COLUMBUS — The old gray stadium on the banks of the Olentangy River has seen its share of legends and ghosts, memorable moments and unforgettable games.
Today, Ohio Stadium — home of the Snow Bowl, where Woody and Archie and the rest weaved their magic — hosts its 500th game when Northwestern (1-2) ventures in to play No. 8 Ohio State (3-0).
“It shows you how small you really are in such a big program and in such a historical, traditional stadium,” said Ohio State assistant coach John Peterson, who also was an offensive lineman for four years in the stadium.
“You’re getting a chance to play a game in it. That’s a pretty neat thing.”
Back in 1920, two men looked into the future and decided that football, already big, would capture the imagination of the Ohio State campus. Thomas E. French, a professor and member of the athletic board, and athletic director Lynn St. John proposed a massive stadium to be a cathedral for the growing sport. They knew that football had caught on thanks to a skinny kid with wavy hair and fast feet named Charles W. “Chic” Harley, the school’s first three-time All-American — and it wasn’t going away.
Many thought the school was building a huge white elephant, a colosseum that would never be filled and would dip the entire university in scarlet ink. They were obviously wrong.
The stadium seated 60,000 fans when it opened and cost $1.5 million to build. After a $200 million renovation a few years ago, it now seats in excess of 105,000 and is filled to the brim on almost every autumn Saturday.
Since the stadium’s debut in 1922, the Buckeyes are 375-104-20 in what is affectionately called “The Horseshoe” (even though when it was updated, its original open end was closed off by a massive permanent grandstand and scoreboard).
More than 100,000 have crowded in for the last 36 games at Ohio Stadium.
Just stepping onto the field (now FieldTurf instead of grass) is still considered a very, very big deal.
“That’s crazy, anytime you can be a part of history. It’s definitely an honor,” current Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It’s something that when you grow up you can tell your kids someday, hey … I was in the ’Shoe for the 500th game. Stuff like that, it is important. That’s pretty cool.”
Ohio State and Northwestern open Big Ten play headed in opposite directions. The Buckeyes, in their first real test of the season, overcame a halftime deficit to beat Washington 33-14 last week. They are now the highest ranked team from the Big Ten as they try to win a third straight conference title.
The Wildcats were beaten at home last week by Duke, ending the Blue Devils’ 22-game losing skid, the longest in the nation.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t think his team will have any problem rebounding from that defeat.
“Everything starts over once you start Big Ten play,” he said. “What you have to do when you go through tough times and adversity is let it go. You need to let it go and learn from it, grow from it, but when you get back and get out to practice, it’s time to go play.”
The Buckeyes have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 102-17, yet that is not what the coaching staff has been preaching to the players this week. They brought up the 2004 game, when Ohio State entered at 3-0 coming off a big road win against North Carolina State and left on the wrong side of a 33-27 upset in overtime.
But that was at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
At Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes have won 14 in a row and 18 of 19. They haven’t lost to Northwestern in Columbus since 1971, a string of 13 victories.
It’s difficult for any road team to mount much of an attack when surrounded by that swirling sea of scarlet and gray, when the band starts pumping out “Across The Field” and performing “Script Ohio” and when all those Ohio State players try to live up to the legacy of Hopalong Cassady, Jim Parker, Jim Stillwagon, Randy Gradishar and Eddie George.
“There’s just so much tradition here it’s unbelievable,” Buckeyes quarterback Todd Boeckman said. “The past players. The traditions. Every little thing.”
NO. 8 OHIO STATE VS. NORTHWESTERN
WHAT: The Buckeyes host the Wildcats in their first Big Ten game of the season.
TIME: 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus.
TV/RADIO: Channel 5 will broadcast the game, with Ron Franklin handling play-by-play and Ed Cunningham the analysis. Jack Arute will be the sideline reporter. On radio, the game will be found on WEOL-930 AM and WKNR-850 AM.
RECORDS: OSU 3-0; Northwestern 2-1.
COACHES: Jim Tressel is 65-14 (.823) in his seventh season at Ohio State and 200-71-2 (.736) in his 22nd year as a head coach. Pat Fitzgerald is 6-9 (.400) in his second year at Northwestern and in his career.
SERIES: OSU leads 57-14-1 all time against Northwestern and won 54-10 in 2006 in Evanston, Ill.
THE SKINNY: The Buckeyes defeated Washington 33-14 on Saturday, giving Tressel his 200th career win. It also was Ohio State’s 21st consecutive regular-season win, tying a school record set from 1967-69. Tressel will be looking to win his sixth Big Ten opener. The Buckeyes scored 24 unanswered points against the Huskies after trailing 7-3 at halftime. Todd Boeckman threw touchdown passes to Brian Robiske and Brian Hartline, and Chris Wells ran 14 yards for a third second-half touchdown. Ryan Pretorious added a 23-yard field, before Brandon Saine closed out the OSU scoring with a 37-yard TD run as the game ended. Duke snapped the nation’s longest losing streak at 22 games and stopped the Wildcats from the 7-yard line in the closing seconds to hang onto a 20-14 win in Evanston. Despite the loss, Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher set NU game records for completions (30), passing yards (368) and total offense (403).