27 Hours in the Life of a Shoe Salesman

Friday, August 31, 2007

1:00 PM. It is Football Friday on opening day weekend and I arrive on Campus to capture as many contacts and story opportunities as possible. I have seven more home games until it is time to wrap this up and compile the manuscript.

1:15. First stop is the OSU Archives for an unscheduled visit with my friend Bertha Ihant. Ooops! I only have two dimes and a nickel, which buys me about 9 minutes on the parking meter, not nearly enough, but it will have to do.

Bertha greets me with a smile. Even though it has been maybe six months since I was last in, she remembers me and tells me in fact that she just mailed me a card with some new information and it probably being delivered as we speak. What a coincidence. She is a great help. We research some stuff from the 30’s and I come away with several names from that era. I will try to track down either the persons or their families.

2:00. The meter has long since expired, but like my student days I dodged the dreaded OSU parking ticket. It is off to Hitchcock Hall where I find my next stop. Tucked away in a basement office is an employee doing me a fantastic story. (You will have to read the book to get this one!) We collaborate on the approach to her story and reminiscence about what it means to be a Buckeye. After meeting each other via email, it is a pleasant and fun experience to meet fact to face. I have said repeatedly I am meeting the nicest people doing this project.

2:20. I am off next to the English Department to see if I can locate a good friend of the late David Citino, legend of Ohio State and lover of the Horseshoe. No one is in so I will make another trip to discuss a story idea I have.

3:00. I hike from Sullivan Hall to the Younkin Success Center to see if I can chat with Darin Meeker. I don’t have an appointment but maybe I can catch him in. I want to thank him in person for helping me land a great football/academic story, and also to bounce some ideas off of him for the “Making a Difference” chapter...stories about some of the off field and academic successes of players that have been part of The Shoe.

Darin’s secretary says he is in but busy preparing for the game tomorrow. Duh! What was I thinking? I agree that I should come back at a better time.

3:45. I head to the Stadium. Friday before game days is a great time to meet “Out of Towner’s” in for the game. Right on cue next to McCracken Power Plant, I link up with a family of four looking for the stadium.

“Where’re you from?” I ask.


“First game?”

“Yep,” they reply.

I tell them that will make a great story and ask if I might have their phone number. The youngest kid, obviously excited, blurts out full volume “Our home phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and my mom’s cell number is ........and my dad’s number is....” About that time his mother stops him. I chuckle and agree that the home number is more than adequate. We all have a good laugh.

3:50. A group is admiring the Rotunda. I offer to take their picture and ask if they will be in the Shoe tomorrow. They reply no, they are just passing thru from North Carolina and always wanted to see this place. When I ask where they were heading they reply “Ann Arbor to play tomorrow”. The light bulb went on as to who they were, and as they depart I reply, “Good luck and kick some butt!” Little do I know that I am 24 hours from one of the most bizarre and amazing things I have ever experienced in Ohio Stadium. (You will have to read the book for the continuation of this story....)

4:00.On the west side of the Stadium I meet some Youngstown State fans peering through the closed gates. They want to know how things work on game day. I do my part to serve as “Best fans in the Land” and we have an enjoyable visit as I welcome them to the Shoe and tell them the ins and out of the stadium and how to navigate the game day experience. I circle the stadium a couple of times, chatting with several other pilgrims and some more alumni bandsmen and women. Of course they all get my business card.

4:15. I meet my first Alumni Bandsman in the French Field House. From Centerville, he has an interesting tale and we exchange contact information and agree to follow-up.

4:30. Since I skipped lunch I walk to the Alumni Grille to get some sit down food before the alumni band practice, figuring it is the last I will get for another 24 hours. On the way, I pass Judy Bunting, cheerleading coach. I have desperately wanted to get some one on one time with her about some cheerleading story ideas I have. However, I know she has a cheerleader’s alumni banquet tonight and I can tell she is in a hurry and now is not the time. I restrain myself and respecting that, nod hello as she passes.

6:00. It is after supper and I have now been walking campus for about 5 hours. My feet are sore so it’s back to the parking garage for fresh shoes and then back to the stadium and a couple of more laps. I meet a bandsman who is back from California for the first time in 50 years. He tells me how good it sounds to hear the band and I try to imagine that. He assures me I will hear from him.

6:30. It is time for a rest so next stop is St. John Arena to slip in and quietly observe the Alumni Band practice. I am quite enlightened. Most fans see the game day show and probably think of the alumni dusting off their horn and coming back for a stroll down the field. I learn otherwise. These people work hard and take this very seriously. I am extremely amused as Director Droste stops them 6 or 7 times for several complete retakes of the ‘William Tell Overature’. He is still the taskmaster conductor and even though some of them are 60, 70, or 80 years old, they are still the dutiful listening pupils. In the end, it works and even these untrained and tone-deaf ears can hear the improvement.

