Monday, January 01, 2001
In My Life
Dad learns true meaning of football from daughter
By Rick Green
The Cincinnati Enquirer
You will find me on the living room couch this morning, clad in my Ohio State scarlet-and-gray and waiting for the 11 a.m. kickoff of the Buckeyes' Outback Bowl game against the University of South Carolina. I'll be sitting next to my oldest daughter, Abigail, who nearly five months ago taught me something I never expected to learn inside that old horseshoe stadium on the banks of the Olentangy River.
I was raised in east-central Ohio near a small farm town called Coshocton. It is about a two-hour drive from Columbus and the epicenter of college football, at least as it had been explained to me early in life.
I was a young disciple of that decades-old religion known as Ohio State football, which was preached by a fiery legend named Woody Hayes. He was a coach who demanded excellence and never could utter the name of OSU's most bitter rival, Michigan. It was always that school up north.
I was a fervent believer and an even larger fan. So many of my childhood autumn Saturdays were spent watching the Buckeyes on TV or listening to them on the radio as I flung a football up and down my front yard, fantasizing that it was me tossing touchdowns and dodging tackles in front of nearly 90,000 fans.
Abigail Green, 7, and Brutus the Buckeye.
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My love for the Buckeyes only intensified when I began working at my hometown newspaper, the Coshocton Tribune, as a high school sophomore. My first mentor, sports editor Frank Shepherd, shared stories of his days covering the Buckeyes. He also provided me with my first glimpse of venerable Ohio Stadium, landing me a press pass in 1982 to see Ohio State battle Stanford, which happened to have a pretty good quarterback that year future NFL star John Elway.
There's no way you can be from the great state of Ohio and not be a Buckeyes' fan, I still can hear Frank say to me.
He was so right. Even when I was in college at Ohio University in the mid-1980s, I would leave at halftime of Bobcat games after the marching band's performance to catch my Buckeyes on TV.
Seasons passed, the years rolled by and my love for Buckeye football grew. From coaches Hayes, Earle Bruce and John Cooper; to my favorite players Archie Griffin, Chris Spielman and Eddie George. From that infamous 1978 Gator Bowl that cost Woody his job; to the almost-annual disappointing finishes against the hated Wolverines.
Even now as a thirtysomething editor, one childhood joy remains: Ohio State football in the fall.
That is why I was so excited in August when Abigail,the oldest of my three girls, announced she wanted to accompany me to a Buckeyes' game.
At last, the opportunity to share my team with my daughter, I thought as we headed north that warm Saturday morning to watch OSU's home opener against Fresno State.
We did all the things you're supposed to do in Columbus on a football Saturday. We mingled with the thousands of tailgaters crowded in parking lots and huddled over Hibachis. We caught the OSU band's skull session inside St. John Arena. We stood and cheered as the sousaphone player dotted the I during the band's Script Ohio march. We celebrated a Buckeye victory and wondered why the 33-point margin wasn't greater.
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Throughout the day, I watched Abigail bedecked in a necklace made of buckeyes closely. Though it was her first visit on a major college campus, the noisy throng did not intimidate her.
She refused to hold my hand, despite the press of the crowd. She roamed by herself outside Ohio Stadium to get a better view of the high-flying Buckeye cheerleaders performing before kickoff. She didn't even flinch when that tall, big-headed Brutus the Buckeye mascot embraced her during the pre-game rally.
Somehow, my little girl did not seem so little.
We waited for the game's final play and listened as the victory bell rang out. Abigail was in no hurry to leave our seat. High in the stands, she could see the outstretched collection of residence halls and academic buildings on the sprawling OSU campus.
How much longer before I leave for college, Dad? asked the little girl who turns 8 in April.
Too soon, Abigail. Too soon, I replied.
We drove in silence down I-71. Just north of Washington Court House, she asked me to pop in the OSU marching band CD that we had purchased that day. One more reprise of Buckeye Battle Cry and Hang on Sloopy before we returned to Cincinnati.
Just across the Warren County line, a sleepy Abigail offered one last smile. Clutching her OSU program and fingering her necklace, she whispered, Thanks, Daddy. I'll never forget today. Then she fell asleep.
A decade of wins over Michigan could never match that moment for me. I took my daughter to Columbus that day, hoping to teach her about something that was important to me. As it turned out, it was my daughter who taught her high-flying, ambitious father a valuable lesson: Slow down, enjoy this fast-moving life and cling to special moments. Too soon, your children will grow and spread their wings chasing college and other adult pursuits.
Thanks, Abigail, for the day, for the game and for being such a smart daughter.
And Go Bucks!
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