It’s a sad day in Buckeye nation. We lost The Game to ❌ichigan yesterday. As if to mock our tears, the skies opened up last night and poured buckets from the sky. On the fourth Saturday of the month, two days after Thanksgiving, Ohio State and The Team Up North (TTUN) strap up and go toe-to-toe on the football field.
Some years the game doesn’t mean much. Most years, it means a lot. They are two of the winningest programs in football, and the class of the Big 10 clash. This year, it meant as much as it could mean. Both teams came in undefeated at 11-0. The winner advances to the Big 10 championship. The winner remains undefeated and in contention to make the elite four teams that advanced to the National Championship playoff. The loser likely is out of the playoffs.
I was feeling good about our chances. We have dominated TTUN for nearly a decade. They got their first win against us last year in their house. We were playing for revenge in front of a raucous 105,000 at The Shoe. Ohio State got off to a fast start. Then, they faltered and folded. The defense gave up big play after big play. Playing desperately from behind, the offense committed penalties and turnovers. It was an embarrassment on the national stage.
After the game, I attempted to get over the gut punch. I watched UK surprise Louisville by handing them a loss. I then watched the end of the LSU where unranked Texas A&M handed them their third defeat of the season, knocking them from their spot at number five in the country. On any given day…
I got on Facebook and watched some of the press coverage after the game. The comments from Buckeye nation were terrible. Sore losers called for the job of the head coach. By the way, his record is 45-5. Many were saying our Heisman trophy candidate quarterback was at fault. People wanted to fire the defensive coordinator who improved our defense tremendously this year. And, based on this one game, he’s not ready for the NFL. I’ve been a Buckeyes and Bengals fan for over 50 years now. I know victory and defeat. You celebrate the victories. You accept the defeats and move on. There comes a time to let it go. This isn’t life or death, people. We reset, and we play again in 365 days. We only like to pretend it’s life and death.
I went to bed not too upset about the loss. I woke up at about three am and listened to the rain pelting the roof. I replayed all the defensive plays that allowed Michigan touchdowns of forty-five yards or more. I could not get it out of my head. As I lay there observing my emotions, I realized how much I identify with the team. They didn’t lose the game. We lost the game. No, I lost the game. That’s the joy and beauty of sports and the pain and ugliness. We assign our identity to a team. I am a Buckeye.
A video of Wales and England fans rioting in Tenerife came across my Facebook yesterday. Wales and England haven’t even played each other in the World Cup yet. They don’t play for two more days. Yet, the fans were trying to kill each other before the match, physically bashing each other with bar stools over a made-up game played on a soccer field. This is identifying with the team to an extreme. The players will settle this on the pitch.
I could not get the game off my mind. As I tried to sleep, the images of Michigan players running down the field, untouched, filled my head.
I love sports. I love giving over my emotion to a game. It’s a microcosm of life. I love the tribal identity with your team, trash-talking and pretending to hate the other team and their fans. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a game. The people playing are human beings. I never celebrate any player’s injury. I don’t wish any harm to any team’s fans. And I’m sure the state up north is a fine place to live if you have to live that far north.
I’m reminded of how much sports is like life. It’s interesting how invested we get in sports. Who can put a ball through a hoop more times or advance it up and down a field doesn’t matter. It only has the meaning we place on it. We take it very seriously, all the while knowing it’s not. Players train, sacrificing time and effort. Players risk injury. Fans arrange their lives around watching the game, wanting to be part of something they know could cause them agony if their team loses. We give ourselves over to it. We identify with our chosen teams. The victories make the risk worth it. But we have to learn to let the defeats go. Neither the victories nor the defeats change who we are.
In the final analysis, most of what we take seriously in this life will fade away, amounting to as much as losing The Game. We come here for a short time. We so closely identify with our countries, our states, our political parties, our religions, and even our bodies. None of these are who we are at our core. We should hold these identities lightly.
Finally, I took my mind off the game, turned my attention to something else, and fell asleep. As I planned my day this morning, I put the Buckeyes behind me. We’ll have to wait 365 days for revenge. I put the Buckeyes shirt I wore yesterday back in the closet. I put on my Bengals sweatshirt and turned my attention to the Bengals/Titans game this afternoon. The Bengals are trying to make a run to get into the playoffs. I’ll be watching and cheering them on. Who Dey!