This being the offseason (and also any other nonspecific time of year), I've been watching a lot of Ohio State highlight videos. Sometimes I go for the classic Beanie stiff-arm vids or maybe a Teddy Ginn reel with absolutely garbage music, but lately I've been on a classic games kid of kick. Back in college this badass and incredibly low resolution highlight video of the 2005 Michigan game was my jam, but lately I've stuck with watching replays/highlights of the 2014-15 national championship run.
Watching the Wisconsin game is fun in a "Ride of the Valkyries" let's napalm the Vietnam jungle kind of way, and I enjoy the national championship because while it's sloppy as hell, it's still the championship. But of course the real gem is the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, and that's where our story begins.
I've watched various Sugar Bowl highlight videos approximately 500 thousand times, and in every one there is a very specific point that gives me pause. It's right after Devin Smith catches a 47 yard Cardale Jones bomb to put Ohio State up for good, and two concerned fans appear on screen, trying to find some unseen problem in a sea of joy. You can check them out right here:
It's hard to explain why I thought these dudes were so interesting. One of the things that I live for in sports is that moment of pure, innocent joy that happens when the team you're rooting for does something amazing. You have just seen an incredible play and all you know in that moment is how pumped you are that it happened. The problem starts when you don't believe that anything could actually be that great, and your doubt and caution forces you to miss the excitement and fun of an immediate reaction to something badass.
So a few days ago I'm watching the Sugar Bowl again, and the question keeps eating at me: "What the hell were these guys looking at? Did they really see something important? Why did they miss out on celebrating an incredible play?"
He saw the flag on the Devin Smith TD that was a facemask against Bama and didn't know what it was for— Ramzy Nasrallah (@ramzy) June 26, 2017
WELL SCREW IT, I'M TALKING TO THESE GUYS ANYWAY.
First, let's start off with you telling us a little about about yourselves as Ohio State fans.
Mike: I've been a Buckeye my whole life. Two of my uncles were baseball players at Ohio State. My mom and dad met at Tommy's Pizza. My dad proposed via the scoreboard at Ohio Stadium. My sister and I are both proud alumni. It was in my blood. I had no choice.
Josh: I've been a fan my whole life. I transferred to OSU in 2012 and that's probably when I fell in love with the culture and tradition of it all.
How did you both end up in New Orleans for the 2015 Sugar Bowl?
Josh: Taco Bell bought all of the student tickets and offered them to students for free. You just had to enter a "lottery" and be a season ticket holder. Mike and I were roommates, we entered and won together.
Mike: We drove 17 and a half hours in my Honda Accord, straight through.
So as you're driving down during this ridiculously long road trip and discussing the game, did either of you believe that Ohio State was going to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl?
Josh: I remember a lot of doubt before the game. I understood that we would probably lose but having the opportunity to go to the first college playoff game would make the trip worth it either way.
Mike: I honestly thought we would just squeak by with a last minute FG or they would just destroy us. It depended on the minute you asked me. I was always back and forth on my prediction.
Honestly I was really hoping for a response like "Oh yeah, I knew they'd win" so I could burn your asses for lying to me in this very serious interview.
Mike: I definitely consider myself to be a reasonable and realistic fan. I can't stand the guys who think just because we're Ohio State then we're automatically winning every game.
Josh: Careful, Mike.
Okay, that's a really good segue into my next question. Let's talk about the moment that forever defined you as a fan and a human being. I now know that Mike (and maybe Josh, I can't tell from the video) had noticed a flag on the Devin Smith touchdown and were waiting to see what it was. Do you think that temporary anxiety took away from your enjoyment of the play?
Mike: Oh man. Looking back on it, I actually feel bad for myself in that moment. Everyone around us was yelling and jumping and screaming. Then I look like a total buzzkill because I was so worried about a flag that ultimately got picked up. I remember Josh went to high five me and I was like, "WAIT, MAN! There's a flag! You can't celebrate yet!" Sorry, Josh.
