Iowa: For the Roses

Danger signs were abundant on Saturday morning. A depleted opponent with nothing to lose, a must-win situation and even the weather. Is it really November? The atmosphere was festive but reserved, more like USC than a Big Ten opponent missing its starting running back and qb.

Making the rounds, I talked to fans to get a feel for the general mood of the populace. Nervous confidence would be the best description of the prevailing mood; we are going to win, but it won’t be easy.


Classic pin.

At one tailgate, a long-time fan told of riding the train to the Rose Bowl, another flipped sausages on a grill as he recounted a half dozen trips to the venerable clash.

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New Mexico State: Buckeyes Win

Blame the economy. That must be the reason that the parking lots were empty and thousands of empty seats pocked the upper deck of Ohio Stadium. Not the weather (rainy, cloudy, less cloudy, more cloudy, almost sunny, sunny and then cloudy, in that order) nor the opponent, some high school team from New Mexico.


Lonely tailgate.

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Minnesota: Tradition

I grew up in New Hampshire. I am sure NH is famous for something, but whatever that is, it isn’t college football.  So when I arrived on campus for my first OSU game (Indiana in 2002) it was unlike anything I had ever seen. The tailgating, the colors, the sound and fury of 100,000 people all cheering for the same thing.

After photographing the Buckeyes and their fans fairly extensively over the past 2 1/2 seasons, I have come to appreciate other aspects of Ohio State, mainly the connection it has with its fans and alumni, a connection forged through tradition. Alumni of Ohio State that I have met have passion and pride for their university. Not every school has that. Trust me.

On  a personal level, people have their own traditions, on an institutional level there are others that cast a long shadow. Scarlet and Gray, the Block O, winning. Homecoming wraps them all up, educational and athletic, on a special day for those that have the closest connection, the alumni.

And to be on the court, well, that is pretty special. I spent my morning with the present and past court before watching the Buckeyes take on the Golden Gophers.

To me, the traditions I enjoy the most are aural. From the thunderous entrance of the band as it takes the field to Hang On Sloopy, football and music are intertwined at OSU.  Many fans start their day at the Skull Session at least once during the season, and our collective homecoming day really started to gather steam on the floor of  St. John Arena.

calm before the storm

The band about to make their entrance.

The band gets pumped before taking the floor, still mostly out of sight in the tunnel. They storm into the building to great applause, and give the listener a peak into some of their traditions during the course of the show.

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Wisconsin: Weird

Saturday was one of those ‘tweener games. Not meaningless, but out of the national radar, which makes it vital that the Buckeyes win convincingly. And despite Wisconsin always playing Ohio State hard, unless the Buckeyes hung 70 and a shutout on the Badgers the national pundits would use the margin of victory to point out how lousy the Big Ten is.

So it was a beautiful day in Columbus as I arrived at Ohio Stadium a few hours before the game, having detoured through a few parking lots working on another project, and then making a quick dash back to the Longaberger Alumni House to get my knee pads. I always get weird looks when I don’t bother to take my knee pads before walking back to my car, but it is a lesson I learned early in my OSU shooting career; that rubber-coated concrete down there isn’t nearly as soft as it looks.

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Illinois: Soggy

I once taught a weekend photo class. The three pieces of advice I gave were this; be patient, be persistent, and know your gear. So after last week’s camera troubles, shooting the game with a borrowed camera weighed heavily. Doing so in the rain more so. So I was thrilled when my camera came back from Canon Professional Services. I wasn’t really that happy that it was raining when I woke up on Saturday morning though.

Rolling up the newly freed third lane of  Ohio 315 was a treat, even if it was raining, and I breezed into the Longaberger Alumni House parking lot around 11 a.m. And promptly wondered what I was going to do with myself. The parking lot, normally an epicenter of tailgating, was a bit subdued, with a few tailgaters huddling under their tents.

I worked on a separate project for the Association for an hour or so, and then headed off in the general direction of the stadium.


The ‘Shoe rises from the mist.

As I marched across Lane Avenue I could see Ohio Stadium shrouded in mist. There was just enough water falling from the sky to shroud everything in a light fog, the kind of rain that seems to float rather than fall, unpredictable in direction, sure to find every opening in a camera. Really, despite being a life-giving force, rain can be kind of a pain in the butt some times.

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Toledo: Road trip

I rolled through downtown Cleveland, down mostly empty streets, waiting for that moment when Lake Erie appears as the horizon, half expecting to run into an impenetrable line of traffic. Instead I rolled slowly around Browns Stadium and into a desolate parking lot in the Port of Cleveland. A handful of tailgaters had set up shop along the lake’s edge, alone in acres of pavement.

But it was still early. I went over and paid a visit, not quite getting the photo I was after, and then headed up to 6th street for the Buckeye Bash. It was mostly up hill, and I was feeling it a little by the time I got there. I was travelling light, too, much lighter than my normal trips around the parking lots and tailgate spots of the Olentangy Valley.

So I rolled in, passing pockets of tailgating, under highway viaducts, filling in the nooks and crannies between the mass of the city and edge of the world.

6th Street was not exactly hopping at 8:30, but there were a few people around, early risers and staff from the various establishments and organizations at the Bash. I was there to take some pictures of Archie Griffin and sponsors of the event. His arrival was a moment after mine, and the crowd seemed to thicken instantly.

rock star

A wrist workout for Archie.

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USC: Festive to Funereal

Festive: adj 2. Merry or Joyous.
Funereal: adj 2. Appropriate for or suggestive of a funeral; mournful.

American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition

I arrived early outside the Longaberger Alumni House so I could wander around and gauge the pulse of Buckeye Nation. The parking lot was packed, with as many tents as I have ever seen, even at 1 p.m. The crowd was festive, although not overly confident about the Buckeyes actually winning the game.

there is no secret agent in this photoFine form in the Longaberger lot

rv lotCornhole could be an Olympic sport if they held the games in Columbus.

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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.

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This time tomorrow, I will probably be sitting on the rubber “ground” just beyond the end of an end zone in Ohio Stadium, watching the Ohio State Buckeyes trounce (with respect) Navy.

My name is Chris Crook, and I am a photographer. I will be on assignment for the Ohio State Alumni Association to share my thoughts and photos from the games.

Before then, I need to get my gear together and get some loose ends taken care of before a long stretch of very busy weekends. And, of course, some high school football in New Concord tonight.

Below is a slideshow from last year to wet your whistle, so to speak. Fans make bold predictions about the Big Ten season (thanks again, Penn State).

You can relive the past two seasons by viewing other slideshows from the 2007 and 2008. Also check out the Tailgate Traditions panoramas.

So I am excited. A little nervous, but mostly excited. The camera batteries are charging, the cards are formatted, and I have a few waters in the freezer. Can’t wait ’til my feet hit the ground outside the Longaberger Alumni House Saturday morning.

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