Navy: Close call

Photographer Chris Crook on assignment for the Ohio State Alumni Association.

My two worst fears about the first game of the season are a, that I will oversleep, and b, that I will get stuck in traffic. Really, those are my two worst fears about heading off to shoot any Ohio State game, I guess. So it was 0-dark-30 when I left the house Saturday morning, spurred on by the nightmarish specter of waiting in traffic like, well, traffic leaving the game.

With the Lane Avenue exit of 315 rumored to be closed, I had to go through the heart of Columbus on city streets. Which, at 6:50 a.m. were almost devoid of traffic in the pearly dawn light. Figures.

So I set out to gauge the pulse of Buckeye Nation. At that hour, the pulse consisted mostly of setting up tailgates. The people I talked to seemed confident about the season though, ranging from two losses to a National title game appearance. Only one person I talked to all day was really that worried about the task at hand, dispatching Navy (with utmost respect) back to Annapolis with a loss.

setting upSetting up to party down.

After a few photos, I headed over to the Ohio State Alumni Association’s Buckeye Bash, which was in a big tent by the Chemical Abstract building. It was mostly empty when I got there, but I did get a photo of a fellow fooling around with one of those plywood cutouts for getting your picture taken.

cutoutWhat, no Heisman pose?

The place was beginning to fill up when all of a sudden it was overrun with Midshipmen. I mean, they were everywhere. I guess they all came at once, but eventually the Scarlett took over, it seems military precision applies to pep rallies too. Or maybe they all came on the same bus.

Part of my duties was photographing Archie Griffin (that would be two-time Heisman Trophy Winner Archie Griffin), which is pretty cool.

archieOSUAA President Archie Griffin

geeE. G. Gee and his monogrammed pants

rumbleWhen titans clash…


After a while the program got started and the speakers began. Archie, President Gee, the Commandant of the Naval Academy Captain Matthew Klunder and a guy from the USNA Alumni Association.

And while a cynic would suggest I sort of HAVE to say good things about the event, I have to admit it was pretty cool. All the speakers did a good job, and the crowd was pretty riled up, which is good. Brutus and Billy the Goat threw down a little but, and President Gee suggested that OSU beat the hell out of Navy, which got the crowd fired up even more. The masses were encouraged to treat the Middies with respect though, and not boo them (too much, at least).

After that was over, I got some City Barbeque. Not coming from a football state originally, takes a bit of getting used to eating bbq at 9 am, or whenever it was.

Then it was time to gear up, lather up, and head for the ‘Shoe.

The sidewalks were getting crowded as I humped my away across the Lane Avenue bridge, thick with the Scarlett and Gray army. There were a few Midshipmen around, but they did not seem to travel in the same sized herds that descended on the Buckeye Bash. That would have been pretty cool, actually, to see the whole crowd in one place, marching in step.

I was going to look around a little more, but I was starting to get a little anxious. The check-in line for the media can be kind of airportesque at times, with lots of media checking in with lots of equipment, and I wanted to be safely enclosed in the bowels of Ohio Stadium.

Turns out they changed things around this year, and I was through the check-in in about a minute. So much for airportesque. I was a little early too; starting work at 7 a.m. does that to a fellow. I kept wondering why the light seemed so “morningish” as opposed to “exactly over-head-high-noonish.”

Down the ramp into the stadium, and under the “open end” stands where the sideline media is kept at bay, I unwrapped my gear and piled it in an out of the way spot. There a handful of tables down there for the deadline people to set up laptops on, and since I am not one of them, I set up out of the way. Shooting a noon game on deadline isn’t so bad, but an afternoon or night game, a lot harder.

After I unwrapped, I set out to find a few more fans to give me predictions of how the season would go. There were a few early arrivals in the stadium, taking in the gleaming turf and big screen on the closed end. They also spruced up the numbers for the championship years and Heisman winners. The ol’ place looked pretty good.

Then it was time to get some water. And food too, incidentally. Back up the ramp from field level, though the gate, dodging a thicker crowd this time, and up the elevators to the press box. City Barbecue was there again, and I partook, because it is good (and free!). But the real mission, once the bar-b-cue is safely delivered to my belly, was water. Four little bottles left with me, and it still wasn’t enough.

Then the limbo time begins. Waiting for things to get started. Archie and Gee had intimated there would be a special pre-game ceremony, and we all just wanted to get it started. Since I usually spend several hours before the game shooting and interviewing people, there is a sort of feeling of relief as the first kickoff sails though the air; finally.
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Finally, out comes the band, with that unmistakable drum beat that always sets the crowd off. They march on the field, and then the alumni band. They might not be quite as precise, but they sound good, that is for sure. A wide variety of ages, too, which is cool. I wonder how long they have to practice to get the steps down again? Is it like riding a bike?

marching inA site and sound like none other.

alumniThe second best damn band in the land?

I set up in the south end zone to get the team charging toward me, with Brutus leading the way with a huge flag. I figured I could get Navy from there as well, going crossways from me. And then all of a sudden they came out together. Crud. I wanted to record how the fans reacted to Navy’s arrival on the field. They had cheered when the came out to practice, but the stadium was only half full. I wonder how the reception would have been if the students were back on campus yet.

startHere they come, all of them. At once.

