COLUMBUS — Eric in New Jersey wondered when Ohio State would start “bum rushing” teams as expected.
Oscar from Grove City wondered when and how the Buckeyes would begin defending the A-gap run.
And Jeff from Tennessee just wanted the man of the hour to know, “I LOVE YA BROTHER. GO BUCKS.”
Urban in Columbus thanks you for the question. (Or in the case of Jeff, a 45-year-old day trader who has not missed a game since 1987 and whose scarlet paeans feature many exclamation points but rarely question marks, the enthusiasm.)
Welcome to the Urban Meyer call-in show.
The Buckeyes coach named after a pope may seem infallible to some of his supporters. A future Hall of Famer with three national championships, he is 44-3 at Ohio State heading into Saturday night’s showdown against Penn State.
But that does not exempt him from questions, including from fans, who once a week get their crack at the coach.
The age-old call-in shows are among the more entertaining weekly rituals at football programs across the country, and Ohio State is no different. At noon each Thursday, Meyer sits down with Buckeyes radio voices Paul Keels and Jim Lachey — the deft quarterbacks of the show — inside the team’s practice facility and the phone lines open.
While a screener filters the calls — the agitator who wondered last year if Meyer would ever hire since-fired Florida coach Will Muschamp as his defensive coordinator did not make the cut — little is off limits.
The call-in portion of the hourlong show — broadcast in Columbus on 97.1 FM and aired lived in Toledo on 106.5 FM — is equal parts a strategy session, inquisition, appreciation, and bar talk.
What did Meyer the former baseball player think about Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista’s boisterous bat flip after his series-winning home run Wednesday?
“That was great,” he said.
As for X’s and O’s questions, Meyer often tells callers, “That is very observant.” Sometimes, when the fan has a clear football background, he surely even means it. But at the least, Meyer, whose contract sets aside $1.85 million per year just for such media and public relations obligations, is gracious and never goes through the motions. Keels said he has been “very fortunate” with Ohio State’s football coaches, from John Cooper to Jim Tressel to Meyer.
“On Thursday, usually you’re feeling the fatigue from the workday and guys like [Jeff from Tennessee] ... and Chris, the local guy here, that energize you and make you feel pretty good,” said Meyer, who is paid an average of $6.5 million annually. “I think I’d rather stick a rusty nail in my heel than have someone ask me about quarterbacks on those call-in shows. But I do appreciate when guys are full of energy, and we have a bunch of great fans.”
And no one is more devoted than Jeff Hamms.
While the call-in show strives to accommodate as many fans as possible, Tennessee Jeff, for better or worse, has been as close to a regular as it gets.
“You either love me,” he said, “or you think I’m a total ... ”
Well, you get the idea.
A sample Tennessee Jeff call from the first show this season: “I have no question. I just have a couple of comments and I will hang up and listen. We met in Baltimore last year. I was the guy who kind of wandered into your team meeting. I just want to say thanks for the picture. ... Quick stat, you’re 9-2 in revenge games, so good luck to [Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud] Foster and the defense on that. ... I am so proud to call you my coach. ... I love you.”
It is no act. In a phone interview, Hamms, a Canton native, was just as wired, rarely coming up for air.
The same guy who cried on the call-in show after the Buckeyes beat Michigan State last year challenges you to find a bigger fan.
“I work hard all year. The [fall] is my 15 weeks where I’m a groupie,” said Hamms, who first fell hard for the Buckeyes after attending their football camp as a 12-year-old. “I go full steam ahead, brother.”
Never mind that life long ago took him south, where he said he now splits time between a cabin in the mountains of Gatlinburg, Tenn., and a house in South Carolina.
His passion for Ohio State has only grown. A divorced father of three grown children — “Who the hell would put up with me during the fall, right?” — spends much of his fall on the road.
Each week, he nabs a ticket on Stubhub — Hamms is not an OSU alum and does not have season tickets — and packs up his fuel-friendly Honda Civic. From Los Angeles to New Jersey, he has driven to every game since 1987, usually by himself. He said only one event could make him confront his fear of flying: a Buckeyes game overseas.
His favorite memory: Ohio State’s playoff win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last year.
Hamms dislikes Michigan, sure, and does not own a single piece of blue clothing. But because he has endured unending flack as a Buckeyes expatriate in the south, he savored the victory over the best team in the nation’s best conference more than any other. Afterward, he raced with his daughter from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to Ohio State’s downtown New Orleans hotel, where he led the crowded lobby in a chant as the team arrived back from the stadium.
“SEC! SEC! SEC!”
The next day, he made sure to stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., eating lunch in his full Buckeyes getup.
“Beating Alabama was the best four hours of my life,” Hamms said. “Besides my kids being born.”
Of course, Hamms leaves little doubt of the altar at which he worships. When he first met Meyer before the Navy game in Baltimore last year, he recalled telling him, “Wow, this is like meeting Elvis. Forgive me if my knees are shaking.”
“There have been about five times since where Urban Meyer could have had me escorted or thrown out by security, [but he] hasn’t,” Hamms said.
He has been absent from the call-in show the past few weeks, surmising, “I guess they have caller ID.” (The show has tried to include more fans, preferably those with a question.)
“I think I may be a little too much for the show,” he said.
And maybe that is for the best.
Jeff from Tennessee is not sure he has anything to ask Meyer.
“Unless he goes for it on fourth down and 20 on his own 1-yard line, I won’t question the man,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Urban in Columbus appreciates the enthusiasm.
For the rest, thank you for the question.
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