9:00. The band has been practicing for 3 hours now and they announce they will reconvene at 6 AM in the morning for another 3 hour stint that includes a couple of hours of marching. Then they get a one-hour break, do the 10 AM Skull Session and then it is on to the Stadium to “Drive, Drive on Down the Field”. Some of these people are 80+ years old I marvel (and silently wonder “Do they have oxygen on the sidelines?”).

Someone tells me there are approximately 800 expected to register and 600 expected to march on the field tomorrow. I make a note to check these facts later for the book.

9:15. In the melee after practice I try to find two band people whom I have been corresponding with and I am supposed to meet. I locate neither and lose some valuable time, but do find Dr Droste who graciously gives me his number and agrees to meet me another day to discuss the history of the band and other ideas I have for stories about the band.

I face a dilemma. I am supposed to be with two different groups at two different post-practice celebrations. I think I can do both and fail miserably at that. I first head to high street for pizza with a group that has both a bandsman with a band story with a Vietnam War connection, and also a book publisher. I felt obligated since I had committed to them first. (How could I pass on either of those opportunities?) I lose precious more time driving around looking for the preverbal Ohio State parking space.

10:00. I find the first group and we visit over pizza about their band and publishing experiences and my stores of doing the book.

10:45. I race back down to the Holiday Inn for the official Alumni Band Reception. By the time I get there, it is 11:00 and most folks have gone, mindful of the 6 AM wake-up call. I miss my friend Janet (and many other potential contacts). This is only one of many times I need to be two places at once this weekend. I resolve to call Jan and apologize.

11:00. I am back to the hotel exhausted and realizing that I too have an early morning wake up call.

Game Day: Saturday, August 1, 2007

6:30 AM. Screech!!!!!!

Why is the alarm going off so soon?

Then I remember the band folks are already at St. John’s running through their scales.

7:30. It’s game day and it doesn’t take much to get me going! I am in the car and headed to the Stadium, munching on a muffin from the hotel for breakfast. I end up parking in the Longaberger lot down along the river.

7:45. Pay dirt! I make my first find of the day. Someone introduces me to a group of nice ladies. They have tailgated under the same tree at the same spot for I think they said something like 30 years. Then I hear it! One of the ladies mother was a friend of William Oxley Thompson and was in the original party of dignitaries that turned the shovels for the ground breaking of the stadium. I give her my card, we exchange numbers, and I pray that it works out to follow up on this.

8:00. I head to the practice field south of the stadium where the alumni band is marching. Along the way, I am sidetracked to the group of Stadium ushers gathering outside. I have several contacts I need to make, so I take advantage of the opportunity. Last year one of the ushers offered me a “ghost story”. That would be unique, but I never heard from him. I don’t have his name and am still trying to track him down.

8:15. I call my son Curt whom I have to meet and give a ticket to give to before I can go in the stadium. A typical twenty-something, he is just rolling out of bed.

8:30. I meet a small group of 4 interested ushers. “No, they don’t have any good stories,” they say, and then they proceed to begin telling me just that. They get on a roll and I turn my tape recorder on. I don’t normally do interviews on game days...I try to minimize intrusions and don’t want to bother people. However, this is too good of stuff to miss and so I turn it on and let them go. We exchange numbers and I agree that we will follow up.

9:00. Band practice is over and the band members are heading back to St. John Arena for their box lunch before the Skull Session. Taking advantage of the down time I visit with some of them some more. I hit pay dirt again. I need some Drum Major stories and talk to a man that I think will have a good one.

10:00. The team funnel forms. I talk to the man with the bullhorn. Turns out, he has been leading the band back and forth since sometime in the 70’s and then the football team walk was added when Coach T got here. He does that too. Imagine the walks he remembers and the honor he has. You will read his story in the book.

10:10. I am now in the Rotunda. It is a great place to meet people and collect contacts! Everyone coming for the first time (and especially folks bringing little kids) seems to come to the Rotunda.

10:15. Curt finally shows up and we visit. I give him his ticket, and we agree to meet him in the stands. As he leaves, I ask him if he wants a stack of business cards to carry. “No”, he says, as he rolls his eyeballs.

“You’re bashful like your mother,” I tell him. He grins.

10:30. I pick up my press box credentials and head up to the press box.

I pick up the game program, stat sheets, and visit with some of the writers I am getting to know. One of them graciously offers to meet me at a later date and share his knowledge of history of writers who have covered the Shoe. We bank on it.

10:45. Bet you didn’t know they serve lunch up there. I sit down and eat a sandwich and plate of veggies with Mike Miller and Mark Kuntz, friends and broadcasters from our local Lima Stations.

10:50. Interesting, the Frosty machine from last year has been replaced with a McFlurry machine, reflecting the change in sponsorship.

10:52. I discover I have spilled chocolate McFlurry on the front of my white shorts. Now I look really professional!

10:54. Several paper towels and a bottle of water later, I have proceeded to draw even more attention to it.

11:00. Coach Tressel’s wife walks by me in the press box.

Man, I would love to have her memories of this place for this book. Even a novice like me knows however, there are some things you just do not do. This is one of them. I just smile as she passes.