I was looking at the big screen on the north end when they showed a blank screen. It started to show three little specks. I had just gotten my wide angle lens on when a trio of fighter jets went screaming overhead. That was pretty cool, although it would have been cooler if something bigger and slower went overhead. I don’t think the Navy has any big bombers though.


flyoverA big flag and the flyover.

After the pregame machinations it was finally game time. A boot from the Navy kicker, and the season began.

let get it onIts on!

trickeryOh! Trickery!

And not without trickery, either. Lamaar Thomas caught the ball on the fly, and I was following him through my lens and all of a sudden Brandon Saine was running the other way! Holy cow! What trickery has Tressel wrought? I don’t know how much it helped, but it seemed like a decent return, I guess.

I scooted down the other end of the field, and a minute later Dane Sanzenbacher catches a short pass and leaves a Navy defender in the dust for the first touchdown of the young season. He scored the first TD back in ’07, too.

do dane goYou can tell its a touchdown because of that guy on the sidelines.

damnSometimes you get the touchdown. Sometimes you get ref butt.

So I guess most of the people in the stadium were feeling pretty good at that point. It didn’t last. It didn’t take Navy very long at all to answer, and an already somewhat subdued crowd got even quieter.

crapOh dear. For want of longer arms.

oh dearQuality blocking leads to trouble. And probably a big bruise.

At one point I turned to a friend and said “I like shooting the triple option as much as Ohio State likes defending it.” His reply; “You never know where the ball is!”

bodiesThe triple option pig pile.

The triple option, which Navy runs, is a pain in the butt to shoot. Generally, the quarterback of any given team gets the ball, and then passes it, or hands it off, or runs like heck. That happens in the triple option too, but it seems like it happens faster. Generally you spend a while hunting for the ball, during which time the play happens somewhere other than where you are looking. It takes a little while to get used to it, although you do eventually, and get lots of pictures of people running into a big pile of big bodies.

vertigoBands cross paths in a vertigo inducing pattern that eventually spelled out a pair of script Ohios.

At halftime, John Glenn was to dot the i as the Alumni Band (with backup from the future alumni band) played the Dot the I song. I really wanted a picture of this, because when the boss says “hey, I sure would like a picture of John Glenn dotting the i” it becomes a priority. So I wrack my brain trying to remember the last time I got a decent picture of a guy dotting the i.

I find a likely spot and wait it out. Finally, I see JG and Annie marching across the field. He stops, and waves, the the TV camera gets all up in his grill, so to speak, and they walk off.

mr glennMr Glenn, Mr Glenn, if you could just turn…

Damn. He didn’t turn my way even once. I like John Glenn, I have met him a couple times, but I didn’t like him then.

The second half started, and I trotted down to the south end zone. The Buckeyes downed a punt on the one, and it looks like things were getting off to a good start. Then Navy drove 99 yards for a touchdown.

lets goHe should have rested his arms. Second play of a 99-yard drive.

optionNathan Williams gets a close up view of the joys of keep away.

So that is how it went. Up and down the field, chasing or running ahead of the team, trying to stay out of the way of the tv camera crane/trolley thing that runs back and forth along the sidelines. Sweating, and after a while, kind of wishing it was over. The stadium was dead, I honestly think the Midshipmen made more noise on their four scores than the Ohio State fans did on any of the Buckeyes.  I don’t know why this was. Maybe because the respect paid to the Navy, maybe because the students are not back on campus yet. But it was a weird vibe, all of us just sitting there sweltering. At one point the crowd broke out in the O-H-I-O chant, and then applauded, pleased with themselves.
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pryor divesPryor dives just short of the end zone.

sackSafety Jermale Hines sacks Navy QB Ricky Dobbs. He probably deserved it.

facemaskIf  you are going to get a face mask, you should check who might be watching.

off he goesOh dear…

happy middiesIs that guy crowd surfing?

distantNo matter how far away from the action you got, it still sucked when Navy pulled within a point.

thrilledNo joy in Mudville. Or Columbus, either.

And then Navy intercepted a pass and what seems like moments later trailed by a single point on a long, long touchdown run.

saves the dayThank you, Mr. Rolle.

Then it got REALLY quiet. For a moment. Brian Rolle intercepts the Navy’s 2-point try and runs it allll the way back for two points. At first I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t line up for an extra point, but maybe that was because I was tired. I mean, every one knows that an intercepted two-point conversion attempt run back for a “touchdown” is worth 2 points, right? Happens all the time…

As the game wound down, and Pryor and crew marched past midfield, I left the sidelines and headed into the stands to shoot the Carmen Ohio from on high. Standing right next to a trumpet player, actually. Trying to get a shot of Carmen Ohio is tough, because they rope it off from the sideline rabble so no one stands between the band and the team.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, about the game, about the photos, about the Buckeyes, and come back next week after The Game, when USC comes to town.

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