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=”http://www.crookphotography.com/audio/fick.mp3″] Fickell’s pep talk.
After the Skull Session, we all marched over to the stadium in a drizzle.
My companions were having a great time, and I took a of pictures of people posing with the field in the background (plus a few more two-time Heisman poses). People were so hyped to be down there, which made me remember how cool it is that I am down there every other week or so, something photographers should never take for granted. Even if they don’t care about football, being down there is undeniably interesting, at the very least.
The appointed hour came, and the band stormed onto the field. The court took their places, 10 yards apart along most of the sideline. My people from The Association introduced the court, and the clock counted down to immortality.
My heart began to tick a little faster. I knew who was going to be crowned, but that still doesn’t make it easy, per say, to get a picture. Everyone needs to turn the right direction, and everyone needs to stay put so that no one gets in anybody else’s way.
And then I saw Brutus. And as the king and queen began melting at midfield, I heard his handler say “get out there,” and off he went.
I love Brutus as much as the next guy, but the last thing I needed was his oversized head in my viewfinder at this exact second. But the tides parted, and I got my shots.
And then a sigh of relief. I could devote my attention to football, which is more forgiving than tight deadline portraiture, since it is not like the Buckeyes weren’t going to send Boom Heron up the middle again, right?
The game had begun by the time I got myself geared up in the photo dungeon under the south stands, and I took my spot on the Buckeyes sideline and got to work.
Ohio State didn’t go much with their first shot at the ball, and neither did Wisconsin. But the second time around, I was squatting along the sideline when a big ol’ Badger pulled in a pass behind a blur of diving scarlet. Milliseconds later, another blur, this time a missed tackle, and the Badgers were on the board.
More back and forth, and more waiting for the other shoe to fall. Not much seemed to be going my way, but at the same time, not much seemed to be happening. Punts, stalled drives, and unbending defenses added up to a field goal for the Buckeyes. Half time came, and I went in search of an I-dotter.
Saturday, the Ohio State University Marching Band celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first i-dotting, which was against Wisconsin, well, 75 years ago.
I was in search of an early i-dotter. I couldn’t quite hear (or understand, at least) what the announcer was talking about, so I took some pictures of some likely candidates.
I had noticed some black boxes on tarps on the edge of the field, so I figured the band would be blowing something up. And they did, and it startled me, despite the fact that I was expecting it.
Every Saturday, the band has a half time theme, and this time it was James Bond. They went through a few theme songs, and then I saw a band member heading onto the field with a fire extinguisher. Aha! I thought, they must be getting ready to blow something up.
The extinguishaphonist then proceeded to spray the contents of the extinguisher. Startled, I looked up at the video board, and saw the band had formed the outline of a car, and the extinguisher was the exhaust. Or they were honoring Ohio’s mosquito control efforts.
After the James Bond action, I went around to the other side of the field to get the 75th anniversary i-dotter. I forgot that Eddie George was to be honored at half. I wasn’t too bothered though, as the spectacle from behind was pretty funny too, a long line of photographers lining up for a shot at George and Archie.
Halftime thus disposed of, it was time to see what the Buckeyes were going to do with themselves in the second half.
I was sitting with my back to the band when Boom came tear-as*ing down the field with a huge run. He followed that up with another that looked like it would end with some points, but he was knocked out of bounds short of the goal line.
The Buckeyes proceeded to try and pound running backs into the mammoth Wisconsin line, proceeding to budge them not one inch. A colleague leaned over to me and said “good. now maybe they can run something this way.”
They didn’t. The Hope ducked a tackle to the right, and sauntered into the end zone. Really. He just kind of strolled, ambled even. But it put the Bucs up 10-7, and brought the stadium back to life.
They were back at it again, moments later, after a blocked punt. And despite it being right in front of me, I messed up the shot. I hoped it wouldn’t be the play of the game. While you can get lots of pictures of Boom running into a pile of defenders, Plays of the Game are rare birds indeed. Especially this season.
And before I knew it, J-Hall was diving into the end zone right in front of me. Snazzy.
As he got to his feet, as he was mobbed by his teammates, he pointed a finger skyward. Whether a tribute to the Almighty or an optimistic ranking for the Buckeyes, I do not know.
The Buckeyes and Badgers knocked each other around for a while, after Wisconsin drew nearer with a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.
I was sitting about 10 yards out of the end zone when Miller went streaking down the sideline and into the end zone. Despite it being all the way across the field, I could see his smile when Devin Miller came calling for his high five.
And then the heartbreak began to hit the fan. Set up to shoot some behind the lines defensive action, I watched as the Badgers began to get further and further away. After a touchdown made it too close for comfort, again I set up for the big sack shot, and again they drew further and further away. The silence after Wisconsin pulled ahead was broken only by a sideline attendant swearing behind me.
I began to rewrite the headlines in my head.
I can’t say that I thought Ohio State would win. I didn’t feel the same iron-clad optimism I felt after Michigan State took the lead weeks ago, nor the absolute confidence I felt in Lincoln that they couldn’t come back against Nebraska. But I didn’t feel like it was impossible, and that was enough. It had been two weeks since I had seen them play, after all.
I lingered in more or less the same spot as I had for most of the fourth quarter, about 10 yards out of the end zone, more or less, on the Wisconsin sideline. I saw Hall come racing toward midfield, but fall short of a 6-point kick off return. I saw Boom squeeze out a few yards for a clock-stopping first down. And I saw Braxton Miller roam to his right, and saw his eyes catch a target down field. I saw him leap in the air and hurl the ball north.
And I saw the ball come down into the breadbasket of a leaping Devin Smith.
And I heard the world explode.
I tried to record the sound of 105,000 people losing their minds, but the meter on my sound recorder pegged, and the recording just sounded like a headache. Wisconsin threatened to tear the heart out of Buckeye Nation, but the defense swarmed, and disaster was averted, and all hell broke loose.
I’ve never been good in the scrum, but I made my way into the happy throng, working my way around the edges until I was enveloped in happy Buckeye fans, all of whom were taller than me. I found myself behind the Carmen line, and held my camera aloft, snapping away as I moved through O H I O, taking part in my first ever Carmen.
I finally got through the crowd, and worked my way into the photo dungeon. I collected myself and my stuff as I waited for the crowd to thin. When I emerged, I saw an older fellow sitting by himself, just looking out over the field. I approached, and ask him if he was just taking it all in.
“I don’t want to move, because I don’t want them to take this away. I don’t want to wake up and find out this never happened.”
I was still smiling when I woke up Sunday morning.
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