11:05. I head for the stands to be among ordinary fans for a while before the game.

I wish there was more time. This place is so big it is impossible to cover it all before any one game, so I rotate where I go. Some games it is A deck. Some games it is B, some C, some the south stands, sometimes underneath.

I like to do this early before the place is crowded so I can stay out of the way. As always, I am interested in visiting with people who want to talk and try hard not to be a pest to those that don’t.

11:15. I meet a nice man seated in a motorize cart on the handicapped walkway. We talk about how wonderful the handicap seating is and how it was made possible with the renovation. I am looking for folks to tell their stories of how this has made the Shoe accessible for them and their enjoyment and memories from those seats. This man knows exactly how many spaces there are around the walkway and I think he can do just that. We exchange contact info.

11:30. The band is about to come out so I head back around to meet Curt in our seats on the west side.

12:00. I settle in with him just at kickoff. I could watch the game from the box but today I want to spend part of the time with my son and be out where I can hear the pop of the pads. Fortunately, today I have an aisle seat that makes it easy to do that.

12:15. Curt tells me, “Oh by the way, I got to meet Dr. Gordon Gee and shake his hand on the way over from St John’s”. He walked right up to me.

Of course I have been trying to get from Dr. Gee a story of his return to the Shoe. I turn to him and say, “Yea, and I bet you gave him one of those business cards you were carrying didn’t you!”

He gives me the “you got me” look.

1:30. As halftime approaches I head back up to the press box and spend the half there, visiting with the photographers up from the field. The stat sheets are available and I watch from there for a while as the third quarter starts.

2:00. Later on I start back to be with Curt in the stands. The elevators are full, so I decide to take the stairs down. I get lost, end up lost, and on the luxury suite level and the only way down is to take that hallway to the elevator. As, I pass by I can see in some suites. I think boy that would make another good story angle, to spend part of a game in one of those. Again....some questions you know just not to ask. I find the elevator and get the heck out of there.

3:15. The game is winding down and we head to the red seats to meet Erwin, another one of my book friends and a manager on the 75 National Championship team. Erwin comes from Texas to see every game. Curt and I are doing some video interviews for him and another guy from the ’57 team and are helping them with some research for their upcoming reunion and a team project they are working on.

After the game we talk with Erwin, sing Carmen Ohio, and watch the post game band show. All day we have been following the Michigan – Appalachian State score. As we stand there they post the score that Michigan has finally gone ahead. The few people left in the stadium groan. It is time to go and out we head.

3:30. My day is not yet done as I now experience one of the most bizarre and astonishing incidents I will ever have in Ohio Stadium and it doesn’t even involve the Buckeyes.

Curt and I are underneath the stadium and there is a small group of people at a TV monitor. There is 1 minute 20 seconds left and Michigan is kicking what looks like the game clinching field goal. The air is rapidly being sucked out of the “Michigan could lose” sails when, unbelievably, the Michigan kick is blocked. A roar erupts from each of the small groups around each of the TV’s. With 1 minute and 20 seconds, Appalachian State is 80 yards and 3 points away from beating Michigan at Michigan.

Appalachian State begins a drive at its own 20 with no time outs. Ten yards, 15 yards, the Mountaineers are moving down the field as the clock is ticking. With each run, each pass, each first down the roar grows, as does the crowd under the stadium. People are hearing the roars and streaming in droves back into the Stadium from the parking lots.

The Mountaineers have the ball on the Michigan 7-yard line with 26 seconds left and by now the underbelly of the Shoe is packed tight as can be. Buckeye fans stand shoulder-to-shoulder, all straining to watch what could be the biggest upset of all time in college football.

It is prayer service quite as Appalachian State lines up.....then kicks the field goal to go ahead and a roar erupts louder than anything I experienced today in the stands above. Pandemonium! Unbelievable!

All that is left is to hold the Maize and Blue for 26 seconds, and they do for 20. Again, with each play an unbelievable cheer arises. But wait.... Michigan completes a Hail Mary and has one last shot to win the game with a 37-yard field goal.

3:42. Again we are deflated. This should be automatic! Michigan will win after all. Once more it is deathly quiet. Once more there is nary a sound. Thousands of people under the Shoe stand in total silence. Then, with finality, the kick is blocked, an Appalachian State player is running down the field with the ball and Buckeye fans are screaming in celebration!

In one final act of defiance, the OSU band (having itself marched under the Stadium and watched the ending) strikes up a chorus of “Hail to the Victors”.

As we stream out of the Stadium we all shake our heads at what we just witnessed, both on the TV and under the stadium.

Yes, we shouldn’t have cheered like we did. Yes, it wasn’t nice. Yes, it doesn’t help the Big Ten. Yes, it hurts Ohio State. But dang, it was Michigan. What else is a Buckeye fan to do?

4:00. I find my car in the lot, fire it up and head straight for home. It has been a long, tiring, rewarding and eventful twenty-seven hours, and there are still two to go.

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