My daughter and son, who are 10 and 8 respectively, stepped out onto the front porch this morning ready to scurry off to the bus stop. I told them Daddy needs a kiss first (like I always do) and I too stepped out onto the porch and delivered said kisses. They pulled their hoods over their heads, leaped off the porch and bounded down the driveway toward the bus stop. And by the way, I simply don’t ever remember being that excited each day when I left for school. But I digress. This is not a story about my disdain for school. It was raining at a pretty steady pace this morning and there was a slight, albeit not a big, chill in the air. I stood there for a few seconds and just as I was about to turn around and walk back inside, it hit me. One of those memories you have imbedded in your subconscious like a tick on a farm dog came bubbling to the surface. A memory that isn’t brought on by a voice, a sound or because you were talking about it or something similar. No, THIS memory was brought on by my surroundings and all that they entailed at that exact moment. It not only put an instant smile on my face but brought a tear to my eye just as quickly. The rain, the dark gray cloudy Columbus sky, the smell of wet concrete wafting up from under my feet and the sight of my sons red Buckeye rain coat as he ambled down the driveway brought forth a cherished memory of my father. All of a sudden I’m standing in The Horseshoe on Nov. 2, 1985.
Now come on, if you are either around my age (42, which made me 15 at the time) or are a Buckeye Football history nut of the highest ilk, you know that date as it applies to Buckeye Football lore. The #1 ranked, Chuck Long led, Hayden Fry coached Iowa Hawkeyes were in town for a tilt w/ our beloved Buckeyes. Sure the Buckeye pulled off a huge upset in knocking off the then #1 ranked Hawkeyes, but this memory that I keep speaking of has very little to do w/ the actual game. This memory is all about my father. You see my Dad passed away way to young from cancer at the age of 61. It’s been 8 years since he’s been gone and all the memories of him are fond ones these days. The grief has passed long ago and even when I do tear up over a memory of him, it’s due to happy thoughts not sad. My point is I’m not looking for sympathy or condolences in regards to my father. Sure I miss him but I think of him from the side of positive thoughts these days. I just felt the need to tell this story as it dawned on me that lots and I mean lots of my memories of my father are dripping, nay immersed, in Buckeye Football. And my friends, there is absolutely nothing wrong w/ that in the least!!
As I stood there on the porch allowing the memories of my dad from that day to flow over me I couldn't’t help but chuckle and even talk to myself about these thoughts of my old man. I heard “Did you see that son? My goodness that son of a bitch can play ball” being yelled in my ear like he was still standing right next to me. He was referring to a hit on Long where Pepper Johnson strung the play out and then smacked him on the sideline. I remember my dad throwing his arm around my shoulders and screaming “Holy shit! Spielman just knocked Harmon back 2 yards” after Spielman met a leaping Ronnie Harmon in the hole for a loss on 4th & 1 from the OSU 10 yard line. And by the way, my father liked his cuss words. Now he didn't drop F’Bombs or other over the top cuss words and he also never cussed directly at you while he was upset. But boy did my old man like to use “Son of a Bitch”, “Shit” & “God Dammit” as adjectives when he spoke. He was a military man. He graguated from Navy ROTC at Ohio State & spent another 25+ years in the Navy Reserves and that’s just the way he spoke. I was used to it & it was never hurtful, so why sugar coat the man’s shortcomings, right? But my favorite moment from that day was shortly after Spielman had notched his second interception on the day w/ under 2 min's to play, sealing the victory for the Buckeyes. We all go crazy inside Ohio Stadium jumping around & screaming like little girls at an American Girl Doll store. Everyones high fiving & yelling in the steady rain and my dad puts both hands on my shoulders, gives me a couple of violent shakes, steadies me, says “God Dammit son, does it get any better than this?” and then pulls me in for a celebratory hug.
Like I said above there are so many memories of my father that center around Buckeye football. I was so lucky growing up as he sat on the Board of Regents at Ohio State so of course he had season tickets. He had (4) tix and right around the age of 11-12, I started going to home Buckeye games every Sat almost w/ out fail. Not bragging but simply stating how lucky I was to see an almost uncountable number of Buckeyes games and I was lucky enough to see them w/ my Dad. I remember tailgating every Sat in the St. Johns lot w/ my Dad, my Uncle and whomever my Dad brought on his 4th ticket. Almost every time I throw brats boiled in beer on my grill here at home, the smell reminds me of those crisp fall Sat’s at his tailgates. Eventually he retired from the Board of Regents & gave up his season tix. I had moved on thru college, got married & moved to Cincinnati. We would still get to one home game each year but had not seen a game together since 1999. Then, I got one final beat all-end all memory w/ my father and Ohio State Football!!! I scored (2) tickets to the Ohio State vs. Miami (FL) National Championship game in that magical season of 2002. I’ll never forget when I called my wife at work and proclaimed “We’re in dear. We’re headed to the desert to see the Title Game.” And God love my wife as she told me right then on the phone, that I needed to ask my Father to go and if he didn't want to go, then she’s all in of course. I didn’t even need to say “are you sure dear” or“no, you should go.” She got it. She understood to the inth degree. She not only knew all about me & my Dad’s history together in regards to OSU football but she also knew what it would mean to me and my Pops to see that game together. I know, right? How great is this woman?!?! The phone call to my Dad to ask him to head out there w/ me was a great phone call. He laughed and said “No son, I appreciate it but I’m too old for all that revelry these days.” I simply told him that he didn’t have of a choice as we hadn’t seen a game together in (3) years, it was the Buckeyes playing for the whole ball of wax for crying out loud and besides, his daughter-in-law insisted he go. He chuckled and said “I knew I liked that girl for good reason. Okay, I’ll go.” I made sure to treat him to the whole trip. The game tix, plane tix, hotel, etc. was on my dime. It was the least I could do for all the games and all the fun he had treated me to over the years simply because I was his son.
The Buckeyes National Championship win over the Hurricane’s in Tempe was the last Buckeye game I attended w/ my Dad as he passed away (6) years later. It’s not that we didn’t watch and talk Buckeye football when we were together but my life was full of inertia at that time and he obviously had gotten sick as well. But that last game we saw together sure was special! I’ll never forget the smile on his face as we walked out of Sun Devil Stadium, his 58 year old voice hoarse from screaming the whole game. He threw his arm around me as we walked toward the car and said, “Honestly son, I started to think I wouldn’t get to see the Bucks win another National Championship in my lifetime. Thanks for bringing me out to see it.” And of course I responded w/ the obligatory “You’re welcome.” But looking back, I wish I would have said something that would have been much more appropriate.
So Pops, I’ll say now what I should have then……….
“No Dad, thank you!!!!”