By the time my flight had landed in Ohio, I really felt bad for Mark.
It was Wednesday — less than 48 hours after Ohio State defeated Oregon 42-20 for the national championship — as I boarded my plane in Dallas to return to Ohio. I had spent the previous six days in the Lone Star State covering the Buckeyes’ improbable run to a national title.
When I sat down near my gate and waited until it was time to board, I didn’t really do much looking around at my surroundings. I was on my computer, writing a story about Ohio State’s defense, listening to music and minding my own business.
I figured my flight would be full of Buckeye fans, but I didn’t know exactly how many there would be on it. It didn’t hit me until I stepped foot on the plane and looked around: Nearly everyone was donning the scarlet and gray.
I felt out of place. I was in gray sweatpants, a black Nike pullover and a Cleveland Indians hat. People probably thought I was on the wrong plane being that nearly everyone else had an Ohio State shirt, sweatshirt or some kind of hat on their head that represented the Buckeyes.
But as I made my way toward my seat at the back of the plane, something caught my eye. There was a guy wearing a green hat with a yellow ‘O’ on it. I thought I may have been fooled by my colorblindness at first, but as I got closer, I realized it was in fact an Oregon hat.
My seat happened to be directly in front of this guy, so as soon as I sat down, I turned to him and said, “This is probably going to be unbearable for you, huh?”
He laughed. “I’m Mark,” he said.
I introduced myself to Mark and we chatted briefly. I found out he was a lawyer who lives in Cincinnati and I told him I work for a media outlet that covers Ohio State.
We continued to talk as the rest of the passengers filed onto our plane. Mark told me the game Monday night played out pretty much how he had thought it would and that he didn’t expect Oregon to win. He asked me what I thought about Ohio State’s quarterback situation next year. He even mentioned how he had heard the rumors of Braxton Miller transferring to play for the Ducks.
But the whole time during our brief, five-minute conversation I was wondering to myself exactly how an Oregon fan wound up living in Cincinnati. Then, the woman sitting next to Mark made her way to her seat.
“Uh oh, we’ve got an Oregon fan back here,” she said as she put her carry-on bag in the overhead compartment.
“Yeah, I come in peace,” Mark quickly responded. He explained to her the same thing he had just told me: how he thought going into the game the Buckeyes were going to win. Then, he revealed what I had been wondering: “I went to Ohio State for a year and then transferred to Oregon where I graduated from.”
It made some more sense now. He was originally from Ohio and went to Oregon for school and now he’s back in his home state. That’s not anything too crazy.
“Well, at least you got part of it right,” the woman said, referring to Mark’s one year spent at Ohio State.
“Yeah, but I wanted to have a career after graduation,” he replied in a joking manner.
I smiled from the seat in front of him; I thought it was funny. I’m not sure the woman sitting beside him had much of a sense of humor.
The Ohio State fan base is one of the craziest there is in all of sports.
I’ve lived in Ohio all my life so I’ve been around it forever. I was born in Cleveland, grew up in Youngstown, went to school in Columbus and even spent over a year living in Ashland working for a small newspaper after graduating college. I get everything that comes with “Buckeye Nation.”
“Ohio State fans are everywhere, man. I wish we had that.”
But the representation of Ohio State fans in Dallas was pretty remarkable. As I checked out the scene outside AT&T Stadium on Monday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m., it looked more like Lane Avenue on a home football Saturday. There were Ohio State fans everywhere with some green and yellow sprinkled in.
It was no surprise to me that when the game started and people started filing into their seats, roughly 70 percent of Jerry World was covered in scarlet and gray.
When the game started, it was obvious. There were O-H-I-O chants echoing around the stadium from the first quarter on. Every time Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott touched the ball — he carried it 36 times — the crowd let out a loud “ZEEEEEEEKE.”
Buckeye Nation had taken over Dallas.
The flight attendant came on over the PA system on our plane as we were approaching our destination. She explained to us we’d be landing momentarily, told us what the weather was like in Cincinnati and thanked us for all flying with their airline. At the end, she hit everyone on board with a “Welcome to Ohio.”
The flight attendant got quite the response from that. Someone in the front of the plane shouted “O-H!” Of course, it got a resounding “I-O” from the other crazed Buckeye fans on board.
I glanced back at Mark. He just put his head down and shook it.
Everyone exited the plane and headed toward the baggage claim. On the walk, more people were ‘O-H’-ing random people in the airport, who would respond with ‘I-O.’ It was 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. I was fascinated by this.
We finally made it to the baggage claim part of the airport as “Let’s Go Bucks” chants busted out as nearly 100 people waited to collect their luggage. I stood next to Mark as I waited for my suitcase to show up.
“Had enough yet?” I asked him.
“It doesn’t bother me anymore, I’m used to it,” Mark replied as he reached down to grab his bag. “Ohio State fans are everywhere, man. I wish we had that.”