COLUMBUS - Yesterday at 11 a.m., Ohio State fans were elbow to elbow at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Caf , a few blocks from Ohio Stadium.
Though kickoff for the annual Ohio State-Michigan football game was 25 hours away, many of the fans, enjoying their favorite beverage, already were in game shape.
Scott Evans viewed the scene from the caf lobby, where a pair of sports reporters broadcast the scene live for Sporting News Radio. Never, Mr. Evans said, has he seen so much hype for the game many fans believe is the best rivalry in college football.
“We're undefeated. [And] we've got ... a shot at the national championship,” he said, ticking off two of the reasons for all the excitement.
If there is any doubt about the interest level of this 99th meeting between the 9-2, 12th-ranked Wolverines and the 12-0, No. 2-ranked Buckeyes, consider that tickets with a face value of $45 have sold for up to $500.
Kickoff is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. today, and the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high temperature of 42 degrees.
Security has been beefed up to handle the 105,000 fans expected to attend the game and perhaps another 50,000 ticketless supporters partying outside the stadium.
From the minute Ohio State beat Illinois in overtime last Saturday, local sports radio call-in shows have featured nonstop Buckeye-Wolverine game chatter and this city, the country's 15th largest, adorned itself in scarlet and gray.
The excitement is not just confined to Columbus or the region.
The game will be nationally televised on ABC, which has been hyping the contest all week, and ESPN's highly-rated College GameDay TV and radio shows will air from the campus this morning.
“The buzz is nationwide,” said former Buckeye running back Keith Byars on a Columbus radio talk show Thursday night. “I was in New York City earlier this week and everyone there is talking about the game.”
Several factors are stoking the country's interest in the game:
If Ohio State wins today, they will play in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 3, giving Michigan the added incentive of spoiling the Buckeye's attempt at winning a national title.
It is this notion that explains the other aspect of the rivalry that so fires up Buckeye and Wolverine fans: The team with the most to lose often does.
Hardcore Michigan fans recall that from 1970-75 its Bo Schembechler-led teams were 57-0-2 going into the Ohio State game and went 1-4-1 against teams led by Woody Hayes, ruining several otherwise stellar Wolverine seasons.
More recently, Michigan has dominated the Buckeyes. Three times in the last 10 years - 1993, 1995, and 1996 - the Wolverines have spoiled potential national championships for the Buckeyes. Former Buckeye Coach John Cooper won 70 percent of his games, but went 2-10-1 against Michigan from 1988 to 2000 and lost his job.
Current Coach Jim Tressel promised a victory over Michigan upon his hiring and delivered last year on the road for the Buckeye's first win at Ann Arbor since 1987.
Still, the recent disappointments remain fresh in the minds of most Buckeye fans, who view today's game as an opportunity to once and for all exorcise the demons from the recent past.
“We've had our hearts broken by Michigan, but this year will be different,” said Jeff Balmer while having lunch at the Hall of Fame.
Joining him was Sylvania native and Columbus resident Eric Sharfman who, taking a break from his cheeseburger, shouted “IO” after a nearby fan screamed “OH.” To understand the irony of his outburst, Mr. Sharfman said, you have to know that he came to OSU in 1992 as a serious Michigan fan but converted to the Buckeyes after his freshman year.
His father, Merv Sharfman, a Toledo lawyer, was so dismayed he responded the only way a hardcore Wolverine fan would - son or not. “I would never write the check to Ohio State; my wife had to write it,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.
Although many Buckeye supporters like to boast they are more rabid than their Wolverine counterparts, Mr. Evans, who paid $200 for his end zone seat, doesn't believe it.
“I think Michigan fans try hard to fake it,” he said. “[But] it's the real deal for them too. Don't let them tell you otherwise. [For them] this game is the difference between the Outback Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, and the Humanitarian Bowl.”
Still, Buckeye fans say it's hard to imagine a tradition at Ann Arbor like the one that took place at OSU's Mirror Lake Thursday night, where thousands of students turned up for the annual Good Luck, Beat Michigan swim.
“It was pretty cool and intense to see that many people around, jumping into the ice cold water,” said Will Bates, a freshman from Toledo who opted not to swim.
Mr. Bates said students are selling their game tickets for hundreds of dollars, but he is not among them. He'll attend the GameDay TV show before heading to the student section in the south stands.
“This is why I came to Ohio State,” he said.39.96199 -83.00275 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section BGSU!
Yesterday at 11 a.m., Ohio State fans were elbow to elbow at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Caf , a few blocks from Ohio Stadium. Though kickoff for the annual Ohio State-Michigan football game was 25 hours away, many of the fans, enjoying their favorite beverage, already were in game shape.