Whither Mirror Lake?

By Luke Zimmermann on November 18, 2009 at 7:00 am
Much like MW2, just respawn and get back at it, right? Right?Not pictured: a wet & wild Tressel wearing nothing but a sweater vest

Contrary to an ideology making the rounds circa these parts a little too much of late, Ohio State is coming off one of the program's most riveting wins of the last decade, a ten year stretch that's been rather good to the Bucks. If that wasn't enough, there's only arguably the biggest rivalry in sport just ahead on the horizon. I concede this weekend likely won't live up to the lofty expectations I usually give it - less of course Rich Rodriguez is given that long overdue life contract. None the less, I remain confident the rivalry will go on. A tradition whose future is far less assured is that of the now infamous Mirror Lake Jump.

The old timers amongst us may have little exposure to the jump beyond the back-from-commercial-break lead ins commented upon by Kirk Herbstreit during the now immortal 2006 #1 vs. #2 epic (and naturally co-narrated by Brent Musberger, whom all but suggested "liquid coats" were in play, either in jest or more likely envy). Virtually all graduates anytime in the last two decades now the tradition in any number of senses: either they themselves were survivors (perhaps multiple time veterans) of the Lake's near hypothermia inducing conditions and the subsequent after-party that ensued, knew someone that was, or made it a point to take in the insanity during their time occupying the 43210 zip code and surrounding areas.

To a generation of Ohio State fans, risking pneumonia for the chance at being able to brag foolheartedly to your dismayed parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents a week later at Thanksgiving, while also "guaranteeing victory" for your beloved Buckeyes is as much part of the Buckeye ethos as "Dotting the 'i'", or as "Hang on Sloopy" is to the ones that came before and after them alike. With Ohio State-Michigan returning to Thanksgiving weekend a year from now, as has been the case just 16 times in the previous 68, with the entire student body sure to be markedly absent from the campus area, one has to wonder whether the often frozen pond jump will be the casualty of the conference's plan to try and further increase exposure.

Per University folklore, the history of the modern jump goes back the 1989 season, which happened to be one of the sixteen times The Game fell on Thanksgiving weekend. With the typical 'Beat Michigan Week' festivities 86'ed, an ad-hoc marching band was assembled (including some members of the actual TBDBITL) and what few students happened to still be around the campus area. As legend has it, the parade, fueled by an absence of tryptophan and abundance of rye whiskey, turned ugly, resulting in the flipping of covers and multiple arrests. A year later, to pay homage to the madness of year's past, many of the same band members reunited for an impromptu march again, this time ending with many of those on hand plunging into the bitter waters. The tradition took on a life of its own, eventually evolving into an event surrounding specifically the act of the plunge itself.

A Lantern article from a few years back confirms many of the legends surrounding the history, also adding in that arguably the earliest roots of the Lake related festivities go back to the roaring 20's, when hapless freshmen were tossed into the lake during Michigan week (NERDZ!!!!!!!!!). Several other jumps of varying magnitudes took place in the decades that followed, likely setting the stage for the idea to take root in the early 90's.

The question still lingering at this point: what do 2010 and future incarnations of The Game have in store for the pre-requisite-to-graduate for many jump? Should the '89 season be any barometer, wanton violence and chaos the only way the cliches would dictate Buckeyes know how. More realistically, per a few turn-of-the-century Bucks, the 2001 jump went off as planned (the last time the game took place after Thanksgiving weekend) though with a far smaller than normal crowd and less fervor than the years that would follow. While convenient for the University, who's stuck footing the refinishing of the lake's bottom year-after-year, diminished jump participation, a poorly coordinate rescheduling of the jump, or little excitement surrounding the happening in future classes could spell the end what'd often devolved into Woodstock with hypothermia.

While hardly superstitious in the least, I played the "tussy" card my freshmen year and saw the Bucks fall to the hated squad from up north. After taking part the next 3 years, 3 entire Ohio State teams had 3 more pairs of Gold Pants. In a sport riddled with irrational transference, future classes may have to settle for other targets for their glee or malaise.

The Dispatch's Tim May goes into the reasoning behind the seemingly spontaneous emergence of what Jim Cordle calls the "Buck Wild". Football strategy memes aside, while the Bucks certainly reaped the benefits of a Boom Herron touchdown strike from the package and certainly seem to be saving some of the wear and tear on TP, can the package really be qualified as any kind of success when seemingly 75-85% of its execution results in minimal gains and what almost feels like the element of 'unsurprise'?