Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Buckeyes flaunt scarlet and gray gear

Hats and sweat shirts fly out of stores here

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Across Greater Cincinnati and around the state, Ohio State University alumni and fans collected bets and replayed the final nail-biting seconds of the Buckeyes' double-overtime 31-24 upset of the University of Miami in Friday night's Fiesta Bowl.

The victory gave the Buckeyes their first national championship since Woody Hayes' 1968 team clobbered O.J. Simpson and his University of Southern California team in the 1969 Rose Bowl.

It also sent countless fans racing to malls and sporting goods shops in search of memorabilia, souvenirs and sweatshirts that blared the news many still could not believe Monday morning: Ohio State, national champs.

"It's the first time I've ever seen apparel sell that quickly," said Adam Hoffman, assistant manager of Champs Sports shop in Tri-County Mall. Fans grabbed every championship T-shirt just hours after the store's Saturday opening.

Numerous merchants reported similar rushes on anything hinting at Buckeye football. Commemorative jackets flew off the racks at Tri-County Mall's Dillard's store. Other stores reported dwindling inventories of T-shirts and caps.

"It's been pretty exciting," said Dillard's store manager Jim Callahan. "Our initial shipment will probably be sold out by the end of (Monday) but we'll have more coming Wednesday. I could probably sell more than 1,000 hats."

Others anticipated the Monday rush in Cincinnati. Judy Halak of Montgomery was so certain OSU-themed merchandise would fly out of local stores this week that she jumped into her car Saturday - just hours after the Buckeyes' win - and dashed to Columbus to grab some of the first championship T-shirts.

"I'm still numbed and stunned," said Ms. Halak, clad in scarlet-and-gray Monday at her job at Sibcy Cline Realtors.

Perhaps what has been even more stunning since Friday night's win is the unprecedented display of OSU colors and merchandise in this corner of Southwest Ohio. While OSU has an estimated 18,825 grads (out of 337,000 nationally) in this region, other parts of the "Buckeye Nation" more prominently flash school pride and the accompanying pennants, posters, bumper stickers and garb.

Cincinnati's love affair with the Buckeye has traditionally been a bit more subdued than in Cleveland, Dayton and, of course, Columbus, OSU fans note.

However, the Buckeyes' unexpected 14-0 season - the first time a Division I college football team won so many games in a season - "has made it a little easier to be a Buckeye fan in Cincinnati," said Jan Moran, an OSU grad and Fairfield resident. She spent Monday sporting her favorite OSU sweater.

She plans to join hundreds of other Buckeye fans from the region in Columbus this week for the city's official celebration with a possible parade and the public flaunting of trophies.

There were other sightings of Buckeye rooters Monday.

In Middletown, Angela Polachek went about her workday at the Moon and Adrion Insurance Agency dressed in an OSU ensemble while listening nonstop to an Ohio State marching band CD.

The Miami University senior said she spotted OSU-themed clothes on the Oxford campus Monday as students returned after winter break.

Ms. Polachek and Rob Kilburn, an insurance agent in the same office, praised second-year coach Jim Tressel.

"He is definitely a coach you can like because he is a good guy and a good influence on the school and its reputation," she said.

Mr. Kilburn, a longtime Buckeye fan, said he was teary-eyed after the Fiesta Bowl win. And it wasn't the first time.

He's gotten misty on several occasions since Mr. Tressel, who replaced John Cooper last season, began preaching the importance of beating arch-rival Michigan and launching new traditions, such as the football team singing the school's alma mater "Carmen Ohio" - win or lose - after each game.

"The first time I saw the team singing at the end of a game, I couldn't help but cry," said Mr. Kilburn, surrounded by OSU knickknacks, flags and footballs in his office. "This win puts us back up as one of the premier college powerhouses, but it was also a class act."

Preliminary audience surveys show that the Greater Cincinnati market had the fourth-highest TV rating in America - behind Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton. Ann Ball, president of the OSU Greater Cincinnati Alumni Association, said the audience was also a showcase for the school's reputation as a historical football power that wins the right way.

"Everybody at work was saying how they thought what a class act Tressel is and how impressed they are with him as a coach," said Ms. Ball, who spent Monday at her job at Milacron Inc. decked out in her finest OSU outfit.

"I've had 10 phone calls by mid-day from people just wanting to talk about the game. Everybody at work is saying, 'It was the greatest game I've ever seen' and 'Go Bucks!'"

Her voice was still hoarse from the alumni association's game party Friday night at the Holiday Inn in Eastgate that saw more than 200 local members and fans packed in front of two giant TV screens.

"It was absolutely heart-stopping."

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail mclark@enquirer.com

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