Yesterday the reigning monarch of Ohio sports took the time to throw some bread crumbs to his starving, naked subjects:
Congrats to the @BlueJacketsNHL on their 1st playoff win. Look forward to representing the Buckeyes and showing support at the game tonight!— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) April 21, 2014
"Ho ho ho!" bellowed Urban the Good, "Mayhap the poor fools in Nationwide Arena will find warmth in my succor! Now, onward to the great annual rage hunt, where we fill our bellies with imagined slights and half-forgotten taunts from Alabama fans! ON, BUBASTIS!"
And with that, the king urged his mighty steed toward the club house of whatever Columbus area golf course he was currently whiling away the offseason in.
The king has had no need for worry, nor has any other king of Columbus area sports, because Ohio State football has gone completely unmatched in popularity for the past hundred plus years. And it's never been even remotely close; Ohio State football at this point is pretty much Krusty the Clown giddily reminiscing about the time that he demolished the Special Olympics in the ratings.
But what if that changed?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a professional sports team. I mean, apparently. They're a member of the fourth most popular league in the country (comin' for ya, NBA!), the 32nd largest media market in the country, and a city that recently had to strike a rather plum deal with the team to make sure that they didn't end up in Branson or Quebec City or Yellowknife or where the hell ever. Oh also, the team is bleeding cash like a man made out of money that bleeds cash when you cut him.
So they've got that going against them. On the other hand, the team is pretty okayish now? They're in the playoffs, they recently won their first postseason game, AND one of my coworkers wore a Blue Jackets jersey yesterday, so that has to count for something I guess.
But the truth of the matter is that no matter what success that the Blue Jackets have, they're going to play second fiddle to a good Ohio State football program. And good might be overselling it, because mediocre is all Ohio State football merely has to be to stay supreme in Columbus sports. Even the existential angst of a string of crappy seasons in a row would be enough to prop the Buckeyes up in a city that feeds on football to sustain itself like some kind of ancient lich-king.
But what if that changed?
See, I can (with difficulty), envision a Columbus where football takes a backseat to professional hockey. The hazy glaze that is the future tells me this won't even come close to happening, but bear with me here, because this is what a Saturday in October looks like in this horrifying alternate universe:
- You pop out of bed at 8 am, giddy with excitement about the prospect of watching Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu mix it up in the middle.
- After several hours of pregaming with your friends, you stumble down high street, high fiving everyone you see. The main drag of Columbus is awash in blue and red; little children are clutching their prized Blake Comeau bobbleheads, and grown men proudly sport poorly drawn tattoos of that mascot bee thing I dunno it's weird.
- Someone tries to ask you about the Buckeyes game going on over on campus. "BUCKEYES?!?" you shout incredulously, "Why don't you watch a real man's sport, like curling or speedskating or obviously hockey?"
- Ten minutes into the game, and you have removed your shirt with the intention of taking off your pants, partly out of giddy glee and partly because since they expanded Nationwide Arena to accommodate 65,000 fans, security has gotten a little lax.
- A score flashes on the jumbotron during intermission: "OSU university Bluckeys defeat Purdue 6-3. OSU raises record to 1-4." A smattering of applause.
- After the game, which the three time reigning Stanley Cup champion Columbus Blue Jackets win by a score of 6-1, you contemplate how Columbus sports could've changed so much in the last 15 years. Sure, Urban Meyer's arrest for financially aiding Edward Snowden was unexpected, but the real blow was when Gene Smith went insane and revealed that the football team was really a hundred year front for the manufacturing and selling of counterfeit purses. Ever since the program penalized itself by restricting all recruiting to Nova Scotia, the team hadn't won more than two games in a season (but was still considerably better than Purdue).
Last night, in real life, the Blue Jackets blew a two goal lead in the third period by giving up three goals in approximately the same amount of time that it takes to make a Hot Pocket.
At the game, Urban Meyer folded his arms and grimly nodded. "A terrible price to be sure," he thought, "but one that must be paid." The integrity of Ohio State's stranglehold on Columbus sports must never be threatened. And, as long as Ohio State remained at least semi-competent with a massive alumni base supporting it, it never would be.
Still, I wonder what this city would look like without the massive influence of Ohio State, if it were more Cleveland or Cincinnati than central Ohio. Selfishly, as a fan of hockey in general and the Blue Jackets specifically, I might trade a little Buckeye influence for some CBJ success, but that implies that we can't have both. I think we can, and I look forward to the day that Columbus celebrates the first day of hockey with the same intensity that it celebrates the symbolic first day of fall.