In the grand scheme of things, two years isn’t a huge amount of time. But it feels like an eternity in terms of Ohio State football.
Two years ago, we were returning to class after losing to our rival Michigan for only the second time in 11 years. The loss meant the Buckeyes finished a 6-6 regular season and lost a bowl game against Florida, one filled with frustration and anger.
I was a freshman then, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought “Wait, my school’s team is supposed to be good!”
Sure, that school year was still an absolute blast, and from the moment I moved into my dorm room, I realized that this campus was where I belonged. But something about that football campaign left parts of me hollow and unfulfilled.
Fast-forward a few days after that loss to the Wolverines, and all of a sudden we have a new head coach and a whole new attitude. Just 24 months and 24 wins later, things couldn’t have gone better. No, seriously. They couldn’t have.
Now, instead of watching other Big Ten schools compete in the conference Championship Game, it’s finally our turn to travel to Indianapolis knowing that a win would take the team to Pasadena, Calif., whether it is to compete in the Rose Bowl or — hold your breath — the National Championship.
But when the Buckeyes and Spartans kick off in Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday, my thoughts will drift back to the disheartening memories of my freshman year. Those defeats, as tough as they were, have restricted me from losing perspective in the middle of what can safely be described as an unprecedented purple patch.
That’s the thing about past: it has the power to make the present mean more. For example, in the build up to Saturday’s game nearly everyone wrote off the Wolverines. There were some, though, who were quick to remind Buckeye Nation that the team had been in the same strong situation in the past, only to come up short on more than a couple of them. No game, least of all The Game, should be taken for granted.
So as redshirt-junior quarterback Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense performed heroics that were equal parts outstanding and unexpected, one could forgive those sage Ohioans from telling the rest of us, “I told you so.”
The result went our way in the end and in my opinion, that’s all that matters. What the BCS or national media have to say about us should have no consequence on the lens through which this season is viewed.
I, like any other fan, want to see this team have the chance to prove themselves the best in the country, because not only do I think they deserve the opportunity, but also because I think they would take it and run with it. But no matter what happens in these final two games, I will always have fond memories of the 2013 season.
I’ll remember a team and a coaching staff who wouldn’t accept failure. I’ll remember a student body that held their traditions in such high esteem that they wouldn’t accept losing them. I’ll remember a fan base that supported the team superbly both home and away.
Recently, I discovered the additional verses to the OSU alma mater, “Carmen Ohio,” and the message of the second stanza has taken on increased personal meaning during this seminal campaign and the tunnel vision that may accompany it:
“These jolly days of priceless worth/By far the gladdest days of earth/Soon will pass and we not know/How dearly we love Ohio.”
Freshman Fred Cornell couldn’t have known how successful his school’s football program would become 111 years after he wrote those words in 1902, but the message remains prescient: cherish the present, because the past has taught us there might never be another time like it.
You don’t need to be present for the lows to fully appreciate the highs, but recognizing the remarkable nature of the current streak can really reinforce the unique pleasure we’ve all had experiencing it. No matter what way you look at it, this season has been fantastic. And it’s still not over.
The 2011 season was a difficult one thanks to some extraordinary circumstances, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Now things are extraordinary once again, but in a completely different sense of the word.
Each season is different, but not many are special.
It’s safe to assume that no one in the future is going to ask how you felt during the 2011 season. But people will ask what it was like during those happy days of 2013, and if you’re like me, you won’t even be able to put it in words.