Friday, March 26, 1999

Roses in March? Buckeyes get grand sendoff

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hundreds waved Ohio State University flags and homemade signs on Thursday to send off the Buckeyes to their first Final Four appearance in 31 years.

        Players waved and danced to the delight of fans gathered above on a small overpass. Police estimated about 500 people gathered to see the team off to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a game Saturday against Connecticut.

        “It couldn't have been smoother,” Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said of the team's arrival in Florida on Thursday. The Buckeyes arrived on time by charter flight to Tampa and quickly boarded buses that took them to the gated, private enclave where they will be staying.

        Security was tight around The Suites at Mainsail Village, with guards holding walkie-talkies patrolling the area.

        Back in Columbus, the crowd seeing the team off was dotted with signs saying “Go Bucks” and “Beat UConn.”

        It was one of the few events on campus quiet this week because of spring break. Shuttle buses were empty. Even parking and left turns were possible, rather than improbable.

        But basketball is high on the agenda.

        “Columbus is pretty pumped right now in general,” said Leanne Devereaux, 21, a senior from Cleveland who was working in the empty student activities office on Wednesday. “It's a big thing for Ohio.”

        She won one of the 1,400 game tickets available to students in a lottery but won't be able to go because of a job interview.

        The ticket price was $105. It's an envious position for many in Columbus, where one ticket is going for as much as $5,000.

        Co-worker Monica Buling, 20, also of Cleveland, has noticed the change in basketball's popularity.

        “I feel like before, we didn't even know the scores,” she said. “Now it's all anyone talks about. 'Did you see the game last night?”'

        While having lunch in the student union, Jeff Flege, 24, of Hamilton, read all five Ohio State basketball stories in the day's local newspaper, including one on the front page.

        “This is the first time my team — MY team — is in the tournament, let alone the Final Four,” he said. “Almost everybody's gone, but in my group of friends it's a really big deal.”

        They plan to go to the same bar in the same clothes to drink the same beer as last week, when they watched Ohio State beat St. John's.

        “My girlfriend thinks I'm nuts, but it's working,” he said.

        On the fringe of campus, Nancy Muldoon was outside her store called College Tradition, loaded with T-shirts and other Buckeye paraphernalia.

        She held a long pole above her head, changing letters on the store's marquee. The new message: “Congratulations Buckeyes on a dream come true.”

        “We're kind of used to the Rose Bowl, but we haven't been to the Final Four for 31 years, so everyone's crazy,” she said.

        Old friends and alumni from around the country are asking her for T-shirts and hats. But there's a problem. Some hats say Ohio State won the western regional rather than the southern. People were impatient for the new ones to arrive.

        Inside, Amy Hiller shopped while her three children, ages 5, 4 and 2, plucked stuffed Buckeye helmets and cheerleader bears off low shelves.

        “It's almost more exciting than the Rose Bowl,” she said. “I've never experienced this in my lifetime.”

        In the store parking lot, Cleveland salesman Dave Reininger, 54, sat in his car with a 6-foot stuffed Brutus Buckeye, the school mascot.

        Reininger sells Ohio State merchandise and used Brutus as a prop for a trade show. On Tuesday, he drove with Brutus sticking out of his black Riviera's sunroof.

        “Every car that came by honked and gave me a thumbs up,” he said. “Everyone knows who Brutus is.”

        “The whole town is alive,” he said. “The electricity in town is unbelievable.”


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- Roses in March? Buckeyes get grand sendoff
Superstitious Buckeyes stick to routine
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