckeye Nation tailgating on Saturday morning, by walking around and visiting as many tailgates as I could.

Problem is, I got there too early. At 8:30, there was barely a presence in the Longaberger lot* and the last thing I wanted to do was show prime tailgating real estate empty.

* I know it is called something else, but it will always be the lot outside the Longaberger Alumni House to me.

I piddled around for a while (re: took a nap) and at 10 on the dot I started my journey through tailgate land.

Cornhole with a view.

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Wisconsin: Homecoming heart-stopper.

It was a sparkling, if brisk, fall afternoon when I arrived at the Honors and Scholars house for my annual date with the OSU Homecoming Court. The superlative youngsters were mingling and munching with guests and past homecoming court members, a few of whom I recognized from years past. I wandered around, taking semi-candid photos of the crowd enjoying themselves, and more than a few pictures of people posing with Mr. Griffin and doing the Heisman.

After getting bossy and ordering people around for a group photo of the court, we all piled on buses for the trip to the Skull Session, where the court would be introduced.

The Skull Session was rowdy and loud as the team breezed though, stopping just long enough for a player to make a short speech, Fickell to make a shorter one, and then went streaming out.

[wpaudio url=”″] Fickell’s pep talk.

After the Skull Session, we all marched over to the stadium in a drizzle.

The team that is prepared…

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Nebraska: Part Two, Shucks.

Writing this with a bit of time and quite a bit of distance between me and Saturday night’s game, I can look back a bit more fondly at the overall experience. Don’t write angry.

That said, it took a long and rather profane tirade and some beer to get me to a the point where I could look at it from a more balanced perspective.

By the time I got out of the Buckeye Bash in downtown Lincoln, it was closing in on game time. I made my way onto campus, weaving through a throng of Husker fans, who were generally milling around amiably. The band was on a grassy knoll, and in the concrete canyon surrounding the art museum, a majorette practiced with her baton. I was following a costumed Buckeye fan when I heard my first disparaging words about Ohio State. It was uttered by a college kid, so it didn’t really bother me, because everyone knows college kids are perhaps a bit less filtered than someone with a little more experience in their bones.

I found my way to the stadium and wandering around trying to guess which gate I was supposed to go to. I knew it was on the west side of the stadium, but I wasn’t sure which side was the west side, since the sun had disappeared, and it looked like the long-threatened rain was at last going to come. I finally found what I suspected was the right gate and tried to gain entrance.

Without going into the machinations of the whole ordeal, security at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is super nice, to the point that I thought I was going to be victim of a practical joke.

After getting myself in order, I strapped on my gear and donned an 88 cent Wal-Mart special rain poncho and waddled out onto the field, look all the world, I suspect, like a man dressed as a sandwich bag.

There are rules for photographers and sidelines types at Nebraska’s stadium, as is the case everywhere. They have a special twist at Memorial Stadium though, because the North end zone is off limits, because mole people live there.

Not really, but there are a bunch of seats a little below ground level, and people watch the game from there, protected from the game (or maybe the other way around) by some red chain link fence. So they watch the game while appearing to be trapped in a cave.

At the other end, an open area under the stands looks like a large luxury box, complete with pads to protect players diving for a too-long touchdown pass. It is that close to the field. The photographers are expected to kneel down in front of them when they are positioned there.

Which is what I found myself doing before the game, hoping for a picture of the Buckeyes taking the field. Turns out tt wasn’t the spot for the shot I wanted, but I did get to chat with a fellow in the luxury box. Larry the Cable Guy walked past too.

All along the sidelines are two lines, as opposed to Ohio State’s one. One of the lines is dashed, behind which people are expected to kneel. Behind is the stand line. It is a wonderful system, because hangers-on and famous people can stand there are be seen, or, in extreme cases, watch the game, while photographers etc can kneel in front of them.

So I found myself kneeling in the south end zone, hanging out and waiting. The Nebraska band came out and did their thing, and a group of Air Force A10s did a flyover.


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Nebraska: Part One, Pregame.

Months ago, when The Association first approached me about going to Nebraska, I thought it would be an interesting test for the Buckeyes. By the time I got off the plane in Omaha, I was just hoping for survival.

A lot had changed in a few months.

While my colleagues for the weekend were setting up the Buckeye Bash at the Rococo Theatre downtown, I ventured out into Lincoln to see if I could find some fellow Buckeyes. I wound through the leafy and attractive NU campus and past the towering stadium,  3/4 the size of Ohio Stadium, but still an impressive facility. Past the stadium, a parking lot held a few Nebraska tailgates, and then a footbridge crossed over some railroad tracks and into a neighborhood.

On the other side was another planet. Tailgates were set up on lawns, in convenience store parking lots, garages and back alleys. Every house had a big red N on it somewhere, and it smelled delicious. I ventured down an alley, lured by what looked like an Ohio State tailgate. But I was deceived, the Huskers’ red looking for all the world like OSU’s scarlet. I would see someone approaching and be ready to blurt out “O-H!” when I would spot an N on the front of the jersey.

It is hard to know your enemy when they wear the same colors.

But I soon discovered that Nebraskans aren’t much of an enemy. Every where I went, people said hello and offered a welcome. I began to feel a preemptive guilt over how they will most likely be treated when they get to Columbus.

So I ventured on, deeper into Lincoln, not lingering too long as to avoid becoming entangled in a friendly tailgate full of similarly colored fans to the ones I sought. I was on a deadline, I had to get back to shoot the Buckeye Bash. Finally, I came to a large dirt lot, and stood on an embankment trying to pick out a spot of scarlet in a sea of red. I was chatting with a guy who I guess must have been a security guard when some Nebraska fans spotted my cameras. They beckoned. I went.

