Sunday, January 19, 2003

Ohio State fans brave cold to celebrate champs

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Ohio State football backers proved Saturday that they're anything but fair weather fans.

Despite bitter cold temperatures, thousands of Buckeye fans piled on layers of scarlet and gray clothing and went to Ohio Stadium for a celebration honoring Ohio State's national championship. Between 50,000 and 60,000 people attended the 50-minute event, according to Ohio State officials.

The sun-splashed day did nothing to make the frigid air - 10 degrees with a minus 3 wind chill - more tolerable, but fans didn't seem to care.

Not when it comes to honoring the Buckeyes.

"We couldn't make it to Tempe, but we're happy to be here," said Ahmad Sinno, a sleeping bag draped over his shoulders. "We're happy to be here to be able to celebrate with the team."

Fans stood and cheered as Ohio State players wearing their home jerseys walked onto a stage in the center of the snow-covered field.

University President Karen Holbrook, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Gov. Bob Taft thanked the players and coaches for their effort and the fans for their support.

Mr. Coleman unveiled a street sign that renamed nearby Lane Avenue, one of the campus' main drags, Champions Lane.

"We know this is the best team in the nation, at the best university in the nation, in the best city in the nation," Mr. Coleman trumpeted as fans applauded. "We are No. 1."

Coach Jim Tressel heaped praise on his players, coaches and fans.

"You folks, right here, are the greatest," he said. "We couldn't have done it without each and every one of you."

During the celebration, the Ohio State marching band performed "Script Ohio" with the senior players dotting the "i." Senior linebacker Cie Grant then took the microphone and led everyone in singing "Carmen Ohio."

Several hours before the pep rally began at 1 p.m., fans wearing hats, gloves, scarves and even blankets crowded outside the stadium's gates and chanted "O-H-I-O."

Once inside, they watched a replay of the Fiesta Bowl on the stadium scoreboard and cheered play after play of Ohio State's victory over Miami on Jan. 3 in Tempe, Ariz., as if the game was being played live.

The Buckeyes ended up beating the Hurricanes 31-24 in double overtime, clinching an undefeated 14-0 season and their first national title since the 1969 Rose Bowl.

With more than three decades having passed since Ohio State last finished atop the polls, Andrew Showalter thought battling the elements was a small price to pay for honoring the Buckeyes.

"I figured this isn't going to happen again. It could, I guess, but you never know," said Mr. Showalter, 21, of Bryan in northwest Ohio. "It's cold, though."

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