1. Uniforms. Columbus, Ohio is the kind of place where people, in one regard or another, still respect the notion of a uniform. This makes sense; this is where Professor Hayes wore a short sleeve white button down, a tie that appeared to be fitted for a man a full foot shorter than Hayes, geek glasses, a black hat, and pants pulled up to his navel no matter the weather, all the while wondering what particular handbasket the world had decided to go to hell in, and how he could put the hippies in it and send it to Gay Commie China or wherever the hell they wanted to take this fine, red-blooded America to in the first place.
Columbus is still the kind of place where people wear a uniform, and not just a code.
In the SEC, sure, there's a code. There are floppy-haired Alabamian fraternarians in white oxfords, ties, and slacks, accompanied by women in the sundress of the moment, the bubble dress, and wearing equally bubbly sunglasses.
(If I may have a Project Runway moment: the bubble dress is the least flattering dress we've ever seen adopted en masse by large groups of women. On a woman with curves, the dress bunches into the great divide, something that should be titillating for a male viewer, but is instead just calls attention to swamp ass, or worse still, the notion that your ass is devouring the dress in whole bites. On skinny women, it looks like you've just wrapped them in a tablecloth.)
There is a difference, though, between a code and an out and out uniform. The cops wear the uniforms featured on policemen in children's books, a white-capped, well-ironed ensemble just beaming with civic responsibility. Contrast this with a Sun Belt city like Atlanta or Miami, where police uniforms make the Protect and Servers of this world look like HVAC repair techs with guns.
These are people who like uniforms, formality, order. Buckeye fans follow suit: nine out of every ten Buckeye fans wear a not-inexpensive Buckeye jersey, a scarlet OSU kit with a custom number. The number matters: within the uniformity of it all, the digits tell a lot about you. A "36" implies Spielman-type tenacity and grit, while the more classically-minded don the "45" or Archie Griffin. A woman in our group had on a Herbstreit, met with a jovial "What the fuck are you wearing that for?" by another group of Buckeye fans. To the man we saw with the Clarett "13," well, cheers to your immense testicularity and devotion. The guy in the Art Schicter jersey salutes you in brotherhood.
2. The Wash 'n Tan in Columbus is ready when you are, cracker. Consider the infinite loop created here: greasy and smeary from fake tanner or the residue from a fresh broasting in a tanning bed, you carry your clean clothes home and wear them, thus covering them in a thick layer of bronzer or suntan lotion. So you go back to the laundry, then decide to tan while you're bored and soon you've lost your house to your unfortunate obsession with tanning and hyper-clean laundry. These people will own their own gold mines filled with charismatic dwarves soon enough.
3. Columbus is second in the nation in "number of sketchy men of questionable means orbiting the city center on bicycles." The first is St. Petersburg, Florida. Columbus has a fair number of sketchy men period hanging out on the street, including two gentlemen we passed on the way into campus who had this conversation/piece of street theatre in front of us:
Man One: Say something smart like that I will bust your fucking lip open, motherfucker.
Man Two: [ICY GAZE]
Man One: Yeah. Bitch.
Man Two: [ICIER GAZE]
We could all assume this was genuine, or we can assume this was a stirring rendition of a scene from The Wire practiced by a plucky street improv troupe. We'll assume the latter.
4. Buckeye fans are, on the whole, a civil militia in all senses of the word civil. Civil in their adherence to rule, to order, to their devotion to Ohio State football. It is complete and undying, as anyone who saw the red horde bellowing for four quarters against USC would attest. We couldn't get into the game for less than a wallet-scorching sum, so we ended up trekking the two miles back to the house off King street where a complete stranger had invited us to stay. (Again: civil, see definition. He had bathrobes and meth-grade coffee ready in the morning. This was not atypical of the treatment.)
From the front porch you could hear the missed field goal by USC in the first half. Despite a subdued pregame environment, they showed up in fierce, committed, and organized numbers, even when we suspect many of them knew Jim Tressel would get a five point lead and work it like he was sitting on fifty points against Tulane. (And he did.)
Civil can also mean friendly, cordial, which the man in the picture above certainly was. Buckeye fans as a rule are either young, iron-pumping men who wear baseball caps backward and look suspiciously at men who say more than ten words at a time, or they are the older, thicker-necked, cigar-smoking men those younger men become in their middle age. This guy was the latter, and was quite nice when we asked him to take a picture with us. How nice? This was the conversation we had during the taking of this photo.
Facepaint guy: Are you an Ohio State fan?
Orson: No. I went to Florida.
Facepaint guy: Ahhh. I punched a Florida fan once.
Orson: Ah. [/desperately tries to remember anything he might have learned from getting ass kicked by an MMA guy, discovers jackshit on hardrive under this tab.]
Facepaint guy: Don't worry. I'm not gonna punch you.
See? Perfectly civil people in every respect of the word. They didn't even punch a Florida fan. (The t-shirt also came courtesy of Peter, who insisted we wear it. It got rave reviews, though we questioned the approving looks, which either meant "Yeah, Wahoo is a racist mascot!" or "Yeah, white people!" It came from here, if you're interested.)
