It may be less than three miles from downtown Columbus to the heart of campus, but The Ohio State University is a universe unto itself. Join the 52,000 students on one of the country’s largest campus and you quickly sense that the Oval is its vast village green, Mirror Lake its sentimental heart and the very air pulses scarlet and gray.
Now, the stadium’s south end is closed so that more than 102,000 fans can sweep in, fill the bleachers and pop up and down all Saturday afternoon, doing the wave and flinging their arms in the air to sketch O-H-I-O.
Thousands tailgate on every possible patch, while others catch the game on a sea of screens.
The buckeye, a shiny brown nut from the horse chestnut tree, is everywhere on game day, personified in OSU mascot Brutus Buckeye. Fans string nuts into necklaces and earrings, and vendors sell their own strands on every corner around Ohio Stadium.
Coeds temporarily tattoo them onto their cheekbones. But maybe the best buckeye moment is a wedge of pie at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill on Goodale Avenue: peanut butter pastry cream on Oreo crust, garnished with caramel and whipped cream.
No tickets? No worries!
Top tailgating spots
Vans, trailers and canopies hug Ohio Stadium, fourth-largest in the nation, on two flanks—some tailgaters have staked the same spot for 30 years. Impromptu barbecues pop up on parking lots all over north campus. Some fans prefer the Ohio Union parking garage 15 minutes south on foot, to avoid the crowds and post-game gridlock. Behind the Schottenstein Center west of the Stadium, RV’ers tune their satellite TVs to the game.
Latecomers can’t believe there are 33,000 parking spaces on campus and a few thousand more west on the grass of Olentangy River Road, but it’s true. Roll in early for any chance of parking close to the game.
Best non-alcoholic party
The university kicks off its own party three hours before every home game. It’s Plazagate on the Recreation and Physical Activity Center plaza, just south of Ohio Stadium. The atmosphere is a bit of a carnival, with hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy, plus cornhole, music, face painting and a last-minute chance to make your own buckeye necklace.
As it has since 1928, each game starts with a roar as the OSU Marching Band struts down the stadium north ramp, followed by the drum major at a jog. He takes the field and stretches back, back, back to “Buckeye Battle Cry,” until the red plume on his white hat touches the turf-- and the crowd goes crazy.
The OSU Marching Band is also famous for its Script Ohio, an intricate formation that takes 3½ minutes of marching to “Le Regiment.” At the culmination of the 70-year tradition, a fourth-year sousaphone player has the honor to dot the “i” in “Ohio.” Rarely, the band confers the honor on non-band members, such as former OSU football coach Woody Hayes and entertainer Bob Hope.
Big 10 big screens
No tickets? Some fans head to the giant screen outside The Varsity Club on Lane Avenue, stoked with a live band and beer booths. Next door, the scene is a bit tamer around the jumbo screen of Riverwatch Tower’s parking lot. Both rock long before and after the game.
Best non-vendor vittles: Hungry for a real meal? Pull up a stool at Eddie George’s Grille 27, named for Ohio State’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner, in the South Campus Gateway entertainment complex. Everything revolves around his No. 27—27 menu items, 27 beers.
Off campus in German Village, Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus will sizzle up a schnitzel for you, then top it off with a supersized cream puff. Schmidt’s has been serving hearty German delicacies in picturesque German Village since 1888.
A short drive north or south of campus on High Street, the Northstar Cafes have a neighborhood feel, with long reading racks and plenty of windows. Stoke up on sweet potato hash, mushroom frittata, Cloud 9 pancakes or jumbo muffins and scones.
Best football freebie
In the high-energy Skull Session at St. John Arena two hours before kick-off, the Ohio State University Marching Band previews its pre-game and halftime shows—this is the last chance to drive the music into the musicians’ skulls. Throbbing with contagious excitement, the arena stands are the perfect spot for fans to practice the team’s signature song, “Hang On Sloopy,” and the arm motions to O-H-I-O—even easier than “YMCA.” The coach and players pop in, too. Very early birds get the best cheering sections. Afterwards on the lawn outdoors, the cheerleading squad shows off its agility in an impromptu rally.
Don’t give up, get on the waiting list asap for several campus-area hotels—it’s not unusual to move up 15 spaces in a week and snag the last room. Because of demand, many properties require payment in advance. But Columbus has 21,000-plus hotel rooms, so it’s easy to widen your search radius and find a spot.
For convenience right on campus, it’s hard to top the Roger D. Blackwell Inn at Fisher College Blackwell, staffed by students. Just open a window and revel in the roar from Ohio Stadium.
After each OSU victory, linger awhile and let the coach and team gather near the fans for the ringing of the chimes and the singing of the alma mater, “Carmen Ohio.” It’s like a Buckeye benediction.
When you go