A while later, after promising to send the resulting picture they won’t remember me taking, but armed with directions to the baseball stadium, I set out again, cutting through a neighborhood adorned with big red Ns.

Finally, from under an overpass, I spotted the familiar Block O fluttering in the constant Nebraska breeze. I had found my fans.


So I hung out with some fellow Buckeyes for a while, in more familiar confines, a big-arse parking lot. Their neighbor Nebraska fans were all friendly and inviting, and I found myself on the roof of a double-decker-homemade-bus-thingy that was blasting hip hop, pointing my camera toward a tent that held a casket that had been converted into a cooler and kegerator.

It was getting time to get back, since I wasn’t really sure how far I had strayed from home base, the Rococo. Back over the railroad tracks on a different bridge toward the stadium, with was now across an Interstate. As I glanced downward as I crossed the bridge, I saw a lot similar to the one that is in front of the ‘Shoe- lots of tents, lots of money. I lingered, partly because it would have been cool to take a picture of a train passing the party. Then I spotted a single Buckeye, visible only by the name on the back of his shirt, a real-life Where’s Waldo.

One in every crowd.

After spotting my needle in a haystack, I headed back toward downtown, as best I could. None of the roads seemed to be the one I wanted, so I kept heading what I guess must have been west. The crowed began to thicken, and suddenly I found myself at a gas station with a full fledged tailgate in the parking lot. I had to investigate.

Full service tailgate.

The people under the tent next to the garage doors were typical Nebraska fans. They tried to feed me, gave me something to drink (and tried to give me something stronger) and invited me in. I couldn’t linger, so I climbed into the back of their truck and took a picture.

Recognizing the area, I thanked the gas station crowd and headed toward the Rococo.

The bash was a lot of fun, rubbing elbows with some devoted fans and famous faces. E. G. Gee came and told some jokes that he thought were funny, and Archie Griffin signed autographs and posed for pictures. The cheerleaders came, Brutus ran amok and a good time was had by all.

And then it was time to find out what the Buckeyes were made of. I headed toward the stadium.

Tune in tomorrow for the second installment. Until then, you can;

Check out a photo gallery of Saturday’s game.

Join the OSUAA.

or you could become an OSUAA fan on Facebook.

You could like me, because who doesn’t like a liking?

You can keep up with my photographic musings by following me on Twitter; @crookphoto

And the OSUAA, too @OhioStateAlumni


Michigan State: Just Yuck.

After a pretty lousy two weeks, I pulled into Columbus hoping for a few rays of sunshine. Instead, I got cold, rain, wind and eventually, a loss.

I donned my rain gear, strapped on my various pouches and bags, placed a couple cameras around my neck, and hit the parking lots along Olentangy. It didn’t really register that my rain gear was green from head to toe until I saw a group of Spartans fans walking through the lot. Great. I wear 10-year-old rain gear for the second time at a Buckeye game, and it happens to be a Michigan State game.

Hang on Brutus.

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Toledo: Singed

Reflecting on Saturday’s game after a beer and a glass of wine, I am still presented with the same opinion.

What the what?

Seriously, Toledo is a fine team, and the cream of the Mid-American Conference. But that is still only a step above the little sisters of the disadvantaged. Maybe two.

You know when Chris Berman of ESPN fame starts blathering on about “rumbling, bumbling, stumbling” during a highlight? That was Ohio State damn near all day long. Things for click for a little while, but then they would sort of dry heave their way through a few series and the whole thing would go arse over teakettle.

Learning curve, I guess.

It was a beautiful day at the ‘Shoe though. The morning dawned clear and cool, and I wandered the outer campus region early, working on a specific project of awesomeness for The Association.

That same project found me in front of Ohio Stadium about an hour and a half before the game, in search of a very specific picture; four people going O-H-I-O with the stadium in the background.

I saw that happening seemingly every two minutes* while I was waiting for the band last week, so I figured it wouldn’t take too long to find it this week.

*not really. but enough that I remembered it happening a few times.

I was wrong. Kind of. I like people watching, but if I need a picture of something, I much prefer to watch them doing the thing I need a picture of. So I stood/slouched/wandered around in front of the grand entrance to Ohio Stadium, waiting for someone to do that most Buckeye* of all gestures.

Waited. And waited. I checked my phone. It had been five minutes.

O-H-I-O proud.

A few minutes later, I spotted a likely group and took their picture having their picture taken doing the O-H-I-O.

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Akron: Let the mystery begin

Nary a cloud floated in the azure sky as the scarlet clad warriors thundered across the hallowed plastic turf of Ohio Stadium to vanquish their marsupial* foe.

I am aware they are the Akron Zips, but their logo is a kangaroo, fer cryin’ out loud.

Before I could witness the spectacle and revel in the mystery of what this year’s Buckeyes would look like, I had to gain access to Ohio Stadium. Not much was stirring on the asphalt meadows surrounding campus, so I geared up to march over the Olentangy. With a camera dangling off each shoulder, a group of belt pouches, a backpack and a sound recorder, my pack mule appearance generated three “that guy needs more cameras” and incredulity from a youngster I fell in step behind on the way to the stadium. He pointed me out to his brother, mother and father and was going through them again when I told him I would take his picture in the stands and gave him my card.

I forgot he would be there with 105,000 of his closest friends.

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Big Ten Tournament: Champs!

When I got into my car to go to an assignment Monday afternoon and glanced over at the photographer passes from the Big Ten Tournament title game sitting on my passenger seat, I felt like I was living a double life. Big time, big deal photographer on weekends, small town newspaper guy during the week. It almost didn’t seem real, it was that awesome, and that far from my normal comings and goings.

The finger doesn’t lie.

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