5. An immense, Bowling Green-orange H2 sat gorging premium gasoline from a pump at a gas station near campus. On the way out from purchasing hideous amounts of low-grade American beer in cans, we peeked into the cab and noticed this:
I was about to ask him what he was doing with a bottle of premium vodka and champagne sitting in the front seat. (After all, the champagne goes in the glove compartment in a bag of ice.) This question died in my mouth before I could really ask it, but the owner beat me to it, pointed at them, and said "That's what cupholders are for."
6. The aforementioned hideous amounts of beer in cans consumed in a single weekend at Ohio State.
Wisconsin fans probably consume more alcohol in a single weekend per capita, but that's because they are from Wisconsin, and thus drinking industrial grade solvents stolen from local businesses after they run out of beer. Ohio State fans have to lead the nation in canned domestic beer, something Michigan fans will mock by asking you when you tell them you're bound for Columbus "You gonna get a suitcase of Bud Light?" This is because Michigan fans are obviously the commies Professor Hayes shook his fist at from his fiefdom in Columbus, consuming fancy microbrews from bottles expensively purchased at the rate of six at a time.
Ohio State fans buy beer in bulk, and lug 12 and 24 packs to the tailgate like Tokyo salarymen checking into the office for the day. They also drink it like marathoners chugging electrolyte solution, albeit in red cups, because for some reason the police insist on playing wink-wink, nod-nod by enforcing open container on cans, but not on "the mysterious red solo cup of plausible deniability." This creates twice the trash for no reason whatsoever, but remember: order is the theme here, until it's not, of course, which is why Buckeye fans sometimes get pepper-sprayed by police, and why Germans (otherwise staid, orderly people) make the worst soccer hooligans.
7. USC fans have expensive eyewear. In fact, take the photo above to be an illustrated guide to the younger USC fan, albeit in a strange, foreign ecosystem where they get called "fag" a bit for that carefully chosen expensive eyewear.
(Ohio State fans lag behind the kings of homosexual taunting, Miami Hurricanes fans. If you were in a duel with a Canes fan and got the draw on him--which you would, because they would be toting a gun far too large to pull quickly, and most likely tucking it in the band of some shiny gym shorts--his last words clutching his mortal wound would be, quietly and with his last breath, a hissed "...fag..." before expiring. No one calls you a homosexual with greater frequency or intensity than a Miami fan, a special delight since they come from a city where they are surrounded by flamboyant and unapologetic homosexuals.)
The USC fans above display what happens when Los Angeles meets college football.
a.) Designer eyewear. Straight men unapologetically wearing designer eyewear. There's Dolce and Gabbana on them there noggins, something Ohio State fans would, when not being totally polite 90% of the time and saying things like "Welcome to Ohio!", point and note by suggesting they were gay for wearing. The Buckeye fan next to these guys held up his own knockoff Oakleys, took the cigar out of his mouth, and proudly announced "Fiftten dollars at a gas station!" That's how men buy sunglasses, dammit.
b.) Campy but fashionable individualized wear. The older Trojan fans stuck to what older guys wear to games--golf shirts, windbreakers, or branded hats--but younger SC fans had to carve out their own brahsomeness with custom gear: a USC scarf worn out of the back pocket of hundred dollar jeans, customized t-shirts, a spendy fitted worn Soulja Boy style. If Ohio State fans dress for service in the Buckeye militia, USC fans think of the game as an opportunity to accessorize.
c.) Hurr, did. USC guys have exactly as much metrosexual hairdo on their skulls as you would expect from Los Angelenos. By contrast, Ohio State fans seemed to depend on a hairdo we would call "a baseball cap." This consists of mashing a baseball cap over your bedhead, cracking a can of beer, and pronouncing yourself armed for the day's action.
d.) A deserved amount of noblesse oblige. They really do approach the game as a kind of polo match between betters and inferiors, cruising along with a brahsome cool garnered from years of watching Pete Carroll teams roll into exotic locales, get on their horses, and decimate the competition. To their credit, they are no more or less gloaty before or after the game; the USC fans we saw congratulated Ohio State fans and vice versa, though in USC's case it came in the manner of a British general taking a surrender while sipping a glass of sherry. "Oh, nice show. Now if you would, please...your full surrender, sir.
8. God looked down and said, "O-H, I-am going to keep you on the Job track, fortune-wise." Usually following a loss, a college town is filled with an ambient sullen rage. Columbus after the game seemed resigned to fate, however; around Short North, OSU and USC fans drank and ate contentedly. Down toward campus, no tear gas, no hooligan anger, no riot police wandering suspiciously, no incidents of dumpsters bearing the brunt of raging fans after the game. The result was clearly not offensive, if not satisfactory, to Ohio State fans, who took the whole thing in stride.
The following morning, scrambling to make the last flight out, I threw myself into a yellow Chevy Aveo and sped toward the airport. On the steps of a slightly dingy apartment house, an OSU student stood in his underwear with a fellow student in a Buckeye t-shirt. He'd just gotten something out of his car, but for a moment he stood like Woody Hayes did from time to time in the locker room after a loss, naked to the world and just daring you to ask him something.
I was clearly the interloper here, like a reporter pestering the pantsless Woody after a loss. There are things as an outsider I clearly didn't understand about Ohio State. That there are rules to be respected, a way for thing to be done, iso runs to call up the middle, sweatervests and ties to be worn. That in an army, nothing changes but the names. That's how you keep the troops marching, no matter the weather or outcome. Ohio State fans march on in straight rows, no matter the weather, because that is precisely how the Professor would have wanted it.