Josh, did Mike totally wet blanket the shit out of that moment for you?
Josh: So that is my confusion. I didn't notice the flag at all and I'm just looking around trying to figure out what's going on.
See, the thing is, I do the same thing Mike did in that situation. And then it gets in my head. Every subsequent play after something like that happens in a game, I find myself looking for flags.
So my question is, can the observant sports fan ever truly find happiness? Isn't it better to just shut out all negativity and assume that everything is awesome and great forever?
Mike: Dude. Have you ever had a heart attack for four straight hours with a camera in your face the whole time? That's what I think it felt like. All of the beers we had shotgunned beforehand did nothing to curb that anxiety all game. I felt goosebumps and chest pains and pure joy and drunkenness and every other possible feeling I've ever had in my life rolled up into one for four straight hours. And I would totally do it again. But that's the way I watch sports. I was never good at them so I just learned to watch them well.
I think that's a pretty positive attitude to have. What do you think, Josh?
Josh: I grew up good at sports.
Mike: Hahaha eat shit.
Josh: I wouldn't put myself on par with Mike in the "observant fan" space. I love the game and I'm all about the atmosphere. I don't notice as much so maybe it's a bit easier for me to shut out the negativity. This game in particular was a whole different beast though, as Mike said. We were in the front row of a wild fan section with cameras pointed at us the entire game.
How have your lives changed as a result of your incredible international superstardom?
Mike: It was definitely a cool experience. We got our faces on Good Morning America's Twitter and Chrissy Teigen even made a joke about us during the game. It was crazy to be a part of then and it's crazy to look back on it and realize that we're getting interviewed for looking confused during a football game by 11W...
My phone actually died after the game because I had so many people texting me selfies with Josh and I on their TV. For a while I thought we were going to die in that swamp because I had no way of calling a taxi. I do want to thank that girl who rubbed that dude's head after we had our moment, though. She definitely took the heat off us and stole the show of weird Buckeye fans. A Chrissy Teigen tweet was all I ever needed and it happened. I can die a happy Buckeye.
Josh, does Mike tell people that he's friends with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend or does he merely wish it with all of his heart and soul?
Josh: Hahaha he talked about that for probably three months straight.
At this point, Mike immediately supplied a screenshot of the Chrissy Teigen tweet
Okay, to wrap this up, do you guys have any final thoughts or advice about both your experience in being concerned/confused in a football game or the fame that followed?
Mike: It's better to be the "cautious guy" than the idiot who celebrated too early. Go Bucks.
Josh: If you're going to be confused, try to do it in front of a camera. Get famous. Go Bucks.
I think highlight videos exist because they allow us to experience the best parts of our favorite careers/games without all of the anxiety and doubt that, in theory, make sports less fun to watch.
But maybe Mike's right.
Maybe sports, and being a sports fan, is about all of the emotions that we experience during a game. Sometimes "creeping dread" can hit those endorphins just as well as "blind happiness," and there's nothing wrong with that! We remember the games that we do because of the ups and downs that we experienced during them, and after talking to Josh and Mike, I would argue that the cautious sports fan, the fan that revels in their anxiety, has just as much fun as anyone else.
No one cares that Ohio State beat Akron 42-0 in 2009 (I actually don't know if that's something that happened but since only like five percent of you can correct me off the top of your head, my point is made), but you'll probably never forget an insane and improbable comeback in a semifinal playoff game that maybe a half dozen people in the universe thought the Buckeyes could pull off. However you experienced that game was authentic to you, and that's a perfect memory that no highlight reel with canned music can replace.
I used to be a little ashamed of my kneejerk cautiousness, but the hell with that. It's just as fun to be the thinking man's fan because hey, someone has to be, so it might as well be someone who enjoys playing the part. And maybe, just maybe, you'll become semi-sort-of-kinda famous for it.
Thanks to Mike and Josh for helping me out with this, they put up with almost an hour of my really stupid questions and bad jokes via Twitter DMs to put this together and were fantastic interview subjects.