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COLUMBUS - At first blush, this is not major bling.
It is a tiny gold charm, one that would be dwarfed in the jeweler's case by some of the gargantuan gilded globules we see hanging around the necks of rappers, or those sundial-sized hood ornaments they wear as accessories in hip-hop videos.
This piece is humble - about inch and a half long - and the value of its raw metal content is not that significant. But for an Ohio State football player, this is their Oscar, their ultimate merit badge, their medal of honor.
Since 1934, every player and coach associated with each win over Michigan has received a petite pair of gold pants. A trinket that to them is worth more than its weight in gold.
"Those gold pants. They mean the world to you," Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith said last year after the Buckeyes beat Michigan for a third straight time.
"It's what they stand for. You have to go to battle with your teammates, your brothers, to earn those golden pants. They're a part of the great history and tradition here."
Michigan had beaten Ohio State two years in a row when Francis Schmidt took over as head coach of the Buckeyes for the 1934 season. Both of those games were shutouts, and both marked the only loss of the season for Ohio State, so Michigan was an imposing nemesis.
In his first meeting with the team, Schmidt wanted to remove any mystique that his players might have attached to Michigan's success, so when asked how he would deal with the Wolverines, Schmidt said to his team: "They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like we do."
The pitch must have worked, since the Buckeyes beat Michigan 34-0 that year - the first of four straight wins over the Wolverines by a combined 114-0 score. Schmidt's pants reference took on a life of its own.
"Schmidt was a different kind of guy, and what he started with the gold pants is probably the most unique of the Ohio State traditions," Ohio State historian Jack Park said. "It's certainly one of the best college football traditions there is, and probably the most well-known of the Buckeyes' traditions, after Script Ohio."
The remark by coach Schmidt more than 70 years ago spawned the "Gold Pants Club," a group of Ohio State boosters who provide the small, personalized charms, each engraved with the player's initials, the date of the game, and the final score.
The folklore behind the tradition says the first gold pants were created by Simon Lazarus, who was president of the Columbus-based Lazarus chain of department stores, and Herbert Levy and awarded to that 1934 Ohio State team.
"Growing up, when I first heard about it, I thought you get a real pair of gold pants. I didn't know what it was," Ohio State junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said, envisioning something Elvis might wear in his Las Vegas act.
"Then when I got here and got my first pair, you see it's just a little charm, but then you learn what an important tradition it is."
Freeman played in the Michigan game as a freshman in 2004 and got his first pair, which he gave to his mother. Freeman's dad got the second pair that came after the 2005 Ohio State victory, and last year's gold pants went to Freeman's older brother Mike.
"I have to get another pair to keep for myself," Freeman said.
Ohio State senior offensive tackle Kirk Barton has the same agenda as Freeman - there's room in his closet for a fourth pair of gold pants. Barton has collected three of the charms for his trio of victories over Michigan, but he said he still needs another pair of the pants to balance things in his family.
"My mom has one pair, and I gave my sister two pairs," Barton said. "I've really got to work to even it out. That's kind of the driving force this week, something I've been thinking about ever since I gave my sister that pair from last year. They mean a lot to me."
The Buckeyes' senior fullback Dionte Johnson learned about the gold pants tradition at home, since his dad Pepper Johnson was a linebacker for the Buckeyes from 1982-85 and brought home some of the gold pants.
"I followed my dad. He gave his gold pants to his mother, and I couldn't see them going to anybody else but my mother," Johnson said.
"It's something I grew up with, so my mom has two pairs, and my grandmother has a pair she got for her birthday. The gold pants are something small, but something everybody knows what they mean."
Quite an uproar occurred in 2003 when one of the gold pants charms showed up on the Internet auction site eBay. At the time, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called the potential sale of the gold pants a "slap in the face" to all of the Buckeyes players who had earned the mementos over the years.
The gold pants, with an estimated retail value of only $25, attracted a bid of more than $1,000 before they were removed from the site.
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said the gold pants should be kept and cherished as a lifelong reminder of a victory in the most important game of the season.
"It's something special to get those gold pants, knowing that you'll forever have those and knowing that you beat Michigan. It's an honor," he said.
Contact Matt Markey at:
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