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.
Watching the cold paint hit skin for the first time was pretty funny. The victim would tense, their face a mask of stone, as if afraid to betray how cold it was.
The countdown began, and parents began to gather on the field. I set up for senior day.
Senior day has to be bittersweet for most of them this year. Some of their careers are well documented, some of them not documented at all. Every year a handful of seniors make their way across the field to polite applause, while 100,000 fans turn to their neighbor and quietly ask “who?”
And for others, deafening applause, a show of appreciation for a career well done.
But this year a season temporarily interrupted would be resumed in what should have been the twilight of a glorious career. I was perhaps morbidly curious how that player would be greeted.
The band lined up, the team thundered out, and the seniors gathered in a knot not far from where I stood. Their names were slowly read off and they raced across the field to join their teammates.
I saw the player in question, perhaps one of the best in Ohio State history, a career pock-marked with controversy. He knelt and kissed the turf. When his name was introduced, the crowd roared.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.crookphotography.com/audio/posey.mp3″] Posey’s intro.
I was surprised, and pleased with the fan’s loyalty. Here was a player who was a symbol and cause of the problems and disappointment of the season, and he was greeted like a hero. If only we could all forgive and forget like Ohio State fans. Or at least the ones cheering for DeVier Posey.
The game began with its usual shenanigans, Ohio State falling behind almost immediately. Oh well, I thought. We can come back on these guys. Penn State isn’t any good.
Into the end zone.
I found out Friday that Marching Band Director Dr. Jon Woods would be dotting the I during Script Ohio at half time, in honor of his years of service at Ohio State. My assignment was to get him dotting the I. A team of us would document the event for the University and the Association.
I set up on the visitors’ sideline, to assure the clearest possible view of the dotting. A teammate would be on the home sidelines, another in a box above the stadium. We would have it covered.
The moment approached. Dr. Woods and his escorts, sousaphonist Jon Lampley and drum major Jason Stuckart made their way toward the hallowed spot. Out of my corner of my eye I spotted the Penn State punter.
Dr. Woods marched the last few steps on his own. He turned toward the south, he turned toward the big white blob.
The punter blocked my shot as he ran onto the field. In that tiny second I wished that Beaver Stadium would collapse, Mount Nittany would crumble and Penn State football would founder on the rocks of obscurity for perpetuity.
The second quarter began with me still quivering with rage. The soft spot I had for Penn State, a result of it being the spot of my first road OSU game and most the common opponent I had seen, had vanished.
I focused on the matter at hand. The two teams continued to commit crimes against football. The Buckeyes passion for big hits came at a cost of missed tackles. Penn State’s passion for odd play calling resulted in a goal line stand that could have been they play(s) of the game, but instead are just a footnote at the end of a long sad tale.
As time ran out, I pondered the possibility of another miracle, but it felt like Ohio State’s miracles were all used up. Sure enough, Braxton ran to his right and looked down field and threw up a hope as time ran out. It came down as a busted dream.
The Lions rushed the field, the media rushed the field, and I made my way down the sidelines for one last Carmen. The team aligned so I had a picture of Boom looking like his dog died and Fick looking resigned.
I made my way out of the stadium. I stopped and looked back at the stadium for the last time this season, maybe even forever (never take anything for granted, after all) and thought it would make a nice picture.
If I could find a spot that didn’t prominently feature a porta-potty.
As I walked across the Olentangy, I looked back at the stadium and its environs reflecting the the rippled waters, and set my camera on the rail for another shot. And I realized that I was sad to see the season end. I don’t know what will happen next week, or during the off season, but it was a heck of a ride, and I’m sorry to see it end.
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