Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tales of the Horseshoe

The month I turned 56, I had to accept the fact that I might never hear an Englishman brag about the size of Wembley stadium. I’d been hoping for this event to happen and had been waiting to point out that while Wembley can seat 90,000, Ohio Stadium can seat 102,329.The last time OSU had a football game that was not a sellout was in 1971.

Back in the olden days, OSU played its football games in Ohio Field, on Canfield and High, until Chic Harley made the Buckeyes such a popular team that a new facility was obviously called for. OSU president William Oxley Thompson declared the new stadium would have to be built in the floodplain next to the Olentangy River—he didn’t want it to tower over every other university building. That turned out to be the case to this very day. Ohio State’s Thompson Library (named for the president who made the decree), the 20th largest in the country, is on the top of a nearby hill sop it towers over the stadium. Almost a hundred years ago, the 100-yd dash was a popular sport, so originally, the stadium was built with one end open, making it a giant horseshoe. I recently amused myself by looking through old editorials insisting a stadium seating 61,110 would never be filled to capacity. How time proved them wrong. When I was a child capacity had expanded to 84,000, by the 90s it expanded to 95,000, and now it is over 100,000.

My readers from outside the US might wonder what would happen if Columbus ever got hit by a full-blown blizzard in late November and there were several inches of snow with a wind-chill factor of well below 0. That’s exactly what happened in 1950, when OSU played archrival Michigan in the late November Snow Ball. My advisor at OSU, Ray Hamilton, played in that game, and he is still none too happy about that outcome. OSU lost 9 to 3.

One of the more conspicuous features of the OSU campus is the power plant with two smokestacks at Neil and 17th. I haven’t measured them, but a utility worker told me they stand 250 ft high. One popular legend is that each was built to commemorate a virgin co-ed graduating from Ohio State.

Back in 1978, a cartoonist from the OSU newspaper the Lantern made another metaphorical use of those smokestacks. In August of that year, Pope Paul VI had died and there was endless TV coverage of the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square awaiting the appearance of the white smoke announcing the election of another Pope. A month later, Pope John Paul I died and once again, there was endless coverage of the crowds watching for smoke again. Three months later, OSU’s legendary football coach Woody Hayes saw his career come to an ignominious end after 28 years when he was fired after the 1978 Gator Bowl. In a stroke of brilliance, the editorial cartoonist did a drawing of every sentient being in Columbus gathered around the stadium, staring up at the smokestacks, awaiting the appearance of white smoke to announce the election of a new football coach. After this last year’s pay-for-tattoos scandal, a young gentleman named Luke Fickel is going to discover he has a chance to be a monumental hero or a monumental goat. If he doesn’t know already, all OSU fans want (and expect) is constant perfection.

No comments: