I didn't know it at the time, but my short stay in New Orleans was an epilogue of sorts. It was the last game of the Tressel Era, Terrelle Pryor's Swan Song, and an end to our Age of Innocence. It's a cruel irony that the end could feel so sweet.
I flew into the city the night before the game, meeting Luke and Jason from the site on Bourbon Street after a long bus-ride from the airport. Luke had a cup of absinthe waiting for me when I arrived.
The mood was electric. Gaggles of fans moved in giant, amorphous blobs through the close-set alleyways of the French Quarter, bellowing taunts and songs at volumes dependent on their level of intoxication.
While traveling from one bar to another, we saw two thick-necked Brosefs fighting in the street, one wearing a Buckeye jersey, the other a bright red shirt with a pig on it. A horse charged up and the cop barked a few words I couldn't hear over the noise of the crowd wandering the streets. By the time we passed them they were hugging. The horse took a celebratory dump in the street.
The day of the game Luke and I grabbed a couple of Hurricanes and set out to find the best Cajun food we could find. We got lost, naturally. We wandered through downtown mansions, the docks, several alleyways, and even the Metalocalypse part of town (New Orleans hipsters listen to Mastodon, presumably). We eventually found a hole in the wall, a discovered a delivious crayfish platter and Abita's Purple Haze.
We met Jason at the stadium, rounding up our tickets and heading into the monstrous Superdome, like fish in a current. Our seats were stellar, and surrounded a mix of Buckeye and Razorback. Behind us were two younger Razorback fans, from Little Rock. Incredibly nice, and not particularly knowledgable about college football. They left at the half. In front of us were two New Orleans locals, Buckeyes originally from Ohio. They left during the 3rd Quarter.
It's amazing to me how monstrously unfair the whole experience of going to a game can be sometimes. The best seats are often held by the least of fans, especially at places like The Coliseum at USC where celebrities get top billing. Ohio State shunts its students up in the nosebleed bleachers and back behind the endzones, while huge donors and corporations buy sideline seats to hand out like patrons in the Roman Republic. Just another example of the rot at the heart of college athletics, sadly.
About three rows down was the loudest, most obnoxious Razorback fan we encountered the entire night. He looked like this guy, from Beverly Hills Cop 3, and by the 4th quarter his sullen silence had turned into loud and frequent insults hurled directly towards any Buckeye fans in his vicinity. Needless to say, the S-E-C chant we took up shortly thereafter was made all the sweeter by his red-faced anger.
During the post-game celebration, Luke, Jason, myself, and a couple of others met up at a bar on Bourbon street, where we met the first in what would become our very own motley band of revelers. Arkansasbro loved Arkansas, and hated Ryan Mallet. He felt the Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis backfield was the best of all time, and Houston Nutt was a complete idiot. We couldn't disagree.
I couldn't tell you the name of the next bar, but I do know our little company was at least 12-strong by that point; a mix of jubilant, if slightly nerdy Buckeye bloggers, random other Buckeyes, and several Arkansas fans we'd met along the way. We even met one of the two Arkansas fans who had sat behind us in the Stadium. His friend was too busy moping in his hotel room to make it out, but he was ready for an Irish Wake.
I think it's easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of these off-season traumas, when the not-knowing is almost worse than the knowing, and the hits seem to keep on coming. Yet at the end of the day, what draws us to the Buckeyes are as much the memories we create with the people we share our common fandom with, as it is about the game itself. We're a community.
No matter what happens going forward, on that front, we'll only come out stronger in the end.