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Because two of college football’s five winningest teams will meet Saturday night for the first time in Ohio since black-and-white TV’s were the rage in 1956, the N-Sider has a bonus columnist – an up-close and personal perspective from a former Husker football walk-on who has lived in Ohio for more than a quarter-century. He was a colleague of mine at the Lincoln Journal-Star, a longtime friend and a recently retired senior vice president of global communications at Goodyear in Akron, Ohio. Chuck Sinclair, brother Steve Sinclair (retired sports editor of the Omaha World–Herald) and I are eager to see former Buckeye Bo Pelini play chess with Urban Meyer on our collective first trips ever to Ohio State’s famous Horseshoe, the home of Woody, Archie, Eddie and other legends. Since Ohio is now Chuck’s home, we asked the former Lincoln Northeast and Nebraska freshman walk-on quarterback to describe the state’s culture, to explain why football is just as big in Ohio’s Capital City as it is in Nebraska’s and what we should expect when we finally step inside the hallowed Horseshoe’s 100,000-plus stadium. From here on out, this is his N-Sider:
By Chuck Sinclair
No one was happier than I was on June 11, 2010 when Tom Osborne announced Nebraska’s new conference affiliation with the Big Ten. A diehard Nebraska fan living in Ohio for almost a quarter century, chances to see the Huskers in action were few and far between, save for an annual trip back to Lincoln to visit family and catch a game at Memorial Stadium.
All of a sudden my Huskers would be within easy driving distance, at Ann Arbor and East Lansing, State College, and yes, Columbus. In fact every game would be closer than the drive to Lincoln. When Nebraska’s initial schedule was finalized, two dates were circled in red: Ohio State’s Oct. 6, 2011 game in Lincoln, and Nebraska’s Oct. 8, 2012 visit to the Horseshoe in Columbus. Both were must see for me.
To understand my love of all things Nebraska Cornhuskers, you need to understand the seeds that were planted early in life and nurtured over the years. I was a huge fan growing up in Nebraska. Every Nebraska kid is. As a youth in Columbus (Nebraska, not Ohio), I vividly remember listening to games on the radio on sunny fall afternoons while throwing the football around with my brothers Steve and Ron. We then moved to Lincoln when I was in the eighth grade. I saw my first game, met Tom Osborne when he visited my junior high, and snuck into every game I could in every conceivable way possible. I climbed the fences at the south end of the stadium, hid in the old Field House early in the morning before the gates opened, and even marched in the middle of the band when they would enter through an open gate in the southeast corner of the stadium. I also once signed up to sell ice cold Cokes in the stadium, but my bosses quickly figured out I wasn’t interested in making money. I was there to watch football.
My life followed that trend. To stay close to Nebraska football in college, I even walked on as a freshman. With dreams that far outstripped my skills and physical capabilities, it just didn’t matter. I was part of history - a freshman team of 100-plus players that included 11 who would be drafted into the NFL and part of winning two national championships. I was hooked, early and often.
If I couldn’t play with the best, I finally decided I could write about them, and became a sportswriter for the Lincoln Journal-Star for 12 years. Even when I left the newspaper to join Goodyear in public relations, I worked on the stat crew in the press box.
Then in 1986 we packed the family up and moved to Ohio. Far from Lincoln, family and Nebraska football. Far from the Big 12. And far from many people who really cared about the Huskers … anywhere near as much as I did. It didn’t matter to people in Ohio that Nebraska won five national championships between 1970 and 1996, far more success than anyone else in the Big Ten. Oh, they were all friendly. But you could always tell that no matter what you had accomplished, you weren’t in the same league as they were. It wasn’t just Ohio State. It was Michigan. It was Michigan State. It was Penn State.
But I now live in Ohio. That’s why the specific dates were circled in red. I checked off the first date, driving the “ChuckWagon” RV out to Lincoln last fall with my two sons, Ryan and Brett, and their two Ohio State friends Joe Steuer and Dan Guzzo. My wife Sandy flew out ahead, forsaking the overnight trip on Thursday and return trip on Sunday.
What happened in between was pure heaven. We toured the stadium complex, the student-life center, the lockerroom, weight room, indoor practice facility. We ate dinner at Misty’s and tailgated before and after the game. The second half comeback win was great. The experience and camaraderie was even better.
I’ve been in Memorial Stadium hundreds of times. After 26 years in Ohio, Saturday night I will take my first step into the confines of “The Shoe”, at Ohio Stadium. I have tremendous respect for the stadium, and for the traditions around it, the Skull Session at St. John Arena, dotting of the I in script Ohio, and the on-the-field performance by the football team and the “Best Damn Band in the Land”.
I’ve been a fan of the Ohio State program for years. I root for Ohio State whenever they’re not playing Nebraska. I go to Ohio State- Michigan parties. I attended a 2002 national championship party when Ohio State beat Miami and cheered as loudly as anyone in the room. I don’t want Nebraska to beat Ohio State because I hate Ohio State. I want Nebraska to beat Ohio State because I respect Ohio State.
Buckeye fans are as passionate, as proud, and as confident as any I’ve ever seen. I love Ohio State fans. But if I didn’t know better, I’d say Ohio State had five national championships in the last 50 years instead of their two in the same timeframe.
Saturday night won’t be like my favorite road trip ever. That was when Nebraska fans turned the legendary Notre Dame Stadium red in 2000 thanks to willing Notre Dame season ticket holders’ desire to seize the financial opportunity. But I anticipate it being a close second - win or lose. It will, however, be in somewhat familiar surroundings. When I look at “The Shoe” I see almost a mirror image of Memorial Stadium. No two stadiums in my mind are more architecturally alike, right down to the turrets at the four corners of the stadium. The fans will be crazy wild - in a good way. And the play on the field, hopefully, will be the best it can be from both sides.
If that happens, win or lose, it will be a great experience. And ultimately the best team, the most deserving team, will win.
I love the B1G! I don’t care what the rest of the country thinks right now. The conference will rise again - quickly - as will the two teams playing each other in Columbus Saturday night. By the way, a B1G Championship and Rose Bowl appearance would be a fitting parting gift for the young, impressive, red-headed assistant coach who visited my junior high almost 50 years ago. What a way to say “Thank you, Tom.”
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Voices From Husker Nation
"I loved reading Chuck Sinclair's article about Ohio State. My own experience is very similar. I grew up in football crazy Massillon, Ohio. My father worked at Goodyear in Akron. I was a dedicated OSU fan as my grandmother graduated from that excellent school. We listened to Buckeye games on autumn Saturdays on the radio as there were very few televised games. I attended graduate school at Nebraska in the late 70s and in those two short years, I fell in love with the Huskers. Like Chuck, I root for both OSU and Nebraska, but when they meet, I am all Big Red. Thanks for awakening those great memories. …and yes, since I now live in Illinois, I am thrilled to be able to go to more games. Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Tom Osborne for all he has done for loyal Nebraskans everywhere. We are blessed that he has given us so much." Rich MacMillan, Shorewood, llinois