Senior Nancy Melnyk spent $300 and traveled 991 miles on two Southwest Airlines planes to watch No. 2 Ohio State host No. 12 Miami at Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
As she crossed the intersection of Buckeye Nation and Lane Avenue, she braved enemy territory whilst wearing an orange and green shirt with Sebastian the Ibis on the front and an image of a hurricane blowing through Columbus, Ohio on the back. Under her pale cheeks were University of Miami face decals- one of an ibis and the other of a U.
Melnyk, along with 77 others from the student spirit programming board Category 5, wanted nothing more than to be a part of ESPN’s “Monster Weekend” of college football.
The announced attendance at the “Horseshoe,” where the Buckeyes have played since 1922, was 105,454.
According to Erik Book, UM’s assistant athletic director of ticket operations, the University of Miami received just 4,000 tickets to distribute among the Hurricanes community.
As a sea of people dressed in scarlet swayed, waiting for the football team’s traditional walk to the stadium, a lone Miami fan parted through the middle. Two SWAT vehicles stood parked, ready for any trouble.
Senior J.R. Wiggins, who also bought a ticket package via Category 5, decided to tailgate with a group of current UM students and alumni that made it up north on their own. The tantalizing smell of hot dogs and burgers wafted from a nearby barbeque.
“It was nice just having a bastion of orange and green to return to amongst a sea of red,” he said.
Wiggins himself found it easy to stand out.
On Thursday, he had purchased a foam orange and green U from the University Center bookstore for $32. As Wiggins and the other members of the trip were dropped off a few blocks from the Horseshoe, they started the C-A-N-E-S chant.
A woman dressed in a hot dog suit tried to sell them some food.
A vendor sold $5 Ohio State “good luck” beads.
Former University of Miami tight end and current New Orleans Saint Jeremy Shockey hopped out of a cab and posed for photos. Like any regular guy- minus his 6-foot-5-inch, 251-pound frame- he walked with the students. He received boos from sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, including a fellow with a megaphone atop a roof.
Sophomore Alyssa Exposito guessed that a 3:1 ratio of guys to girls would accurately describe the crowd. She encountered her own share of trash talking and poor treatment from the home team’s fans.
Even when she needed to use the restroom.
“There were women that flipped us off, and we even had people reject us from using the port-a-potty,” she said. “They said it’d be $20!”
Despite this, Exposito and junior Brandon Mitchell, the Category 5 chair, both agreed that OSU fans, in general, were considerate.
“There were obviously the ones who hate you and want nothing to do with you, but for the most part they were all really cool,” Mitchell said.
For junior Barry Golden, the thing that stuck with him most was that of a bride and groom parading down the sidewalk with a poster that read, “I said ‘I do’ at the Shoe!” The rest of the wedding party followed in Ohio State merchandise.
“I suppose things are different when you grow up in Ohio,” he said. “It was very different from Miami. I’ve never been to a college town like that where everyone only cares about football, so that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever been to in my life.”
Wiggins found the biggest difference between Miami and Ohio to be the women.
“There were fat girls dancing on the bar, but they swore that they were hot,” he said. “That was about the average girl at Ohio State.”
Another interesting group, that of five guys from Miami, made t-shirts the previous Tuesday that read, “In 2002 you stole the ring. In 2010, we stole the king,” with a photo of the Miami Heat’s LeBron James. They also brought Talcum powder with them to reenact the superstar’s trademark ritual of throwing it in the air before a game.
In July, arguably the top player in the NBA decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign with the Heat as a free agent.
“I was at Red Steakhouse on Miami Beach with [team president] Pat Riley, [team owner] Mickey Arison and [head coach] Erik Spoelstra,” joked Erin Murphy, a 2006 University of Miami graduate. “We were all in a private room there.”
James, who was expected to be on the sidelines for the game, tweeted that he would be rooting for the Buckeyes, but Murphy believed the basketball player would still receive a “pretty ugly” reception.
Somehow, the Miamians managed to buy good seats for the game.
With it scheduled to broadcast in new 3-D TV technology, the quartet was ready to show off for a national audience.
“We’re third row,” Murphy said. “Look for us! We’ve got baby powder!”
A few blocks away, three City of Columbus policemen tried to shoo a pack of UM fans off a side street and conveniently ignored a group of OSU students. Soon after, a trash-talking match ignited.
On one side: A 20-something wielding a Hurricane warning flag.
On the other: Three freshmen- Nick Huettel, Cameron Huey and Alex Bahas- with a homemade “Columbus vs. Convicts” poster hastily designed at 6 a.m.
“We decided to make it today when we got here and when we saw what the Miami fans look like,” Huettel said. “Your players are thugs. They’re all jokers.”
At one point, a Hurricanes fan walked up to the fence separating the fan bases and tried to steal the sign.
When the OSU trio claimed that Miami’s poor 1980s reputation was recent enough to warrant the sign, the UM fan quipped about line judge Terry Porter’s infamous pass-interference call. With the Canes already celebrating their second consecutive national championship at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl following an incompletion on fourth down, the late call nullified it.
But on this day, there was no changing the Buckeyes fans’ minds, especially that they would come out on top.
“Sept. 17, 2011, I will be on South Beach, full body paint, full metal jacket,” Huettel said. “Come find me.”
Meanwhile, when Melnyk finally got to her seat- section 6C, row 32, seat 14, “near the heavens”- 50 minutes prior to the 3:40 p.m. kickoff, she immediately wondered whether her acrophobia would set in. Or whether she would need binoculars.
An OSU couple, Rob and Bonnie Miller, managed to end up in the UM section after receiving free tickets from a vendor that got them from a Miami alumnus. The pair was surrounded by profane comments that would make any student’s parents blush.
“It’s better than not being here,” Rob Miller, 54, said. “We’ll be happy about halfway through the first quarter. I think it’ll be over.”
The couple from Cleveland has a daughter who graduated from Ohio State in 2008 and has attended at least a half dozen games, including last year’s ultimate rivalry: Ohio State/Michigan.
And Miller wasn’t too worried about escaping the section should the Hurricanes pull out the upset.
“You don’t [escape],” he said. “Have your fun now because it’s going to end soon.”
All 101,454 Buckeyes fans began to celebrate when Ohio State came out on top, 36-24, on a typical, cool and overcast day in the Midwest.
“I just describe it as a town centered around the stadium wherever you went, whether you were 8 years old or 90 years old,” Golden said. “There was just everybody dressed head to toe in Ohio State Buckeyes, and that’s something I wish Miami had more of.”
As Melnyk left her seat and made her way down the stands during the waning seconds, a middle-aged Ohio State fan couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by.
“I’m sorry, girls. I hope you have a nice trip back to Miami.”
“Don’t worry, we will. You’ll be stuck in Columbus. Have a nice winter!”